Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Collin County resident fights to save, heal victims of human trafficking
Melissa Woodward is founder and president of For the Sake of One.
Melissa Woodward is a victim of human trafficking who is now driven to give her pain a purpose.
Beginning at the age of 12, Woodward was sold into a sex trafficking ring by a relative and was subjected to unspeakable abuse every night.
After years of struggle and perseverance, the now 35-year-old mother of three is on a mission to bring domestic sex trafficking to the forefront of people's minds, in order to save a forgotten group of children who are living lives that many deny even exist.
"As a mom, I am just so infuriated," said Woodward. "How can we not do something about this problem; everybody can do something."
Woodward is founder and president of For the Sake of One, a Christian-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent, rescue, and heal children of domestic sex trafficking. With its foundational belief being that a single life transformed is worth whatever the price, For the Sake of One aims to ignite confidence, courage, and inner strength while providing love, protection, and guidance needed to heal from the injustice these children have endured.
Woodward is also the spokeswoman for the National Children's Identification Program and is in conjunction with the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) and the FBI. Her story of survival was also featured on the 700 Club last month, in which Woodward described, in detail, the horrors she experienced throughout her adolescent life.
Woodward eventually escaped the sex trafficking ring, her body dumped in a garbage can and left for dead. Shortly thereafter, at age 14, Woodward turned to a life on the streets. With only a sixth grade education and nowhere to turn, she said her options outside of the trafficking ring were extremely limited.
"Stripping was certainly my step up, but it was still not what God wanted me to do and I knew I could be better; I needed somebody to help me along the way and there was nobody to hold my hand, so that's what I do," Woodward said. "Everything that I would have wanted, I want to make sure that they have they opportunity to receive."
Domestic sex trafficking is defined as the "recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person a person under the age of 18 for the purpose of a commercial sex act." DST knows no race, background, or economical status. Only 1 percent of these victims are rescued while one out of every 100,000 traffickers is ever convicted, Woodward said.
According to the Associated Press, U.S. immigration officials say 40 people were arrested in Oklahoma and Texas last month as part of a nationwide investigation into human trafficking that led to 637 arrests nationwide.
Dallas-based U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Carl Rusnok said 25 people were arrested in Dallas, 12 in Oklahoma City, and three in Carrollton as part of an investigation called "Project Nefarious" that began in February, according to the AP story.
"It is a highly organized crime," Woodward said. "I'm blessed, I came out on the other side of it. Only 1 percent survive. I feel it is my responsibility, if I was able to make it and survive, how can I turn a blind eye and not help other kids out there who need help?"
The reality, however, is there is no federal or state funding or services available specifically for domestic victims of human sex trafficking, Woodward said. With an estimated 300,000 children being sold in the United States each year, America is the third largest destination point for human trafficking, Woodward said.
Traffickers often seek children in places such as schools, shopping malls, parks and playgrounds, bus stations, and over the Internet. Some, like Woodward, end up being sold into sex trafficking rings at the hands of relatives, while others are caught at locations mentioned. Others are runaways who are likely to be picked up within 48 hours of leaving home.
Woodward's dream of ending nightmares and making dreams come true is slowly becoming a reality, as her organization plans on opening its first safe facility -- "Isaiah's House" -- in two months. The home will be open to all children of domestic sex trafficking abuse from ages 11 to 17. Each child will be provided medical services, life skills, and college placement in order to prepare for their futures. The long-term goal is to construct 10 pod homes, each providing 28 beds for a total of 280 children to receive the services.
A measure to better protect youth from human trafficking in Oklahoma was signed into law in April. House Bill 2518, signed by Rep. Sally Kern and Sen. Josh Brecheen, strengthens Oklahoma's human trafficking laws in the hopes of deterring the industry in the state, according to a an April 12 story by the Shawnee News-Star. Currently, under Oklahoma law, if a minor consents to go along with a sex trafficking recruiter, that recruiter is provided some legal protection; under HB 2518, consent of a minor cannot be used as a defense in court, according to the news source.
"If people don't know about it, then they can't react and do something," Woodward said. "We're behind the eight ball. You look at three years ago, nine states did not even have a law against selling children, and Texas was included because they didn't think it was happening. Why create a law if it's not needed? But it is a massive, massive problem."
To learn about Woodward's story of survival, visit www.cbn.com/700club/features/amazing/ZP84_Melissa_Woodward.aspx. For information on For the Sake of One, visit www.forthesakeofone.org.
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