CEO & Co-Founder of Safe House Project
In this episode of Consider Before Consuming, we talk with Kristi Wells, the CEO and Co-Founder of Safe House Project, an organization with the mission to end domestic child sex trafficking through education, survivor empowerment, and safe housing. They hope to increase victim identification, provide emergency services to survivors, and empower survivors to a path to freedom, all in an effort to end child sex trafficking in America. Listen to Kristi talk with podcast host, Garrett Jonsson, and dispel myths about sex trafficking and share what Safe House Project is doing to help end child exploitation.
FROM THIS EPISODE
- Article: How Porn Can Fuel Sex Trafficking
- Article: Five Myths You’ve Probably Heard About Child Sex Trafficking
- Article: What Happened When This Jane Doe Was Trafficked By GirlsDoPorn
- Article: How The Porn Industry Profits From Nonconsensual Content And Abuse
- On Watch Website
- Safe House Project Website
- Check out our documentary series, Brain, Heart, World
Fight the New Drug Ad: How can pornography impact you, your loved ones, and the world around you? Discover the answer for yourself in our free three-part documentary series, Brain Heart World. In three thirty minute episodes, this docuseries dives into how pornography impacts individuals, relationships, and society. With witty narration, and colorful animation, this age-appropriate series shines a hopeful light on this heavy topic. In each episode you’ll hear from experts who share research on porn’s harms, as well as true stories from people who have been impacted personally by pornography. Stream the full series for free, or purchase an affordable screening license at brainheartworld.org
Garrett Jonsson: My name is Garrett Jonsson, and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug.
And in case you’re new here, Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.
We want these conversations to be educational, uplifting, and hopeful. As we sit down with experts, influencers, activists, and people with personal accounts, we cover a wide variety of topics that may be triggering to some- you can refer to the episode notes for a specific trigger warning. Listener discretion is advised.
Today’s episode is with Kristi Wells. Kristi is the co-founder and CEO of Safe House Project. SHP is a nonprofit that fights to eradicate child trafficking. During this discussion we talk about the realities of sex trafficking, survivor empowerment, and what we can do to help in this fight.
With that being said, let’s jump into the conversation, we hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
We’re glad you’re with us. We are fortunate.
Kristi Wells: Thank you for having me, I’m glad to be here.
Garrett Jonsson: I think it’s a funny thing that we should probably mention to the audience that we’ve had many challenging times…
Kristi Wells: [laughter]
Garrett Jonsson: … in arriving and having this conversation.
Kristi Wells: Yes.
Garrett Jonsson: One of the funny things is that I had to bail on the conversation, so I postponed it a week and then I mixed up my calendars. And then I said in an email to Kristi and the one of the other Co-Founders Brittany, I was like, “When it rains, it pours.” And then we scheduled another date to record and that actually rained.
Kristi Wells: [laughter]
Garrett Jonsson: And we couldn’t record because it sounded like someone was popping popcorn in the audio. The irony.
Kristi Wells: [laughter] BUT, if at first, you don’t succeed. Try, try again. Right?
Garrett Jonsson: Yep.
Kristi Wells: And here we are, we made it.
Garrett Jonsson: We do it right, because we do it twice or three times.
Kristi Wells: [laughter] Or three times.
Garrett Jonsson: Well, again, Kristi, we are thankful for your time. We know you are, you know, you’re a busy individual and um, we’re excited to have this conversation to learn from you and to learn more about Safe House Project. Um, in regards to the other Co-Founders I mentioned Brittany’s name briefly. Is there anyone else that we should acknowledge as we start this conversation?
Kristi Wells: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, when we began, our organization was actually birthed out of an initial, um, endeavor, I’ll say to find a safe house in South Africa that a friend of ours, Nigel Anderson or his hip hop artists name is Legend, uh, began. And he went to South Africa, saw needed to build up a safe house and came back to the United States, launched a hip hop album to raise money, to build up the safe house. And so we jumped in to support that effort and then safe house project began to grow into what it is today and began to have a domestic focus, but Legend, aka Nigel Anderson is one of those that we always attribute to being a Co-Founder in safe house project.
Garrett Jonsson: Oh cool.
Kristi Wells: He’s awesome. And he is somebody that you tend to totally have on your podcast because he has a really passionate story about kind of his overcoming his addiction to pornography and what that has done to lead into the work that he does now. So super cool individual, uh, amazing story.
Garrett Jonsson: Okay, Cool. We’ll have to have him on, so and his name’s Nigel or Legend?
Kristi Wells: Yeah.
Yeah. Nigel Anderson, Legend is his hip hop artists name. So it’s Nigel spelled backwards.
Garrett Jonsson: Okay. That’s cool.
Kristi Wells: But, um, he’s awesome.
Garrett Jonsson: Nigel, this is your official invite. If you ever listened to this episode, we want you on the podcast. So I’ll, I’ll email you. Um, but in regards to your background and how Safe House Project became a thing, can you talk to that a little bit more? You mentioned that you were on, I guess Nigel’s the one who wanted to create a safe house in somewhere in South Africa. How did that all come about?
Kristi Wells: Yeah. So as a hip hop artist, he went to South Africa, uh, to perform with a number of artists from his label. And while he was there, he was with our friends, Marcia and Jenny who run QRIS global in South Africa. And so she can go South Africa and they, he said, “What’s next? What do you think? What are the things that you need?” And they said, “We really need a safe house. We’ve got girls who are being trafficked or at risk of trafficking, and we need a safe place that we can protect them and give them hope and healing.” And so he just came back from South Africa with his heart on fire and heartbroken and said, “What can I do?” And so he, like I said, pulled together the artists to launch this album. And I had kind of known in my heart for a couple of years that there was something funny enough that I needed to do an anti-trafficking and something I needed to do to support his label.
And so when those two things merged into one project, I said, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m in.” So, um, I had a background in PR and so I jumped in, I ran the launch of the album I had from the PR side. But as we kept doing this, people kept saying, “Well, what are you going to do domestically?” And Brittany, uh, had actually understood trafficking more from the domestic side. She had seen it as a living and the outskirts of Fallon, Nevada lived down the street from the Madam of the brothel because trafficking or I’m sorry, uh, prostitution is legal there, but they were seeing these brothels recruit girls out of the high school. And so she saw this intersection of legal and illegal industry, but she understood what it looked like. And she’d worked with a restorative care program that provided really that hope and healing to survivors state side, like what we were looking to see done internationally.
And so we began trying to come up with an answer when people would say, “What are you going to do domestically?” So to do that, we became students of the domestic landscape of trafficking. We really wanted to understand it. And at that point in 2017, the department of justice was reporting that about 300,000 American kids are trafficked for sex in the United States, every single year through prostitution or pornography. But then we realized that only victim identification was only at 1%. And then we realized that without a safe place to go, once those 1% were identified and helped to exit their trafficking situation, 80% were ending up back in trafficker’s hands. And that was where we realized we could have the ability to make a difference. So we set out on the mission to increase victim identification through true education above so that we could get that number above 1% and to increase the number of restorative care homes in America, through funding and through mentorship. So we don’t operate any of the safe houses, but we fund and we mentor those. Cause when we began, there were only a hundred beds. So to date we’ve helped add over 174 beds through new or expanding restorative care homes across America.
Garrett Jonsson: Wow. When you say 174 beds, I don’t think that’s anything to sneeze that like it’s easy to breeze over that number and be like, “Oh, it’s 174. It’s not that much of a, it’s not that big of a number, honestly.” But then you think about what are you like all of the work that those hundred and 174 beds represent. And then you start to realize like, “Wow, that’s, that’s a big deal.” Man.
Kristi Wells: Right? And every bed is multiple lives changed over the course of a year, right? So that is where you are getting every bed. Cause we quantify it by beds because some safe houses have 12 beds and some have four.
Garrett Jonsson: Right.
Kristi Wells: So we can’t quantify it by the number of safe houses that we held open. But each bed represents an individual life changed.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah.
Kristi Wells: And it’s that, you know, that starfish analogy of the little boy walking on the beach. So it’s covered in starfish and he keeps picking one up and chucking it in the water. Then one by one keeps doing it and the man comes up to him and says, “What are you doing? You’re never going to make a difference.” A little boy picks up another starfish, chucks it in the water and says, “Made a difference to that one.”
Garrett Jonsson: [laughter] Yeah. That’s a beautiful thing.
Kristi Wells: And it’s, you know, kind of the same idea in the work that we do here is every single bed is a life transformed through restorative care through all of the different services that are provided in a safe house.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. That’s a beautiful thing. So first of all, when I go to your website, safehouseproject.org, one of the first things that I noticed is the logo up in the top left. Can you talk to that a little bit in your mission statement?
Kristi Wells: Yeah. So our logo is a square and most people who see it don’t know what they’re, they’re looking at. Um, but it is actually a symbol that was used during the underground railroad to indicate to those escaping slavery when they’d finally reached a safe house. So for us, we replaced that center of the square with a key hole. But, um, the original way that that looked was there would be a color in the center or red or yellow or a black in whatever color was in the center indicated really where somebody was on their pathway to freedom as they were following along the underground railroad. So yellow, which was the original color of that center for us was think of it as like a yellow, um, the warmth of a hearth, uh, of a fire that kind of, and yellow indicate that to somebody that they had reached a safe house.
Garrett Jonsson: Mhm.
Kristi Wells: And if anybody who is listening for some crazy reason, knows anything about quilting, [laughter] then they know that the symbol actually is the log cabin pattern that was used during, um, during that timeframe. And so that this was displayed as a symbol through quilts that hung out on the line. And so the log cabin pattern is still used today. My grandmother was quilter and I have a quilt handmade, um, in the log cabin pattern. But what we didn’t know is that at that point, those were being used to guide somebody’s path. And so that means a lot to us. We know that, uh, it took a lot for, um, those escaping slavery then to make that journey, that was a hard arduous journey. And it’s still as hard for survivors of trafficking who are escaping. Um, and we know that it takes a lot of bravery to enter into a Safe House program, but we also know that hope and healing again, that comes from that. So the Safe House Project mission is really twofold to increase victim identification above 1% and to increase the number of restorative care homes, ultimately empowering a survivor’s path to freedom. So we do training and education. We train law enforcement, we train military, we train first responders actually had the opportunity to train the entire USS Theodore Roosevelt a couple of years ago prior to a deployment. So 5,000 sailors, um, that was exciting,
Garrett Jonsson: That’s really cool.
Kristi Wells: Yeah, it was, uh, it was a lot of fun. And as a military spouse, I agree just the heart that so many of them have to see this issue for what it is, but we train community members. We have, uh, an on watch or a training that we did with the Maloof foundation. And we have a brand that we launched together called on watch. And if you go to, IAmOnWatch.org, then you can see the training that is I’ve free one hour training that was developed with survivors, uh, to help people understand how to spot report and prevent trafficking, where they live, work and play. And so that training was it’s all video content, it’s ten five minute modules, but it helps people really understand what trafficking looks like. And that’s because it was survivors who shared their stories of what happened to them, not necessarily the horrific things that happened behind closed doors, but their intersection points with community members and how people could have seen something and responded. Um, so that is a really powerful way for people to understand what trafficking looks like. Um, with our survivor empowerment, we also help survivors escape and help them find, uh, that restorative care that they need. And then we also, as I mentioned, we help fund a mentor, the launch of the safe houses. So those are kind of our three different buckets where we focus.
Garrett Jonsson: Okay.
So education, survivor empowerment, and safe housing. And, um, so jumping into the education a little bit more, you mentioned on watch. Yeah, we encourage those who are wanting to learn more about sex trafficking to go check that out. Now you’ve mentioned victim identification being, you said less than 1%?
Kristi Wells: Around 1%. Yes.
Garrett Jonsson: When you say victim identification, I don’t know if you’re referring to the victims themselves identifying as a trafficking victim, like understanding that they are being trafficked or are you saying like those who are not in the life of sex trafficking, identifying victims? Does that make sense?
Kristi Wells: Yeah, it’s actually a little bit of both. Um, really it’s that those who are being trafficked only 1% is ever identified. And so let’s correlate identification to, um, given that initial support. So if it’s a child trafficking victim that is identified, then there’s immediately support services that come alongside. So then help them exit that trafficking situation. So we’ll, we’ll say that 1% also equals escape or rescue. So really only 1% has ever identified or, or rescued. Um, now survivor self-identification can also be a piece of that. Now those numbers I would also, I would argue are even less than 1% because of the trauma bonds that are established that survivors sometimes have to be out of that life for quite some time before they truly grasp the thing that was their sex trafficking situation.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. And how many people have taken your courses? How many people have you trained to identify victims, to report, to know what to do?
Kristi Wells: Well through on watch and then through our in-person trainings. And also through our corporate trainings, we developed specific trainings for corporations to understand how to spot trafficking within their specific business models. So one example of this is we developed training for the entire pest management industry. Uh, one of their leaders came to us and said, we’ve got 160,000 pest technicians who go into 20 to 30% of homes in America. And how kind of, what would it be if we equip them to spot trafficking? So we deploy training to them and that’s been adopted, but culturally we have educated over 200,000 people in the last three years.
Garrett Jonsson: Wow. That’s amazing. It says on your website that you, that Safe House Project works with 82 corporations to effectively identify survivors and invest in their future. And I know that, you know, as a nonprofit it’s, sometimes it’s hard to keep up on all those numbers that are displayed on websites. Is that number pretty, pretty accurate? Are you, are you guys currently working with about 82 corporations to educate them?
Kristi Wells: I would say so. And that’s all at varying levels. So those could be corporations or smaller companies who have adopted the on watch training and rolled those out, rolled that out to their employees. That could be a large fortune 500 company. That’s rolling it out. We have a new corporation who’s coming online, who is rolling out the training, the online training to over 500,000 employees worldwide. Um, but yes, those are that’s about 82 different corporations that we are working with at varying levels who, um, through their partnership with us, do work to train their employees on how to spot trafficking.
Garrett Jonsson: Awesome. Does Safe House Project work, um, with work internationally with victims or is the focus here domestically? Because I’ve heard a little bit of both throughout this conversation.
Kristi Wells: Sure. Our primary focus is domestic. Now with that, we have some things that we are working on our partners in South Africa. We still support that effort and still support the development of those safe houses. And so that’s just always been kind of our cornerstone mission. So we’ve kept that specific organization as a funding recipient, and we are working with them to develop a curriculum that will deploy, uh, really across the globe on increasing survivor identification through education. But it’s integrating into a curriculum that they are currently building out called courage to care. And so that is, um, that’s probably where most of our international focus comes in is again, partnering with another group who is working to increase victim identification, but when it comes to survivor care, our focus is domestic.
Garrett Jonsson: Okay. As I was doing some preparation for this conversation, I went to Polaris Project. They estimate that there are 25 million people trafficked worldwide. The 25 million mentioned by Polaris project. That’s a trafficking, generally speaking, not just specifically sex trafficking, um, but you mentioned 300,000. Can you talk to that number a little bit? Sure.
Kristi Wells: So that is an number that was the 25 million is a human trafficking overall. So that includes labor trafficking, organ trafficking, um, all of those different sex trafficking, all of those different elements. They estimate that about 4.8 million people are sex trafficked globally, but the 300,000 number is actually a number that was released by the department of justice in 2017. And that was their best guess at the number of American children that were being trafficked for sex in the United every single year. Now I will be quite honest that they have since rescinded that number. And part of that is due to the fact that this is an illegal industry and trying to pinpoint the numbers behind it. Illegal industry are very difficult. Uh, the one thing that is, I feel like a very solid, accurate representation of the scale of this issue is that it is a $99 billion industry. And that does feel like a more tangible, quantifiable data point because we can track the money.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. I can understand why you say that at the same time to me $99 billion is I can’t comprehend it. So it’s, it’s like, whoa, that seems… wow.
Kristi Wells: Right. So as a military spouse, because one day I was like, I’m trying to wrap my head around how much this actually is. So Northern Grumman is a, one of our largest defense contractors. They build the planes, my husband flies, they build, you know, help support the building of aircraft carriers and all of that. That is a $33 billion corporation. And so you think that one of our largest defense contractors, this industry is three times larger.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. That’s, that’s hard to comprehend if we look at your numbers, uh, the number of some of the numbers that are highlighted on Safe House Project’s website, um, like we mentioned, the 82 corporation, the 174 beds that have been provided, you know, all, it represents a lot of work, a lot of effort. And then you start to look at these numbers, you know, the, the number you mentioned, the estimated 300,000 children trafficked within the United States. And, uh, you just realize how much work we have to do.
Kristi Wells: Yeah. Absolutely.
Garrett Jonsson: It seems like safe house project has broken this fight into three areas. It’s education, it’s a survivor empowerment and it’s safe housing.
Kristi Wells: Correct. Yeah. Those are the three pieces unit. This issue can be tackled from so many different ways. And that’s where we are so grateful for so many of our partners in the fight who do focus on attacking it from the demand side, you know, working to reduce the demand like you guys working our partners who work on the legislative side, who work to ensure that there’s legislation that can support survivors or those who are tackling it from the law enforcement side. There’s so many different ways that this thing has to be attacked. But the three key areas that we do focus on are like you said, education, and survivor empowerment, and safe housing.
Garrett Jonsson: And I think it’s important as we go through this. I kind of wanted to break it down into those three parts, education, survivor empowerment, and then safe housing, um, jumping a little bit more into education. I think that there’s certain myths that are common when we are talking about sex trafficking. And so I wanted to address three of those and kind of get your perspective on them. Um, the first one is that girls or women are victimized.
Kristi Wells: Right.
And that’s a common misconception. Um, the reality is boys are trafficked. Now the data behind it, I will tell you that I have seen solid data that says it’s one in 10. There was also a report produced by the department of justice in 2000, I believe it was 2019 that said it was upwards of 36% of trafficked individuals are boys now. And that was specifically for sex trafficking now, which one of those is correct? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I will tell you that victim identification of boys who are trafficked is lower than that of girls and that survivor resources for boys who are trafficked is substantially lower than that of girls. But we do know that boys are trafficked and it’s, you know, sometimes we see it in different parts of the country, more than others, but it is absolutely a population that is trafficked because ultimately traffickers are exploiting the vulnerable.
And so it is a supply and demand issue. And there is a demand for boys. There is one program out of Atlanta that is, um, center for wellspring and they launched an emergency program for minors. And so they actually retrofitted an old, uh, correctional facility for minors, turned it into dorm style living. And in that I believe I’m hoping I’m going to get these numbers, right. I believe it was serving eight boys, eight girls and four transgendered. Now I think they are still ramping that up. They just launched last year, right at the start of COVID. I believe it was last February or March, but so I think they’re still ramping up all of those that they’re supporting, but they they’re one of the programs that we’ve supported that does, uh, have services for boys. There is a program that is not one that we have helped lunch, but does exist.
It’s the only long-term restorative care home that we know of for boys and that’s down in Florida. But this year we do have a program that we are supporting for those age 18 to 24 that are male. And that one is going to be in Texas. Now we do have others that we’re mentoring that are looking to lunch programs for boys because they recognize that it’s a gap. So we’re working to get the industry caught up by pointing out that that is a gap. So when people come to us and say, “I’m looking to launch a safe house.” we say, “Great, here are all the gaps in the national landscape, which one do you want?” And so we’re excited to see people really stepping into that.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah, that’s great. The second myth that I wanted to get your take on is that human trafficking always involves moving or traveling or transporting a person across like state or international borders.
Kristi Wells: Right.
Garrett Jonsson: Can you talk to that a little bit?
Kristi Wells: Yeah.
A lot of times people confuse the idea of human trafficking with human smuggling. And what you just described is really human smuggling. But sex trafficking is the commercial sexual exploitation of an individual through force fraud or coercion. And that commercial sex can be prostitution or it can be pornography. But if a child is being sold for commercial sex again, prostitution or pornography, then that is considered trafficking. You do not because the child’s inherently vulnerable. So you don’t have to show that somebody has been vulnerable and has been forced into something, or you know, that it’s taken force fraud or coercion. If there you have to prove that if they’re an adult, if they’re a minor again, you don’t have to prove force fraud or coercion, but it’s ultimately at the end of the day, it’s somebody being sold for sex. And the challenge of believing that sex trafficking involves moving in person, person is that if that’s the perception that we continue to operate under, then we are going to miss the 40% of child trafficking victims who are trafficking family member, or those who are human sex lives in their own homes, um, or being trafficked by their friends.
But they live at home and their family doesn’t know it. And so we are missing the opportunity to spot those that are in, there are communities that are being trafficked. If we consistently believe that it looks like Taken, um, the movie or it looks like again, human smuggling,
Garrett Jonsson: As you mentioned, familial trafficking, you cut out for one second. I know that you’re we talked about how you’re running this off of your phone. So maybe there was a little bit of blip. Can you talk to that again? Um, what was it a number that you included? You said we’re going to miss this.
Kristi Wells: Yep.
It’s 40% of child trafficking victims are trafficked by a family member. And so if we believe that trafficking is only involves moving a person, then we’re missing those kiddos that are being trafficked by a parent or an, a grandmother or an aunt or an uncle. We had a survivor come into care, she was one of the very first survivors we ever got to serve. And she was 13 when she came into care, but she had been trafficked for three years by her grandmother. Her grandmother had pulled her out of school when she was 10 years old and began using her as the family source of income. But when the grandmother had pulled her out of school, school, didn’t think anything of it, even though this little girl’s mom had been drug addicted and STD written, and they kind of saw her as a prostitute, but they’d never thought that, you know, people just don’t imagine that a family member could traffic somebody. So if we are only for, again, something that looks like Liam Neeson’s Taken, then we’re missing those kiddos that are in our own communities that we have the ability to help.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. Thanks for repeating that because I didn’t catch it. Um, the third myth that I wanted to address is that individuals in the life of sex trafficking are always physically locked or held against their will. Can you talk to that a little bit?
Kristi Wells: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, let’s be clear that happens, but it’s not the most common. So 66% of trafficked individuals are trafficked by somebody they know and trust, you know, including that 40% of familial tracking and the way that the traffickers hold them captive is not chains or metal links, but it’s trauma bonding. It’s convincing them that they are loved that they are going to be taken care of that this is normal, that this is, you know, what they’re and their bodies are intended to be used for whatever the lie is that they tell them they use trauma bonding tactics to keep the trafficking victim from ever speaking out from ever saying that they need help. And that person feels like they are completely enslaved. And survivors tell us all the time that shame was the thing that held them captive more than anything else.
Garrett Jonsson: Oh, wow. Interesting. If you go to that second, the second pillar in your three or guests, the second thing that you guys focus on the survivor empowerment, it seems like the job of the trafficker or the job of the pimp, whatever you want to label that individual is the exact opposite it’s survivor disempowerment.
Kristi Wells: Exactly. And they tell them that they have no value that they have no worth, um, except what dollars are associated with them. And the longer a girl is trafficked, her boy has traffic. The more they believe that lie and breaking down that wall of lies is hard.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. And we’ll talk more about that as we go into the survivor empowerment portion of the conversation, but I wanted to ask you about vulnerability. You mentioned how, you know, boys are, can be just as vulnerable as girls. And I wanted to ask if there, if there’s a certain groups that are at higher risk for falling victim to sex trafficking based on vulnerabilities.
Kristi Wells: Sure.
So you are going to see more African-Americans that are trafficked. Absolutely. Or those who are lower income, those who are, uh, LGTBQ, but the reality is anybody, any age, race, socioeconomic status, gender can be trafficked.
Garrett Jonsson: Right. We’ve talked about what those who are trafficked look like and some of those stereotypes and the myths around that. What about the buyers?
Kristi Wells: Mhm.
Garrett Jonsson: I think that there’s also stereotypes around who was buying and I think it might be important to address that. And when we’re talking about the education portion, who, who were the buyers?
Kristi Wells: The buyers are all demographics, they are wealthy men. They are poor, you know, men on the streets. Um, the, and they’re women, you know, they’re old, they’re young. Um, there is no one size fits all when it comes to the profile of a buyer.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. That makes sense. And I just want to state, you know, for the record to be clear that I don’t think you were, I, or either of our organizations are suggesting that if you consume pornography, that you are going, that’s going to lead you to purchasing, you know, engaging with sex trafficking.
Kristi Wells: Correct.
Garrett Jonsson: Um, that, that doesn’t happen for everyone.
Kristi Wells: Right.
Garrett Jonsson: And we’re not trying to, we’re not trying to fear monger here and say that this is going to be you if you walk down this road. But I think it’s important to talk to these realities.
Kristi Wells: And, and really what we know is that about 80% of the survivors that we’ve surveyed has said that the buyers have come to them with pornography and things that they want them to reenact. And so there’s, there’s a connection to it, but that’s not saying that those who watch we’ll do we’ll purchase. Um, but we know that there are absolutely connections between trafficking and, and that industry. We have as survivors who are on staff with us that had been in the porn industry, um, that really can point to how, like, even at certain points, they felt like they were, you know, making that decision for themselves. But at certain points, it did transfer over to, uh, really being trafficked and not having control over what they were doing.
Garrett Jonsson: Right. Well, moving along in the conversation to survivor empowerment, I think this is something that is misunderstood. I think it’s often, what’s the term it’s often a, I don’t think people understand the depth of how much is required to help an individual exit the life of sex trafficking. I guess the term is oversimplified. People think it’s a simpler process than it is. And so can you talk to all that is required to help an individual become empowered as they exit the line?
Kristi Wells: Yeah. I, I think we’ll, let’s first hit on the basic needs, right? Those are the easiest ones for us to wrap our head around. They need medical care, they need dental care. You know, they need basic food, shelter, clothing, those basic needs, those things that are in a hierarchal of needs. The things that we know we need first to make us feel secure, taken care of.
Garrett Jonsson: Right.
Kristi Wells: So those are the first things that you’re going to see in restorative care. And those are the things that begin to build trust. You know, when somebody is, and honestly are just desperately needed, you know, for survivors who like the little girl who was trafficked from 10 to 13 by her grandmother, I promise you, nobody was taking that little girl to the OBGYN or to the dentist, or even care that she brushed her teeth. And so those are immediate things that have to be taken care of to just for the health of the survivor.
But the mental trauma is so substantial and that is where they need so much of the care and the hope and the healing. And so they have to have therapeutic services. That’s where they get group therapy, individual therapy. They need to understand the trauma bonds that were built around them in order to know how to break them. They need to understand healthy boundaries, healthy relationships. What love really can look like. And a lot of this just comes with time and with, um, mentorship and being, you know, taught something different, right? So, so many of them have to unlearn what has been poured into them sometimes their entire life. And so those are a lot of the therapeutic pieces that are needed, but for survivors to find empowerment where we see the most, you know, there’s healing and then there’s empowerment. And so the things that we find are the most empowering are discovering who they are, what they like, what they want to do when they grew up, if it’s a child. What they’re good at, you know, all they’ve ever been told is that they are a commodity, that they have no value that they have no skill. And the only thing that they can do is sex. And so for them to learn that they’re really good at painting or that they’re a powerhouse writer or that they, um, want to actually work in the psychology field and they want to serve survivors. Those are the things that just turn their brains on. And when they have that focus in front of them, nothing can stop them. And so education is so critically important and economic empowerment, giving them the ability to money in a way that is healthy. And so many of them have never had that opportunity. And so when you put that opportunity in front of them, and you say, this is how much this is what you’re doing, and this is how much you can earn.
And they realize that the sky is the limit, that they can do what they want. At some level, they can work the number of hours that they want and make that money and they get to keep it for themselves and they don’t have a traffic or taking it from them is so exciting. We have a survivor on staff the other day who, um, send us a message and she goes, “Oh, I’m so hungry. I need to go and get something to eat.” And then she sent another messaging goes, “Oh, I just realized I am a free-thinking adult. I have an income and I have a car and I’m going to get taco bell.” [laughter]
Garrett Jonsson: Wow.
Kristi Wells: So funny. But just to see the fact that she had the ability that she had money, she had a car, she had the ability to make a decision and she was going for her taco bell. And that was the thing that sounded good for her.
So yeah, that’s the thing that just makes them so excited. And then once they have that in their grasp, again, nothing stops them.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that cool experience that, that does show that the simplicity that we take for granted as a person who hasn’t experienced the life of sex trafficking, those things that we take for granted, man, those are the most beautiful parts of that change, of that process of change.
Kristi Wells: Yeah, absolutely.
Garrett Jonsson: But you have a map on your website that shows that you have four states with fully operating programs. You have four states with partially operating programs, two states ready to open and nine states with a mentor program. And I can’t help, but think about the huge operating budget that is needed to fulfill all of these needs. Man. I just, I just think it’s important to acknowledge that this, this requires all hands on deck.
Kristi Wells: Absolutely. We have an audacious goal on our website and it says that our goal is to see child trafficking eradicated by 2030. And we always tell people, please understand that is not a statement of us and what we’re here saying we can do on our own. That is a battle cry. That is a, exactly what you said that is, this is an all hands on deck issue. And if all of us turn our attention to it, that absolutely we can see it done. We can do it. We just have to decide that we want to.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah. Um, I think this is a good time to plug your donate page.
Kristi Wells: [laughter] Yes.
Garrett Jonsson: Um, because I know, like I mentioned, the big operating budget that’s required for all the things that you’re doing. Um, and I just wanna encourage those who want to go to safehouseproject.org/donate. And you can help out that way as we’re kind of coming to the conclusion of this conversation. Christie, are there any questions that I should have asked, but didn’t?
Kristi Wells: How goodness
Garrett Jonsson: Or anything that’s, um, stirring inside you that you would like to share?
Kristi Wells: I think the thing that is important to know is that, I mean, as dark as this issue is there’s hope, you know, and that’s the thing. So many people look at this issue and go, “Oh God, that’s just, I can’t touch it because it’s just so big. It’s so dark. It’s so scary.” And the reason we keep going and keep doing what we do is because we’ve seen where hope can be brought in. And if we decided to put our attention towards the hope side of this and the healing side of this, rather than the, sometimes over sensationalized Hollywood version of it, then we actually can make a dent. If our goal every day is to bring one degree more of sunshine and services to survivors, then we can start making a difference. And, um, I think that’s the thing that keeps us all going, is knowing that we know we get to see survivors exit their trafficking situation, go into restorative care, get a degree, get out, get a job, you know, go into serving this industry or go on to do something else with their life that has absolutely nothing to do with trafficking.
Garrett Jonsson: Yep.
Kristi Wells: And every single one of those that we get to serve in that capacity is another one of those starfish, and those are the women who are changing the world.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah, exactly.
Kristi Wells: Yep.
Garrett Jonsson: One more starfish. I love it.
Kristi Wells: Absolutely. Thank you guys so much for having us on.
Garrett Jonsson: Yeah, we appreciate it. Thanks for joining us today.
Fight the New Drug Ad: Regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political persuasions, or any other diversifying factor, porn can impact anyone. If you’ve recognized the harmful effects of pornography in your life, or recognized the harms pornography can cause in society, we welcome you to become a Fighter. As Fighters we strive to be bold, understanding, open-minded, and accepting. If you’re ready to become an official Fighter, we invite you to join the movement at ftnd.org/fighter. That’s ftnd.org/fighter. Join us in our fight for love by becoming a Fighter today.
Garrett Jonsson: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
Consider Before Consuming is brought to you by Fight the New Drug.
Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.
If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest and the conversation we had, you can check out the links included with this episode.
Again, big thanks to you for listening to this conversation. As you go about your day, we invite you to increase your self-awareness, look both ways, check your blind spots, and consider before consuming.
Fight the New Drug collaborates with a variety of qualified organizations and individuals with varying personal beliefs, affiliations, and political persuasions. As FTND is a non-religious and non-legislative organization, the personal beliefs, affiliations, and persuasions of any of our team members or of those we collaborate with do not reflect or impact the mission of Fight the New Drug.
MORE RESOURCES FROM FTND
A three-part documentary about porn’s impacts on consumers, relationships, and society.
Fifteen research-based articles detailing porns negatively impacts.
Tees to support the movement and change the conversation wherever you go.
Successfully navigate conversations about porn with your partner, child, or friend.
A database of the ever-growing body of research on the harmful effects of porn.
An interactive site with short videos highlighting porn’s proven negative effects.