Growing up in Ahwatukee Foothills, human trafficking wasn't something Jamie Roberts learned much about.
Even when she went on to Arizona State University for justice studies it was only mentioned briefly. It wasn't until she did an internship with Catholic Charities' Dignity Program, a group that helps sex trafficked victims, that she realized the problem was bigger than it seemed. Now, Roberts is doing something about it by educating others on the need for help for trafficking victims.
With help from a co-founder, Rachel Irby, Roberts has started a nonprofit called Unchained. For the first year or two they plan to focus on education and their five-year plan calls for building a juvenile facility for victims.
"Phoenix is one of the main cities for trafficking," said Roberts, who explained that they're just focusing on domestic victims. "The average age of entry is 14 to 15 years old in Phoenix and 13 on a national scale, which is just crazy to me that it's that young. That's why we'd like to build a juvenile facility outside of Phoenix. Streetlight is another local agency here that is doing a great job, we'd just like to be another local resource outside of Phoenix that people could contact."
During her time at Dignity House, Roberts says she saw a very drastic curve in the age of women coming in. She said women were coming in at a younger and younger age, but that program was only for 18 years and older. She believes there are more, younger victims out there that need help.
"Getting those girls that were just freshly 18 was so sad to me," Roberts said. "There needs to be more resources in the Valley for these victims, but they're not going to get help if they're labeled as prostitutes or drug addicts and not victims."
Roberts said many of the victims she met used drugs to numb the pain they had been through. Often pimps would target young girls, court them, and then traffic them out for money, drugs or clothes. Roberts said the Dignity Program has a 95-percent success rate. They hope with more education from Unchained, women can learn about programs like the Dignity Program and get the help they need.
To begin, Unchained is doing educational presentations at colleges. They've done 27 presentations at 10 colleges in only three weeks since starting. They hope to take their training to law enforcement agencies, Child Protective Services, and teachers to try to help them recognize some symptoms of human trafficking. They mention things like missing a lot of school at a young age, having a much older boyfriend, or running away from home.
"Typically, we've seen a lot of young girls who are running away from home," Roberts said. "Typically, they're running from something. I think statistics say that 85 percent of victims are abused in their adolescence. We've seen that 100 percent of our victims were abused."
As well as educational presentations, Unchained is planning some unique fundraisers to try to raise awareness for the problem, and money for a future facility. They're planning their first fundraiser for early November.
"I just started working with the victims and grew such a passion for it," Roberts said. "It just seemed to be something that I don't think is publicized enough. We had this idea and it just seemed to kind of take off. There's definitely an interest and a need for this information to get out.
"I think it's a problem in any city, no matter where you are from. It doesn't tend to discriminate against age or social class. Anybody is vulnerable to becoming a victim. It's being aware of the signs of how women are being trafficked."
For more information on Unchained, to donate, or to request a presentation for your organization, email Executive Director Rachel Irby at Rachel@unchainedmovement.org, or Roberts at Jamie@unchainedmovement.org.
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