Wednesday, February 06, 2013

TOP STORY >> Arkansans fight human trafficking

Leader staff writer

Louise Allison, founder of Partners Against the Trafficking of Humans, shared her story with the Cabot Civitan Club on Mon-day to illustrate how victims think.

The Dallas native and Little Rock resident also explained how trafficking can take forms people don’t usually envision.

Allison ran away from home and was “picked up” two blocks from her house when she was 14.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she told the group what life was like being raped, beaten, drugged and living on the streets until she was arrested for the last time at the age of 16.

Allison said, “I was left for dead multiple times. All I thought of was suicide, a way out.” She said that when there were drugs available she took them.

Although girls like her were told to give a fake name to police and say they were 21, officers were able to identify Allison and return her to her mother when she was 16.

She added that trafficking is second only to drugs as the most prevalent type of organized crime.

Allison said she was fortunate in that she didn’t have a sexually transmitted disease, broken bones or any other serious medical condition — such as not being able to have children — when she was found.

But Allison was damaged emotionally. “I was full of shame, full of guilt,” she said.

She returned to that world as a prostitute when she turned 18. “I believed that was all there was to life.”

Eventually, she married and had children. Allison said she was a terrible wife and mother because she didn’t know how to act. So, she tried to emulate other people.

“I didn’t know because I was still that broken little girl,” Allison said.

She said 30 years of her life were wasted because of what had happened when she was 14.

Allison eventually moved to Little Rock and attended a church service. Then she found a woman at the church who listened to her, didn’t pass judgment and loved her.

Allison said that turned her life around, and someone supporting them is the No. 1 thing victims of human trafficking need.

She started Partners Against Trafficking Humans because “I believed I was the only one. I don’t want them (other victims) to waste their lives in fear. I don’t want them to spend one day like that.”

Allison said one of the victims she knows of was a teenager who started dating a boy. The boy learned all about her life and her family, including her little sister.

The first time she was raped and tried to escape the boy, he told her that she could go. The boy said he was sure if she wouldn’t do it, her little sister would.

The teenager couldn’t imagine the same thing happening to someone she loved. So, she stayed.

Another victim Allison knows of was a single mom who met a man on Facebook. She was out of work and he told her about a job in Little Rock.

The man told her the company would provide the money for her to travel to Little Rock for training. She accepted the offer, leaving her son with his grandmother.

When the mother arrived in the city, the man revealed that there was no job training. He said the money she used was his and now she owed him.

Allison said the woman turned her first trick that night.

She asked the club members, “Do you see how people are getting trapped?”

Allison said, “It is real. It is in Arkansas.”

P.A.T.H.’s mission is to “provide safe housing and a program of restoration and reintegration for rescued victims of human trafficking and prostitution, through a variety of services and Christ-centered recovery programs, offering hope for healing, personal growth and future success.”

The nonprofit operates a shelter in North Little Rock, Allison said. The shelter can house eight women.

P.A.T.H. is hoping to open another shelter in Little Rock in August. It will have 10 beds for adult women, eight beds for adolescent women and room for up to four families.

The families could include women who have been allowed to have the children of their clients and abusers. Some victims are forced to have abortions, Allison said.

But a child can be an advantage to the trafficker, she explained. The trafficker can keep the child as insurance that the mother will come back to him or her after turning a trick, Allison said.

The child could also be used as a drug mule or be sold into prostitution when he or she is old enough, she continued.

Allison said P.A.T.H. is working to get the building in Little Rock rezoned so that it can be operated as a shelter.

She added that the organization has 14 acres in north Pulaski County, where it hopes to build a shelter for male victims of human trafficking.

Allison said what the nonprofit needs the most is prayers, financial contributions and furniture for the new shelter.

The Civitan Club plans to discuss making a donation to the group at its next meeting.

Monday night, member Kathy Bilon gave Allison small care bags containing toiletries.

Bilon runs Operation Clean Start, which has provided 344 of the bags she sews to several area nonprofits. The bags are filled with donated items.

So far, 344 of Bilon’s bags have been donated to the Dorcas House, Open Arms Shelter, Wade Knox Center for Children, Union Rescue Mission, Our House, marines in Afghanistan, cancer patients and Safe Haven Women’s Shelter.