What You Can Do To Help Prevent Sexual Exploitation
Trigger warning: The following podcast episode contains discussions of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking. Listener discretion is advised.
Sage is a passionate anti-exploitation advocate whose interest in women’s rights and healthcare led to her work as the Director of Impact for the Malouf Foundation and Executive Director of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. Sage and her team engage in programs and initiatives that confront sexual exploitation through education, advocacy, prevention, recovery, and healing.
In this episode, Sage joins us to discuss sex trafficking—what it is, how it happens, and what we can all do to confront it. We also discuss ways trafficking can occur that may differ from typical assumptions, for example through the camming industry.
Access OnWatch training, Raise, and more by visiting this link.
Today’s conversation is with Sage Hancock. Sage is the Director of Impact for the Malouf Foundation and Executive Director of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. Sage joins us to discuss sex trafficking. We explore what it is, how it happens, and what we can all do to confront it. Additionally, we highlight ways in which trafficking can take place that may differ from commonly held assumptions, including through the camming industry. Listen to learn more about how you can get involved in preventing abuse and sex trafficking by utilizing resources like the OnWatch training raises and more. We hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
Fight The New Drug (00:49):
Well, Sage, thank you so much for being here with us today. We’re super excited to share with our audience the work that you and your teams are doing at the Malouf Foundation and the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. As we kind of dive right in, can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this area of work in the first place?
I mean, it started a little bit back in college where I knew that if I was gonna spend 40 plus hours a week doing something, I really wanted it to be geared towards something good. So I really focused a lot on looking into the nonprofit space and looking into the healthcare space. From there I really dove a little bit more into healthcare actually, and I started working for a healthcare nonprofit. And it was something that I just saw a lot of passion behind, specifically women’s rights. In every nonprofit I was in, I noticed that, there were just things that I noticed, like you guys, you see sexual abuse, you, you see trafficking in healthcare and going into that, it was just a passion that really ignited in me. And I started working for a much bigger nonprofit a few years later. And there was just something missing. There was something missing in my passion. And so when Elizabeth and her team reached out to me, it was something that really just clicked. And it was something that I always knew there was that passion behind, really standing up for women and children specifically as they endured and tried to look past, into healing for sexual assault and exploitation. And so, I don’t know, I just jumped in and I never looked back.
Fight The New Drug (02:27):
For our listeners who don’t know, can you explain a little bit about the work that you do at the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and with the Malu Foundation?
So with the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, our mission is to really confront sexual assault and exploitation. For those of you who don’t know Elizabeth’s story, she was kidnapped by a stranger at knife point, and she was held hostage, for nine months until she was rescued by, brave individuals who saw something that didn’t look right and had the courage to report it Because of that, she, you know, had years of doing trials and doing all of that terrible stuff. But what really stood out to her is her case was an anomaly, right? Like, not too many people are kidnapped by a stranger or sexually abused by a stranger. But the part that was not focused on as much in her story, and it wasn’t focused in the trial as much was the sexual abuse, was her being raped every single day.
And when you look at the stats of how often that happens to women, that was what she realized she wanted to focus on in the foundation. So we really focus on sexual assault and exploitation, less the kidnapping side, and more on that side that so many women experience every day. And then with the Malouf Foundation, the primary mission is to confront child sexual exploitation. And we truly believe that the two missions tie in so closely together because so many of those who are exploited and trafficked, some research shows like up to 80, 90% were first sexually abused as a child. And so if we can look at that as more of a spectrum and more of looking at root causes and how we can help it, we really believe that we can make a difference in this space.
Fight The New Drug (04:15):
Yeah, that’s so amazing. We’re so grateful for your work that you do. And to go a little deeper, what does advocacy look like in the work that you do for you?
Well, we often try and educate individuals as much as we can, especially lawmakers and policy makers. We’re not in the policy and lobbying space. It’s a public 5 0 1 C three, but we do try and educate where we can. He Mullo Foundation also, we opened our first Children’s Justice center, very end of May last year. And we have really been able to understand with that what true advocacy looks like in understanding prosecution and trying to increase prosecution rates, as well as understanding the importance of advocating for the child, in that specific case with the Children’s Justice Center. And then we also have our We Believe You Campaign. So our, we Believe You Campaign is something that Elizabeth started because so many people, she said every single time that she has spoken hundreds and thousands of times over the years, they have looked at her and they’ve come up and talked to her and said, nobody believes me. Nobody supports me. I don’t feel loved. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my story. And so it’s something truly as simple as we’re trying to educate the community on, don’t Question a Survivor first. False accusations based on the numbers that you see by whatever stat research organization you wanna look at, are somewhere between two and 10%. It’s so much safer. Even if you go with the largest number, 90% of survivors are telling the truth. So we really try and advocate for and give them, trust and truth first.
Fight The New Drug (06:01):
And we had Elizabeth on the podcast, not too long ago, and she talked a little bit about the On Watch program that you guys have, and we wanted to talk with you a little bit about that and help our listeners kind of understand what that program is, understand where they can go to access that program and what information they can learn from that program. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Yes. On Watch always gets me excited, because I feel like On Watch is quite literally the easiest barrier, like easiest no barrier to entry, program that we have on watch is a one hour free training that teaches individuals how to look out for signs of sex trafficking here in the United States. I think that sex trafficking often has this reputation based on like extremist movies that we’ve seen of overseas trafficking and physically taking children and women away from their homes, and holding them in dark places where generally men can come and buy them. And that’s not the case here in the United States oftentimes, a lot of times, it’s children, a lot of times it’s done by a family member most of the time, a almost all the time it’s done by someone that you know, and oftentimes a victim does not know that they’re currently being exploited or trafficked in that situation.
And so if you were to go up to someone and ask them, are you being trafficked? They may not know what that means or they may not know how to answer that question. So on watch, it takes about an hour to do. You can go on, I am on watch.org, sign up, take the 10 core modules, and then we have four additional modules as well. It’s 100% free. And each of those modules highlights a survivor story that discusses their unique perspective. So we talk about specific cases like familial trafficking, adult entertainment and escalation. We even go into like what it looks like with boys and video games and how often that’s, that someone is taking advantage of them. And we talk about, cycles of Revictimization, stuff like that. And I think the most important part of On Watch is one, the Survivor gets to tell their story and we get to understand from their perspective. And then two, an expert comes in and shares signs that us as general community members what we could have looked for in their stories and what we can do to then report it.
Fight The New Drug (08:22):
Yeah, it’s such a great program and I would encourage anyone listening to checkout, iamonwatch.org and take that training again, it is free. And you, you mentioned a little bit about what’s in the program, but for anyone listening, can you just give us an overview of what some of those signs to look for are in, what to look for to spot trafficking?
Yes, that’s a great question. So obviously every situation is different. However, there are a lot of common signs and symptoms, that you can look out for. The first one is any sort of health disorder like PTSD. Oftentimes that stems from some sort of trauma. And so just being on the lookout for that, something that is unusual but tends to maybe pique people’s interest is any sort of branding, any expensive gifts from an older boyfriend or a significant other that seems to stand out. Individuals girls who are made to look older or women who are made to look younger. Those are signs. Any sort of drug or alcohol dependence can often be, done at the hands of a trafficker. I’m trying to think of like a few other big ones. Physical abuse, obviously that’s a big sign. Any signs of physical abuse such as varied stages of bruising to show consistency. Yeah, things like that. And then there is a module towards the end, that actually talks about the 10 most common signs. And so I recommend that you watch that. Another big one that I wanna talk about is dissociation, or overly rehearsed stories.
Fight The New Drug (10:01):
It’s great. And also I think, you know, knowing there are so many things to look for is kind of, great reinforcement for why people should take this training. It’s only one hour, but you can learn so much. And as you mentioned in Elizabeth’s case, you know, she was rescued because bystanders were looking out for some of these signs. They saw something that looked unusual and they called it in, right? And so that’s something that if you see something, say something, we can all help make a difference on this if we know what to look for.
Yes, thank you. And like, just to even reiterate that Elizabeth’s case, like that was a sign of kidnapping, yet so many of those signs and symptoms still applied. And the same goes with child sexual abuse. The same goes with domestic violence. The same goes with unhealthy relationships. So even though this training is really designed to recognize signs of trafficking, so many of those signs overlap with other, other instances as well.
Fight The New Drug (11:00):
That’s really great to note. Thank you for that. Obviously Elizabeth’s story is a success story, so to speak, that she was rescued. But in our work and for our listeners are often hearing kind of worst case scenarios of a lot of these situations regarding trafficking. Can you share any success stories that you’ve seen from people who’ve done the training or in the work that you’ve done?
Yes. So that’s actually one of my favorite parts of the job is there are very few survivors who are able to get out and, get out of their life of trafficking and go through a full healing process. One story that I would love to really talk about is Julie Whiteheads. She just had a book, released and it really talks about her story of this cycle of revictimization from her starting as a child sexual abuse survivor, and enduring so much pain there and not knowing anything different to becoming, unfortunately a victim of domestic violence at the hands of an abusive husband. And from there, that opportunity that someone saw was exploited and she then, was blackmailed into trafficking and she was trafficked for over five months. And her story is one of those that when you read it, it’s horrific.
She just had a book come out, it’s called Shadowed. It’s on Amazon. I highly recommend it. And she talks about, yeah, the atrocities that ex like her entire life was up until she was 31. But then it talks about those signs of healing. It talks about her going through such a heavy recovery process and her having family and friends and loved ones who support her. And now, I mean, she’s in a good enough place that she was able to relive those moments enough to write this book. She advocates for the foundations, she speaks for us often. She is probably our biggest proponent for on watch and she’s one of our modules actually. And her story is one of those that if I never met any other trafficking survivor who has healed and come out on the other side, hers is enough for me to continue this work.
Fight The New Drug (13:11):
Yeah, absolutely. Julie’s so amazing. Jumping a around a little bit, I guess, we’ve talked about some of the signs to look out for for trafficking, and kind of glossed over some of the misconceptions, right, that happen that trafficking always looks like the movie taken or something like that, these big Hollywood versions of something. But can you speak about any other misconceptions around trafficking?
I think the first one is one that I really briefly touched on, but it’s many individuals do not understand that they are being trafficked. Oftentimes it will be someone saying, you know, someone first taking care of them, grooming them, essentially, loving them, taking care of them, and then asking them to help, asking them to help support their family, their friends, that network that they’ve helped them build. And from there they’ve been asked to do favors after favor after favor. And those are often sexual favors where they’re not getting anything in return as it is someone else. That is one common misconception. Another one is in order to be sexually exploited, you don’t physically have to be touched. That’s something that I think our missions overlap on a lot. We have one module specifically about camming, and it talks about this girl, her name is Zoe in the module, but it talks about her story on how she was being sexually exploited by someone.
He was requiring her to go do live videos. It was against her will. She did not want to, she was a teenager and she was being required to, do these live cams online. And that’s something that even though she was not physically touched during that time, she was being sexually exploited and she was in that trafficking circle that a lot of people wouldn’t assume. The last one that I tend to talk about a lot that is a misconception is a lot of people look at sex work and the adult entertainment industry as something that is a choice. And while sometimes that can be the case, I would say the majority of the time and from the survivors that I have worked with, they were put into that space by family, by boyfriends, by something like that. And they are being required to continue that, at the hands of someone else.
And so until we can look past that and until we can look past the, I don’t know, I think people kind of tend to look at sex trafficking as these innocent children being ripped out of their homes and they don’t really feel that same compassion toward the 18 year old girl who works at the strip club who’s being forced to do things against her will as well. And until we look at all of trafficking survivors, with the same compassion and with the same love and with the same desire to help fight this, I think we’re gonna struggle as a society trying to fight it.
Fight The New Drug (15:59):
I think that’s, it’s really important to bring up, camming sites and online trafficking, especially as technology continues to evolve. Can you talk a little bit about what you see with regard to only fans? We get asked about only fans a lot in our work, and I’m curious to know if you have any unique perspectives on the role only fans is playing in society right now for our young people.
My thoughts may not be super unique, I guess, but something that I am seeing a lot is a lot of pushback in the industry that only fans is something that, is always the choice of the individual involved. And it’s something that is empowering for them. And I think that so often times, at least from what I’ve seen, there is choice taken away. We don’t know what happens behind the phone. We don’t know what happens behind the camera. We don’t know if consensual like enthusiastic videos are truly what is happening after that video is ended. I have seen personally a lot of boyfriends and traffickers or you know, predators even, I don’t know how you want to say that, but they are requiring individuals to get on only fans and they are taking those funds that they are getting. So I think that there’s this big problem with the only fans world that it’s just seen as this empowering, enthusiastic consent site. But anytime that there’s something like that, there are individuals who are gonna take advantage of that.
Fight The New Drug (17:39):
You kind of mentioned often behind the scenes, you know, there are boyfriends or family members or someone pressuring someone into these situations, but we’ve, you know, been able to speak with several experts who’ve also pointed out that often someone’s circumstances force them into something like this, you know, economic uncertainty or you don’t believe you can get work in any other capacity and this is your only option. And it’s like, is that really empowering? Is that really, you know, if someone had another option, would they choose it? It is really complex and I think it’s important for people to consider before consuming as we talk about on this podcast. You mentioned a little bit in your, your modules address, camming. Do you have any other work that you wanna speak about or what you guys are doing to combat or raise awareness about online trafficking specifically?
Yes. So one thing that we have really been focusing on is not only looking at helping individuals understand what trafficking looks like through on watch, but also helping, like the average age of trafficking is under 18 for when somebody first begins to be exploited. And so something that we’re trying to look at is how we can reach parents and how we can have these healthy open conversations, with children before they experience any sort of inappropriate content that may lead to online exploitation later. So last year we launched an app called Raises. I know that you know a lot about it, but I’ll kind of just give a quick little blurb about it. Raises is an app specifically designed to help parents talk with their children about online safety and about technology. We’re in this really unique time right now where the parents of kids who are raising ki the parents who are raising kids, they did not experience technology as it is right now.
And it’s such a unique circumstance. I know personally I grew up with a cell phone, I think starting in middle school and granted it was a flip phone, but my parents didn’t have cell phones growing up and they didn’t understand, and I wish that they maybe would’ve talked with me beforehand before, getting a map MySpace when I was in seventh grade, right? And so Ray’s really helps you have these healthy conversations with your kids so you can have that open relationship. So as they experience things, which inevitably they will, they will see something inappropriate. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, they will experience somebody who is trying to take advantage of them in some way, again, not if it’s when. And so this app really looks at how can we nurture parent-child relationships, how can we talk with them about screen time balance? How can we talk with them about inappropriate content? how can we talk with them about cyber bullying and about online predators? And so that’s something that we really focus on and we’re excited about seeing where that takes us.
Fight The New Drug (20:35):
Yeah, raises such a great tool for parents. This is such a unique time. We present in schools and often do kind of parent or community presentations the night before we present in schools. And so often we hear from parents like, I mean, porn was around when I was a kid, you know, they’ll be fine. And the thing that that so many parents hesitate to understand now is that what is happening today is so much different with, you know, ease of access to pornography and explicit content with pressure among young people for sexting or sending sexually explicit content. The normalization of pornography among this generation of young people, they are living in a very different time. Not to mention how many predators are approaching young people on social media and in the spaces that many parents assume are safe and protected for young people. So raises such a great resource to help prepare parents to, you know, have healthy and productive and ongoing conversations with young people and kind of make sure that a parent is the safe person that, your, their child comes to for help. So it’s a great tool. I encourage everyone to check it out if you haven’t already. Is there anything else we haven’t covered yet that you would like to share with our listeners?
I mean, I’d love to tell you just like real quickly about some of our programs in ways that I think it’d be really beneficial for people to get involved.
Fight The New Drug (22:00):
The first one is Smart Defense. It’s one of our programs where it really started with this need of not only teaching individuals physical defense, and obviously that’s the exciting part that grabs people in, right, is being able to be confident enough, to defend yourself in those situations. But we really wanted to have that geared toward also understanding like red flags in relationships, consent, what healthy relationships look like, and really understanding those red flags. So when it actually comes to, I mean, most abuse happens at the hands of someone, you know, generally your significant other, what that can look like and how you can look for those signs so you can avoid that entirely. And so since we launched that, we’ve really pushed, getting into universities, which has been really exciting. We’ve seen a lot of success. When we launched a SUU last fall, we were actually able to help a handful of women who attended the class.
Two of them were able to report an abuse, an assault that happened to them, and then a handful were able to actually leave unhealthy relationships. And so that’s something that we really try and prioritize with Smart Defense. But we also have been implementing a men’s program to go side by side with our women’s program. So much of sexual assault and exploitation, non, so many of the nonprofits in this space, they’re geared toward women knowing how to defend yourself. Right? And that’s not something that is the long-term solution because as long as men are still abusing, as long as they’re still assaulting, and sorry, I’m speaking in general terms of men and women, but 98% of abuse happens at the hands of a man, whether it’s to a man or to a woman. And so I apologize, I know it can go both ways, but I, I tend to, maybe speak in generalities when talking about our men’s program.
And so that’s something that we really wanna focus on is creating new healthy generation of men who understand, that you don’t have to live in this cycle of, I don’t know, rape jokes where you don’t have to, not know what to do if you see a situation. So for example, you’re at a baseball game, this is one that we talk about in our class. You’re at a baseball game and somebody comes in, and you can see him yelling at a woman very loudly. Are you allowed to intervene legally? Are you allowed to punch a guy in the face if it looks like he might punch a woman in the face? Or could you get arrested for that? What’s the safest route of action? What can you do if you like? At what point can you call the cops on this? And so we really talk through all of those things, but we also go through all the fun stuff so you know how to actually defend your family, how to actually stand up to one of those predators, or one of those abusers who may be harming someone. And so we go through both sides of like the physical side, but also the education side. And that’s something that we really hope, can maybe change that culture shift of not just teaching women to defend themselves, but teaching men who are enthusiastic on helping fight this problem on what they can do as well.
Fight The New Drug (25:16):
Yeah, and if I, can just add to that, you know, we see in the research that regular pornography consumers are more likely to be accepting of sexual assault and less likely to intervene if they are, are witnessing sexual assault. And so I think having programs like this that do kind of address, you know, porn culture, so to speak, as you mentioned, rape jokes or this normalization of, of being accepting of these things, I think is so important to have these programs and to kind of open up conversations about these topics and build awareness around these topics. It’s such a great program. I’m so excited that you have it and that you’ve been able to, to start, getting into universities. And I would encourage anyone who has an opportunity to engage with that program to do so.
Yes. Thank you. And then I guess something else that I’d love to just chat about is what we do in regards to healing. Sexual assault and exploitation is a very broad subject and we don’t wanna limit any of our resources to a specific group or anything like that. And so there’s a lot of overlap, with survivors that we work with. And then obviously survivors who are in like that porn industry and who are ready to leave. And so we have resources such as our Juniper Scholarship, which is a full ride scholarship for survivors of exploitation that I encourage anyone who’s listening who if you’re interested in higher education and you are a survivor, that is a program that we pay for your college education for free. We also have this program called Rooms Restored in which we renovate kids’ bedrooms for free after they’ve been sexually assaulted and sexually assaulted or exploited. We actually are just finishing one right now that involves multiple siblings, who have been trafficked by a family member and the youngest one is three years old. And so I think that is really important in showing that this cause like that we’re fighting together, there really is no age limit, there’s no bounds. And if we can all like work together to maybe just help create those little healing resources, whether it be a bedroom or education or you know, anything else we really wanna help provide that.
Fight The New Drug (27:40):
I love the work you’re doing with Rooms Restored. We were able to recently hear some parents, who’d had an experience with that program speak about how much power you helped give back to their family, to make their home a safe space again after, an incident had occurred for them. So thank you for all of that work. Is there anything else you wanna share or anywhere you wanna point people to, to look up any of these programs or learn more about the work that you’re doing?
Yes. If you just go to Malouf foundation.org, I think that’s the easiest way that has all of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and Malouf Foundation programs together, as we have joined forces and we now work together under one umbrella. And I highly recommend if there’s one thing that you do, just do the on watch training. I think it’s the perfect, first step into just understanding a little bit more about this cause and just feeling empowered. It’s that first step that you can do where you leave that and obviously it’s a heavy subject, but you leave when you’re done and you feel empowered and a little bit more like a responsible community member who can help if they see something.
Fight The New Drug (28:47):
Absolutely. You know, for our fighters who are here listening, you know, they’re driven to combat these issues because we’re addressing how porn can impact individuals, relationships and society and that societal piece, you know, this is something that takes all of us to be able to combat. And so it’s, it’s one hour of time, but it’s such a good program and it is really so empowering. So I agree with Sage and also encourage our listeners to take that program as well.
Yes, thank you. And then after you do that, obviously you’re gonna be inspired go by Julie’s book. It’s called Shadowed, it’s on Amazon. It is 100% worth the read in just understanding what that looks like at a much deeper level. After you do that one hour training.
Fight The New Drug (29:30):
Is there anything else you wanna add before we wrap up?
I don’t think so. I mean, you guys do amazing work and I think it’s just important to remember that so much exploitation can either stem from or is continually being caused because of this. And so thank you for the work that you’re doing. I feel like our missions go so hand in hand, especially as the online, like only fans, camming, all of those industries continue to grow our work. The way it overlaps together is just continually growing and more and more important that we work together.
Fight The New Drug (30:07):
Thank you so much. We appreciate that. And, for any of our listeners, again, the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and Malouf Foundation, please check out their resources and thank you so much for your time, Sage, we appreciate it.
Yes, thank you.
As a global grassroots movement, we need everyone to help raise awareness on the harms of porn. What started in 2009 is a group of college friends who shared a passion for positively impacting the world, has grown into a worldwide movement of millions. But with over 8 billion people on earth, there’s still a lot of work to do. Help others recognize how porn can impact them, their relationships and their communities. Select what resources you’d like to share to help spread the movement in your community. Explore our library of free downloadable resources at ftd.org/downloads. That’s ftd.org/downloads to start sharing fight the new drugs resources throughout your community.
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 a 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. Check out the episode notes for resources mentioned in this episode. If you find this podcast helpful, consider subscribing and leaving a review. Consider Before Consuming is made possible by listeners like you. If you’d like to support Consider Before Consuming, you can make a one-time or recurring donation of any amount at ftnd.org/support. That’s F-T-N-D.O-R-G/support. Thanks again for listening. We invite you to increase your self-awareness, look both ways, check your blind spots and consider before consuming.
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