January is Human Trafficking Awareness month, so the team at Dallas Doing Good sat down with New Friend New Life’s chief program officer, Jessica Brazeal, to hear more about how this issue impacts our North Texas community. New Friends New Life (NFNL) is a nonprofit organization that restores and empowers sex trafficked and sexually exploited teen girls, women and their children, and drives awareness of its prevalence.
WHAT IS THE NFNL MISSION?
Our mission at NFNL is to serve women and girls who have been trafficked or sexually exploited and provide them with as comprehensive and holistic trauma-informed services as possible. We have a 4-phased program for women that focuses on 3 key areas: therapy, case management, and economic empowerment. As a woman completes the requirements in all 3 areas in Phase 1, she progresses to Phase 2, etc. until they graduate from our program, complete with full cap & gown ceremony. For our youth, we have a drop-in center that youth can access from 11-8 every weekday to provide them with a safe space to spend time. We are also rolling out new structured programming for youth this year as well.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH NFNL?
I came to NFNL a little over 5 years ago to be the Clinical Director. I had worked in the domestic violence field prior to this and there is a great deal of interconnection between trafficking and domestic violence. Most of the adults we serve at NFNL have also experienced domestic violence at one or many times in her life.
WHAT DO YOU WISH THE PUBLIC KNEW ABOUT HUMAN TRAFFICKING? ARE THERE ANY COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS?
I wish the public knew the extent that trafficking is happening every day in Dallas and in locations that are much closer to their daily lives than they realize. I have found through my career with issues related to violence against women that our tendency is to want to believe this happens to “other women in other parts of town, but not to people like me or in places that I frequent.” This distancing serves to help us feel more safe and comfortable, but it unfortunately is a misconception. I wish people understood that sex trafficking is not just the movie “Taken.” That it is not something that happens to people that are not US citizens. I wish they understood that most of the women we serve grew up in Dallas and have been trafficked and exploited in Dallas. I wish people understood that so many social systems and circumstances create a dynamic that allows sex trafficking to thrive, such as poverty, racism, lack of access to quality education, lack of access to affordable housing, lack of safety in families for the LGBTQ population, and so many more. If we want to solve sex trafficking, we will have to address those issues as well.
WHO ARE VICTIMS OF TRAFFICKING? IS IT A PREVALENT ISSUE IN NORTH TEXAS?
Victims of sex trafficking come from so many different backgrounds, but some of the risk factors of the things identified above. Additionally, childhood abuse, domestic violence, involvement with the CPS/foster care/juvenile justice systems are also all factors that exacerbate risk.
IS TRAFFICKING HAPPENING IN OUR NORTH TEXAS COMMUNITY?
Texas ranks second in the nation behind California for the highest rates of sex trafficking. Dallas ranks second in Texas behind Houston. I would say to someone if they are skeptical that I would encourage them to engage with organizations like New Friends New Life and hear from experts and the folks doing the work on a daily basis. I would encourage them to come on the bus tour and see for themselves the locations all over Dallas where this has in fact occurred.
WHAT ARE WARNING SIGNS?
There are many warning signs. For youth, these are a few: access to a great deal of money from an unknown source, spending time with males significantly older than her, running away often, engaging online with individuals unknown to their parents, having an extra phone that they always keep with them and answer.
HOW CAN SOMEONE VOLUNTEER TO SUPPORT SURVIVORS?
You can volunteer to support survivors in many ways: volunteer your time at NFNL, provide financial support to organizations providing services, ask organizations what items they may need and do a donation drive. Most non-profits will have a staff member designated to engaging volunteers and they will usually have lots of things they are needing help with!
CAN YOU SHARE A SUCCESS STORY ABOUT A NFNL ALUMNI YOU HAVE WORKED WITH?
We have a graduate of our women’s program who has gone on to complete required coursework and gained her real estate license about a year ago. This has opened up an entirely new career and opportunities for her!
ARE YOU STILL OFFERING SEX TRAFFICKING AWARENESS EXCURSIONS? HOW CAN SOMEONE SIGN UP?
We are still offering sex trafficking awareness excursions. We provide these monthly and take attendees to see post-adjudicated sites around Dallas to provide awareness to the public that this does in fact occur all over Dallas and not in the areas of town people assume this might be relegated to. You can sign up on our website here: https://www.newfriendsnewlife.org/bustour.