Sex trafficking claims thousands of victims in the United States each year, with Florida ranking among the top three states for victimization. It’s an illicit and exploitative industry of which many are aware and few are informed, but one local nonprofit is seeking to change that.
“No one really knows what human trafficking is because the media usually portrays it as a young girl being kidnapped when, in reality, only 5% of cases are kidnapping,” said Kristin Keen, founder and president of Rethreaded, a local nonprofit that supports human trafficking survivors.
“The definition of human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to perform a sex act for profit,” Keen added, “so it is actually way more underhanded and intentional than kidnapping.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, most human traffickers use psychological deception, manipulation and/or fraud to entrap their victims, and contrary to common belief, not all cases involve a person being held against their will.
“Most traffickers form relationships with the person they’re trying to traffic,” Keen said. “Whether it’s a family member, whether it’s someone posing as a boyfriend, the grooming process can take a year, sometimes two years. They build trust and then they exploit the trust and the vulnerabilities of the person.”
While individuals who have lived through such exploitation often feel they do not have a way out for other reasons — such as a lack of finances, transportation or a safe place to stay — Keen has made it her purpose to open that door to freedom.
“I’ve been doing this work for 25 years,” Keen said, “I started Rethreaded because I just want women to know their worth and their value. I want them to know they have a choice.”
At Rethreaded, human trafficking survivors have access to counseling and a supportive community as they earn an income handcrafting unique gifts for the Rethreaded retail store.
“Our mission is to harness the power of business, time and community to create choice for 500 survivors of human trafficking by 2033,” she said. “We provide long-term employment in our social enterprise, and when women are employed, we provide wraparound services. So, for 3-5 years, we walk with women to rethread their lives.”
Part of that “rethreading,” she added, includes helping women to build a better future.
“When she’s working here, through her work, she can regain her self-confidence, her self-esteem, and she gains practical skills so that if she ever needs to leave, she can leave Rethreaded and find a good job,” said Keen.
Reclaiming the Light
Last April, at Rethreaded’s Delores Barr Weaver Campus of Hope in Springfield, the charity unveiled its “Reclaiming the Light: A Survivor’s Journey” mural and mosaic depicting a human trafficking survivor’s path to healing. Dubbed the First Lady Molly Curry Art Legacy Project, the idea for the educational art installation originated with Curry.
“First Lady Molly Curry — her heart was to make a lasting impression with something that would really help survivors — so she made this educational art piece,” Keen said. “She sat down with three of our women and they went through an art exercise to tell their story through art, and then artists took those stories and made this mural and mosaic that takes a person on a woman’s journey through human trafficking, and it’s beautiful.”
Created through the combined talents of muralist Nico and mosaic art team RouxArt, the installation allows viewers to walk the path of a human trafficking survivor, starting with a mirrored birdcage that invites passersby to put themselves in the shoes of a woman being trafficked. A single bird flies from the open cage, beginning the journey to freedom and recovery.
Since the project’s completion, more than 600 visitors have shown their support by participating in Rethreaded’s Reclaim the Light volunteer experience, which includes touring the art project, watching an educational video on human trafficking and assisting the Rethreaded team with deconstructing leather airline seats.
The leather, Keen said, is repurposed to create the gifts in the Rethreaded retail store.
“We’re such a unique nonprofit, because we need you to shop with us,” she said, “And just by intentionally choosing where you shop, you can change lives.”
Other ways Keen said community members can support survivors include donating — which can be done through the organization’s website at www.Rethreaded.com — and joining the 100 Percent Club, an initiative started by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody that encourages employers to commit to training 100 percent of their employees on recognizing and reporting human trafficking.
“We believe in the power of community,” Keen said. “It takes a community to keep a woman in the life of human trafficking, and it takes a community to give women an opportunity to leave and stay out of human trafficking, so we’re just inviting people to invest in their community.”
By Samantha Flom