Twenty years or so ago, when Michael and Carol Hart first heard that adults could purchase a little boy or girl for sex off of a menu on the streets of Thailand, they couldn’t believe crimes like these were taking place in our day. While this generation had not been present to fight past horrors like transatlantic slavery and the Holocaust, Carol declared that if this was happening while she was alive, then this was her generation and her fight.
God soon called the Harts to start ZOE International (a Greek word meaning “life”), a nonprofit organization working to end child trafficking in five countries — the USA, Thailand, Australia, Mexico and Japan — through prevention, rescue and restoration efforts. In 2002, the Harts sold their successful motion picture industry business, plus all their possessions, and moved to Thailand, even before most people knew what human trafficking was. They began by caring for 47 children who were at risk of being sold into slavery in Thailand.
Today, the Santa Clarita-based ZOE helps to identify victims of human trafficking and children in danger of being sold into trafficking. ZOE educates people in schools, churches, remote villages and businesses about how traffickers target vulnerable children and communities. ZOE helps to identify children and families at risk and equip them, so they are empowered to protect themselves.
For example, a family in Thailand may be approached by someone they know and offered a job or a good education for their child. But when the child arrives, they are instead sold for sex at a brothel in the city. Or children may be forced by their own families to sell goods to tourists on the streets of Thailand, which is one form of labor trafficking. Collaborating with law enforcement and government agencies, ZOE joins in anti-human trafficking operations to help recover children who are being sold for sex or labor.
The problem is not just overseas. In Los Angeles, children are sold daily for sex on the streets, at motels, at parties and in homes. In Los Angeles, as in Thailand, after children are rescued, ZOE protects them in a secure location or helps return them to a safe place while also assisting in the prosecution of traffickers.
In one instance, a young person living on the streets was offered food and a cell phone by a trafficker pretending to be a caring adult. The trafficker built a relationship with the young person and eventually took the young person to his residence to be abused sexually and photographed. The young person was then taken to different residences over the course of the next several months and sexually abused while the trafficker received money from the abusers. ZOE safely rescued this victim and provided a safe home while the traffickers were sentenced to prison.
Today, community members, including schools in Thailand and Los Angeles, often contact ZOE to inform them about individuals who are targeting children or about a child who is possibly being trafficked. ZOE then works with law enforcement and other supporting groups to bring restoration to survivors, reunifying them with their families or providing a safe and loving home for them. There, ZOE provides educational, vocational and age-appropriate transitional programs for those entering adulthood. When children reunify with their families or repatriate back to their home countries, ZOE also comes alongside families to provide support and education, which leads to successful reunification and repatriation.
ZOE is part of a great army of restorers who are rising up to say, “This is my generation, and this is my fight!” These compassionate warriors won’t stop until every child is rescued and every child is restored. To learn more about ZOE, visit goZOE.org.
Help ZOE end child trafficking through prevention:
- Protect others by being safe people for them to seek advice from when they are engaging in risky behaviors. Listen without judgment and shaming but create a place for others to think carefully about their situations.
- Educate yourselves about the signs of trafficking. Ask questions and offer support if you see signs of someone who may be in unsafe situations. Signs can include, but are not limited to:
— running away frequently
— irregular school attendance
— significant changes in appearance
— signs of physical trauma/injuries
— tattoos such as crowns or roses
— references to money
— repeated testing for pregnancies or STIs (sexually transmitted infections)
— posting provocative images on social media
— “dates” set up via social media
— multiple cell phones or frequently changing the number
— unexplained money or new material possessions
— drug use
— engaging in sexual activity for something of value in return.
- Raise awareness about trafficking within your personal networks.
- Educate yourself about internet safety at sites like netsmartz.org and monitor the internet usage of the young ones in your lives.
- Donate time, professional skills or financial support to local organizations that are helping survivors of trafficking.
- Learn about becoming a foster parent to children who need a safe home.
- Invite someone to share about human trafficking at your child’s school, church, community group or business
- Report suspected trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888