Break Free, A Nonprofit Fighting Trafficking Through Empowerment
Aug 03, 2015 09:21AM ● Published by Bill Romanelli
Photo by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group
The older man’s compliments were having an effect. As a young high school girl she was susceptible to flattery, even from a complete stranger, but she was also empowered to protect herself. “Oh, my mom would love to hear all this—she’ll be back in just a minute,” the young girl said. The man left almost immediately.
That scenario really happened to a young girl who had recently seen a presentation in health class from El Dorado Hills-based 3Strands Global Inc., a nonprofit that exists to combat human trafficking through employment, education and engagement initiatives.
Through an educational program called Break Free, the organization has already reached 10,000 students in 30 high schools. Break Free is educating both adults and children on how to recognize tactics trafficking predators use to lure and coerce their victims, how to protect themselves, and raise awareness about the existence of human trafficking. “We emphasize education and empowerment rather than fear to create a generation of kids less susceptible to victimization,” says Ashlie Bryant, co-founder and VP of Development and Outreach at 3Strands. “Trafficking is a crime that needs to be recognized and discussed if it’s going to be stopped.”
Nationally, more than 100,000 children are at risk of being sexually exploited, and trafficking is estimated to be a $9.8 billion industry. The average age of victims is only 12, but statistics show people of any age—male or female may be at risk, and that’s through no fault of their own: Traffickers prey on our vulnerabilities. “These people are experts at pretending to be exactly what their victims need, when they need it,” Bryant says. “That could be a friend, a mom, a big brother, a boyfriend…anything that gets their victims to trust them.”
It may take months to earn that trust and loyalty. Once it’s earned, however, the criminals have already hooked their victims, physically and mentally. Being exploited becomes a “safe place” for victims, where failing to do what they’re asked or told can lead to danger or violence. As a result, it’s common for people who’ve been freed from trafficking to go right back to it.
For that reason, one of Break Free’s other major programs is the Break Free Run (formerly Run for Courage), which raises money to fight human trafficking, and help restore victims’ lives. Bryant started the Run For Courage with friends Vicky Zito, Amy Johnson and Stephanie Loos, after Zito’s teenage daughter was kidnapped in broad daylight and trafficked for eight days before being rescued by the FBI. All money raised from the runs—now held in Solano, Folsom, Oakland and San Diego—goes toward education and restoring victims’ lives. In the past five years, the group has raised more than $800,000 for these efforts.
The next Folsom Break Free Run is September 26, and Bryant says participating is a great way to get engaged in fighting trafficking. “When people learn about this crime, they become outraged and say ‘this is not OK,’ and we emphasize that everyone can do something to help fight it.”
For more information on the Break Free Run, volunteering, and other 3Strands initiatives (including the online store for products made by trafficking survivors in Cambodia and Nepal), visit 3strandsglobal.com.