Faces of UnBound: TJ

At UnBound, we believe that every person has a unique part to play in bringing an end to human trafficking. That’s why we encourage everyone (regardless of your career, age, or background) to get involved. Volunteers, survivors, and partners are truly the faces of UnBound; we wouldn’t be who we are without you! We chatted with TJ, a family medicine physician in Waco and longtime friend of UnBound!

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TJ lives in Waco with his wife Katie and their three kids: six-year-old Aubrey, four-year-old Caleb, 21 month-old Given one on the way! TJ and his family are committed to service - through medical missions, missionary support trips, and dedicated support of UnBound. As a physician, TJ serves as a volunteer medical trainer for UnBound and offers a unique perspective on the importance of training the community about human trafficking.

TJ and Katie first became involved in the fight against human trafficking while he was in medical school in Denver. A friend recommended they read “Not For Sale” by David Batstone, and by the end of the book, TJ and Katie decided to become advocates for victims of trafficking and do what they could to raise awareness. When they were considering residency programs, one thing that stood out about Waco was that they googled ‘human trafficking Waco’ and UnBound was the first thing that popped up. TJ said that it was a big draw for them “that there was already work being done in the city that [they] could come alongside.”

When they moved to Waco, TJ said they “reached out to UnBound, ended up volunteering with the 5K the first year and then started getting more involved recently as UnBound has ramped up the scope of the professional training.” TJ has done multiple trainings with UnBound for a variety of organizations, but as a doctor himself, he especially sees the importance of training medical professionals.

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When asked if he received training on human trafficking in medical school, TJ said no. He was trained on how to treat victims of child abuse and domestic violence, which can sometimes be similar to victims of trafficking. “Curriculum is slow to change,” he explained. “Doctoring is an ancient profession, so typically medical school and residency is going to be the most up-to-date in training you’re going to be at any point in your career and it still lags behind the literature and the studies and that sort of thing. So even if we’re finding that human trafficking is a big part of what millions of Americans are experiencing and suffering from, it’s going to take a while for that to trickle down into the med school curriculum.”

He recalls an event from when he was a second or third-year medical student. He was in the emergency room, and they had a patient who was potentially in a human trafficking situation. TJ said:

“It was really sort of disheartening to see the ER doctors and nurses going ‘I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t know what that means. Why don’t they just leave then?’”

This is why organizations like UnBound are so important, because we can fill in where there are gaps of knowledge. He told us: “Getting these [trainings and resources] especially to emergency room, clinic doctors, support staff and everybody else who takes care of the patient is vital to actually identifying [trafficking]. The hospital is one of the few places where a victim or survivor of human trafficking might interact with a professional who has the resources to try to help them.”

TJ also finds that he can practice preventive training in his workplace by talking to parents and young children about issues related to human trafficking. He begins talking with boys and their parents about autonomy over their bodies, safe and unsafe images, and eventually about sex and pornography. TJ knows that human trafficking is market-driven, so if he can intervene in pornography addiction, the demand for buying sex will lessen. He also talks with young girls about autonomy and empowerment. TJ fights human trafficking in his home, in his workplace, and by doing training -- proving that it doesn’t matter what your job is, you can join the fight against human trafficking.

How could you use your gifts, talents and resources to fight human trafficking?

Written by Nikki Thompson
Professional Writing Intern, UnBound Waco