Fighting the Good Fight
Trafficking Hope, a nationwide campaign based in Birmingham, works to fight human trafficking across the state and nation.
By Tanner Ary
Heading home from her job as a paralegal in downtown Birmingham, Pam Rasberry has passed motels on some of the city’s busiest highways where she has seen pimps and girls standing out front.
Often times, the ride home is interrupted by thoughts of sadness as she sees girls not much older than 15 being forced into prostitution in human trafficking rings that have spread rapidly throughout the nation.
“I knew there was something that I wanted to do about this situation, and Trafficking Hope gave me that opportunity,” said Rasberry, current campus leader for Trafficking Hope at the Greystone campus of Church of the Highlands. “I have been working ever since.”
Rasberry and other volunteers for the charity organization toil tirelessly to spread their message and help victims. The experience can be a blessing for the volunteers, she said, as much as it is the victims.
“Seeing lives changed like this first hand has changed mine just as much,” Rasberry said. “I have lived in a bubble most of my life and I have refused to realize how much people are struggling until now. These girls bless me more than I could ever bless them.”
Trafficking Hope was created in 2007 after founders Lee and Laura Domingue traveled to Europe on a human trafficking reconnaissance trip. Upon their return, the husband and wife team realized that the issue was not just happening thousands of miles away across an ocean, but also in the United States.
“When we got back from Europe, we were actually stunned to find out that human trafficking was actually happening here as well,” Laura Domingue said. “It never even crossed my mind that this could be happening here in the United Sates. I always thought that this was just a problem in foreign countries.”
After coming to this realization, the Domingues decided to act as fast as possible to do their part in fixing the problem.
“We started awareness campaigns and other events in our area to help get the word out as soon as we got back,” Domingue said. “We hit the ground running, talking with law enforcement and lawmakers across the country, and it has just been a domino effect from there. It was not an option for us to just sit idly by and let it continue happening. We wanted to be a part of making change happen.”
Trafficking Hope has made strides to help educate and spread awareness across the nation.
“This process is something that requires us to keep learning year after year what works and what does not work,” Domingue said. “We have chronicled all that we have learned over time into creating the C.A.R.E.S initiative that we use to educate others about how to effectively fight human trafficking.”
C.A.R.E.S, which stands for coalition, awareness, rescue, education, and services, is the organization’s holistic approach to combating human trafficking. Trafficking Hope uses this initiative to teach and assist churches and other organizations in combatting human trafficking in their own communities around the nation.
“C.A.R.E.S explains every effective method we have figured out to help raise awareness and fight this issue,” Domingue said. “Now the goal is to get this information into the hands of as many as we can so that we can continue fighting.”
Since its inception in 2007 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Trafficking Hope has launched a new national base office in Birmingham while also spreading the C.A.R.E.S initiative into Texas. This expansion came about as a part of a long-term plan to end human trafficking on a national level.
Amy Wagar, Alabama Director of Trafficking Hope, realized her passion for the victims of human trafficking after a “God moment,” as she calls it.
“I had a God moment one morning getting ready for church,” Wagar said. “Something just hit me and I realized that the people I have looked down on and called dirty prostitutes are actually victims of a terrible crime that just need to be loved and helped. I asked God to break my heart for the things that break His and I ended up bawling like a baby over this.”
Wagar, along with other volunteers around the area, spread Trafficking Hope’s message through service days, speaking engagements and even by going with law enforcement officers on rescue missions.
“We participate in the rescues as a victim advocate,” Wagar said. “Victims have a hard time trusting the cops sometimes and if we can get them to accept us and open up to us as just someone who loves them and wants to help them, it is easier to be effective in getting them out of these bad situations.”
Although large efforts are made by Wagar and the team to help rescue and transport the victims out of these situations, it can be hard to keep trafficked individuals out of the streets sometimes, she said.
“You go after these individuals and you love them as best you can,” Wagar said. “You offer them clothes and care and support, but the truth of the matter is that it can be very challenging to get these girls off the street.”
Trafficking Hope has come a long way since its beginning in 2007, but Domingue said she is sure there is much more to be done for these victims moving forward.
“I am proud of all of the accomplishments and improvements we have made over the years,” she said. “Until human trafficking is completely eliminated, though, there is still so much more we can do as an organization and we do not plan on stopping until that day comes.”