Q&A: Education key to stopping human trafficking

Paving The Way Foundation president Jan Edwards has worked for some of America’s most noted businesses and even the United Nations. She was named one of Orlando Magazine‘s Women of the Year in 2019 and appeared on national news outlets and iHeart Radio. 

In recognition of “World Day Against Trafficking In Persons,” Edwards recently joined “Afternoons with Mike” to talk about her work helping those trapped in human trafficking. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The full conversation is available on iTunes

MIKE GILLAND: It was not so long ago that many people were unaware of this issue and may have found the term human trafficking almost confusing. What does that term mean?

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JAN EDWARDS: We have to make people a little uncomfortable about topics like this, because people don’t want to talk about it. It is weird and uncomfortable. We don’t talk about sex, which leaves our children thinking, “Well, how am I going to learn about it?”

You get all these pictures on social media of children in inappropriate positions and showing inappropriate things and they think it’s okay because everyone’s doing it. Our parents have to take this on, our educators have to take this on, our educational environment has to take the conversation on by saying, “No, this is your body, you get to say how it goes.”

There’s an important part of the conversation about what is sexual exploitation, what is modern day slavery, what is human trafficking?

MG: Then there’s this thing called the phone.

JE: The moment you hand your child a smartphone, it’s like handing them a loaded gun, because they have access to the entire world and the entire world has access to them.

MG: Well, you go into a restaurant and you see family sitting and they’re on their phones, all heads are down.

JE: The art of conversation and the art of parenting has really been lost over in the past 18 months, because parents have been forced to become teachers. They’ve been forced to figure out how to work from home.

MG: And all this because of the pandemic.

JE: We’re at the convergence of a lot of things that are going to put families at risk to be exploited. Because people will pay for sex, they will pay for watching sex, they will pay for pictures, and they’ll pay $50 for one picture.

Well, $50 is a lot of groceries. And if I hear my parents or I hear my mom or dad talking about, I don’t know how to make ends meet. If we hear them talking about how I might lose my job. And then they a friend of theirs tells them they can earn all kinds of money on OnlyFans (app) by just showing a picture, and I can help my family and feed my family buy those pair of shoes or that purse, it sounds like a really great idea.

Remember your prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until between 28 and 30, so you’ve got this instant decision of “I think I’m going to help my parents; I think I’m going to help my family by taking an inappropriate picture of myself and putting it someplace, having someone pay for that.”

And now I’m down a road I can never come back because the moment that picture leaves my phone, I can never get it back.

MG: You can’t control anything on the internet like that. It’s there forever.

JE: There’s places on the dark web where people will download a picture. And there are going to be thousands of other men that have access to that picture because that’s what they do on the dark web is they trade pictures.

MG: Now you brought up a point that I’ve not heard about the child actually, sometimes, opening the door for their own trap condition of being drawn into this thing. And it’s out of a motive that might even be wanting to help the family.

JE: People pay for sex; it’s been around since beginning of time. The internet—it’s a brilliant tool. The fact that we have access to the world is actually kind of cool, but then there’s this dark side that we as parents must talk about with our kids in a way that’s impactful and memorable.

MG: How did you come up with that name—Paving the Way Foundation?

JE: I went on a mission trip to Ethiopia and that’s really where this journey began. If you’ve ever been on a mission trip, at the end of the day, you’re tapped out and it’s exhausting.

I’m looking out the window and there’s two older men and two younger girls and it just didn’t feel right. I went to my sponsor and I shared with him what I saw and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, that was probably human trafficking.” I’m looking at him and I said what? He said, “Jan, there’s 4.5 million orphans in Ethiopia. We’re the No. 1 source of human trafficking into the Middle East and this is a $150 billion industry.” And it was right there that God laid it on my heart.

I literally learned about Africa and came back and I thought, “Well, how can we pave the way to freedom, pave the way to prosperity, pave the way to hope?” I imagined myself as the tip of the arrow in this conversation because God gives us a certain level of influence. God’s given a particular thing for me to do, which is educate our kids and our parents.

MG: In all of your efforts with paving the way for a parent that may feel that they’ve already lost that kind of bridge to their child, it’s not too late, is it?

JE: It’s never lost. I encourage parents to go to our website and look under “Programs” in the drop-down menu. The Parent Toolkit really helps guide some of these conversations.

MG: What is shocking to a lot of parents is to realize it is as bad as bad can be right here in our own communities. They involve young people whose lives are marked, and in some ways are going to be marked for the rest of their lives, even if they’re rescued.

JE: Well, I’m going to interrupt you right now. It’s recovery. And if you’d speak with any survivor warrior they will say, “I chose to leave. I was never rescued.”

MG: And that’s that reflects the heart right there.

JE: More and more survivor warriors are speaking out and speaking up. And they’re saying back to us don’t use that language, say this, that doesn’t work, use this.

That’s the beauty of the whole reason why we’re having this conversation on United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Their theme this year is “Voices of The Survivor.”

The level of trauma that a survivor warrior experiences is beyond anything you and I could ever comprehend, because when you’re being raped, you’re going to be dealing with stuff for the rest of your life. These women and men—about 30 percent of victims are men—they’re raped anywhere from 15 to 30 times a night. There’s no night off because this is a money-making machine for those people behind it.

That’s the thing that you’ve got to get: the level of trauma to the brain. So having the survivor warrior speak out, and educate people like you and me about the reality of it, and how best to tackle it, they’re the ones that have been like, “No, we weren’t rescued, we were recovered, because we were ready to go.”

The most effective recoveries we have are when survivors pick up the phone and say, “I’m ready to get out. Come get me.”

MG: You mentioned your website and you mentioned that your film (“Trapped in The Trade”) is not available on the internet. So how do people get a hold of it?

JE: They pick up the phone or they call me. We don’t just send the film out because it is the basis of all of our training, and it leaves people in an emotional space. We need to address that space, so they feel empowered versus lost and depressed.

I want them to do the thinking, because when they do the thinking, and they come up with a solution, it’s theirs. No one handed it to them. And that’s what stays with them for the rest of their life.

MG: Give us all of your contact information again, especially if someone is interested in getting a hold of that film.

JE: Our website is www.PavingTheWayFoundation.org. The human trafficking hotline number is 888-373-7888.

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