On the Front Line: Bus Drivers

Each one of us has a part to play in the fight against human trafficking, but some professionals are in a position that we'd consider the front lines. In their roles, they have a unique ability to identify and intervene in trafficking situations. In this post, we explore how bus drivers in the Houston area are being equipped to play a front-line role in preventing and identifying child sex trafficking. 

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In December 2017 UnBound Houston shared with every junior high student in Brazosport ISD the importance of staying safe by being aware of the tactics of human traffickers. Every student presentation is preceded by a parent meeting to allow the parents to have a full understanding of what we will be sharing with their sons and daughters. While our November 2nd parent meeting had a very small attendance, it had a monumental outcome.

One of the parents that attended that evening is also a bus driver for the district. After our presentation, he approached us to see if we would consider presenting this information to bus drivers because they go throughout all parts of their community and “see things.” We never turn down an opportunity to present to any group of professionals who engage with young people, so we very quickly said, “of course!” without realizing the full gravity of the impact of that “YES.”

On November 8th, we were contacted by the Brazosport ISD transportation director, John Craig. A speaker for his upcoming in-service had cancelled, and he wondered if we would be available to speak to the entire transportation department on November 10. Everyone on our usual speaking team was committed that day, so I was asked if I would be willing to do the presentation. As Director of Administration, this is not a part of my normal duties, but being a retired educator and knowing the importance of bus drivers in the day to day life of Texas students, I willingly said “YES” to making the presentation.

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The audience was incredibly receptive and afterwards many came to share their stories with me. A new group of professionals was activated to combat slavery and ignite hope in their community. Little did I know that this one “YES” would lead to a whole new strategy for UnBound in activating local communities.

Did you know bus drivers have a state convention? I didn’t either, until shortly after the Brazosport ISD transportation presentation when I was invited to present the Human Trafficking 101 presentation at the Texas Association of Pupil Transportation State Convention in Corpus Christi in June 2018.

Think about it – the work of pupil transportation is serious business in Texas. These professionals transport our most precious cargo–our children–to and from their places of learning. If a young person rides a bus from Kindergarten through 12th grade every day, a bus driver has the potential to encounter that student 4320 times in their life! 

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After speaking in two breakout sessions at the TAPT state convention, invitations from school district transportation departments began arriving from around the state. To date, in just one year, more than 2000 public school transportation providers have been professionally trained by UnBound staff. And I have been affectionately named: "The Bus Lady."

There are two reasons why we have found these drivers to be such an impactful audience. First of all, just like the song says “the wheels on the bus go round and round all through the town.” And because they drive a regular route they do “see things” that are out of the ordinary and new people that seem out of place. They also know their students well. They know their families, family history and patterns in their lives. They know when there are changes to those patterns that could indicate a student is being groomed by a trafficker. Many bus drivers have told me stories of how students in their communities have gone missing and the driver had heard things that could help with an investigation. Now equipped with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and the support of local authorities in recognizing signs of trafficking, these professionals can play a vital role in finding students that are missing. Secondly, and most importantly, by knowing the signs of grooming, transportation providers can play a part in preventing students in their influence from falling victim to the lies of traffickers in the first place.

Do you know a school district that needs their professionals to be trained in the fight to keep our young people safe from traffickers? UnBound is ready to equip them – teachers, counselors, nurses, and bus drivers to combat slavery and ignite hope!

Contact info@unboundnow.org to request a training.

Post by Nancy Stewart
UnBound Houston

The Faces of UnBound: Carrie & Rebekah

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! Here’s the story of how artist Carrie Stout decided to use her gifts to contribute to UnBound’s mission.

Carrie Stout, a longtime supporter of UnBound, always wondered how she could get involved. As a full-time artist and mother of one (with one on the way!) Carrie has limited time to spend volunteering. “It just dawned on me like I should have known it all along, I paint. Why can’t we use our artistic abilities to speak for those who have no voice or to tell a story that’s hard to communicate verbally?” Carrie said.

Then, Carrie met with Rebekah Hagman, the gallery owner of Culviate 7Twelve, and together they came up with the idea to do an UnBound Art exhibition. When asked about the show, Rebekah said: “Our biggest failure is allowing sex trafficking to flourish. I perceive this show as an opportunity to give voice to the voiceless.” Rebekah and Carrie brought together a team of artists to create pieces inspired by real stories of human trafficking. Artists chose to depict the strength, breakthrough, courage, and hope found within these stories.

The goal of this partnership is to bring awareness about human trafficking within our community to a larger audience. At UnBound, we know we can’t fight trafficking on our own, it takes the whole community. Throughout the month of October 2018, UnBound and Cultivate 7Twelve offered a variety of events to bring people into the gallery, include a "Human Trafficking 101" presentation, yoga night, and book reading with Julia Walsh. 

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Julie Milstead, one of the artists featured in the exhibition, said she got her inspiration from a testimonial of a survivor of human trafficking. “[The woman] said she had accepted her life for what it was, but now she was looking towards the future. That really struck a chord with me because the whole UnBound program is about hope.” Julie’s piece, titled “UnBound,” is available for viewing with the rest of the exhibition during normal gallery hours until October 29, 2018.

The exhibit offers interactive elements to reflect the idea that the fight against human trafficking is built upon partnership. We need everyone -- including artists -- to do their part to end trafficking in Waco. Because of Carrie and Rebekah, UnBound’s message can reach a larger amount of people. We are so grateful that they chose to use their talents to advocate for victims of human trafficking.

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

Written by Nikki Thompson
UnBound Waco
Professional Writing Intern

Faces of UnBound: Jason

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! Below is the story of Jason, an UnBound Ignite Partner and a powerful advocate for change.

Jason is an IT professional in Waco, Texas. He’s a single father of four kids and has been a long-time donor and supporter of UnBound. We sat down with him to learn about his story and why he got involved with UnBound.

Jason’s passion for supporting the fight against human trafficking comes largely from personal experience. “I had a tremendous struggle with pornography in my past. At one time it was ruling my life twenty years ago and really was destroying my life. I never went as far as struggling with prostitution or sex industry in that regard but I got mighty close. I knew that to step over that line for me personally represented death.” Jason admitted, “Though I didn’t give lots of dollars to the sex industry, I did support the industry just by being another hit on a website and driving the numbers up.”

Part of Jason’s recovery is supporting something that is in opposition to the sex industry. Once he began the healing process, Jason realized how widespread the problem was. In our country, the internet acts as the supplier for the sex industry while also creating the need for the sex industry and, ultimately, human trafficking.

“It’s a personal prayer for me. I’m just constantly crying out to God on this issue particularly, saying, ‘Lord, what can we do?’”

In the midst of this hopelessness, Jason says that UnBound brings hope -- for survivors of trafficking and for him in the midst of his recovery. “What you guys are doing is exposing the nature of what’s going on and it’s the first time that I’ve seen law enforcement get behind it and actually prosecute and do something about [trafficking]... [UnBound] has started a movement that has grounding, and pretty much everyone, except for the people perpetuating the problem, can get onboard with it.”

Jason believes deeply in the responsibility of all people, the Church included, to partner together and end human trafficking. As a believer who seeks to proclaim Christ, he continually asks: “How do you share the gospel when you’re not the hands and feet of Jesus? If you look at Jesus’ life, the reason people accepted his gospel is because of what he did. The things he did gave him power to present the gospel.” In the same way, Jason sees that partnership and unity are paramount in fighting this national injustice. He urges Christians in Waco and beyond to do their part to bring restoration to people who have been victims of the sex industry.

“What I love about UnBound is that you guys are shining a light on the sum of the consequences of what we’re doing as a people. Not only that, you’re aiding those who want to be out of that lifestyle,” Jason concluded. “It’s a double win because you draw attention to it and you’ve got a consortium of people supporting you… you’ve found a way to combat it.”

Jason wanted to share this verse: Psalm 103:2-5: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's” (ESV).

Written by Nikki Thompson
UnBound Waco
Professional Writing Intern

Ignite Partners combat slavery and ignite hope through a monthly gift to UnBound. For more information on how to join the Ignite Team, contact info@unboundnow.org