In deep, dark corners of the world, some human beings are thought of as commodities, one of which carries an annual valuation of $250,000.
“We are the first call for everyone including local law enforcement when it involves human trafficking. We are the nation’s largest human trafficking rescue and rehabilitation operation,” said Jeff May, executive director at the Phoenix-based Dream City Foundation.
“Homeland Security, ICE --- all of them, we work with all of them. We are the experts on this topic really and truly. The sad reality, though, is we are turning people away every day.”
The Dream City Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit under Dream City Church, is the funding instrument for three distinct operations here in Arizona focused on taking in victims of human trafficking.
They are: Where Hope Lives, located at the Phoenix Dream Center (ages 18+), StreetLightUSA (ages 13-17), and Short Creek Dream Center (familial trafficking survivors).
In 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s received more than 17,000 reports of possible child sex trafficking, spanning every state and U.S. territory. Also, the center reports trends show when children run away, they tend to run from an unsafe situation or to an unsafe situation.
Experts estimate 1 in 6 of the more than 26,500 cases of children reported missing in 2020 who had run away were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
According to May, the Where Hope Lives program serves about 200 victims a year and provides both rehab and rehabilitation services to victims of trafficking here in Arizona. Last year, amid the ongoing global pandemic, May reports the program served 103 women who successfully completed the rehabilitation program.
The program, which was founded by CEO Skye Steele, started 15 years ago in Phoenix whereas today the program has played a role in the recovery of 1,300 women, they say.
“Everyone is one bad decision away from being trafficked,” contends May.
“The average age that someone becomes a part of human trafficking here in Arizona is 14 years old. They are groomed by traffickers. They are looking for vulnerable people. More often than not they are groomed by people online and these people will act as a caring friend.”
May explains a typical scenario where a young person may be emotionally vulnerable, is triggered by a conflict typically with parents or guardians and, in some cases, a perceived lifeline has malicious intent.
“For our cases, for the most part, our clients have been exploited sexually. The vast majority of the time this is not their choice,” he said explaining further.
“When someone has drugs, they can sell or consume those drugs once. The average human can take in $250,000 a year as the person is considered a ‘commodity’ that keeps on paying.”
May explains the mental toll these situations can have on both young women and men.
“We are one of the few organizations who take in abused males,” he said. “A lot of these people don’t even know how they are living is wrong. They are having sex with dozens of people a day and thought they were just living with their boyfriend. This is a very common scenario.”
The Dream City Foundation is hosting the Stop Traffic Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29 at the Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave.
Proceeds from admission to the event, which is free, with options for premier registration start at $99, which includes a t-shirt, wrist glow band, and meal ticket.
The purpose of the annual walk is to raise funds to fuel operations for the Where Hope Lives program operating these facilities:
May explains the Dream City Foundation has the ambition to expand its intake and rehabilitations centers into 17 new major American cities in the next year and over the next five years Dream City operations could be nationwide.
“It is a complicated subject that exists, so we wanted to do something that is accessible to all people,” he said of the upcoming Peoria event. “A walk is something anyone can do, everyone can show up and support that. This is our third walk and our goal is to be synonymous with human trafficking rescue and recovery. This Peoria event is our flagship event because this is where it all started.”
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