Julie Prettiman, wife of a Greenville pastor and adoptive parent of six, had been a stay-at-home mom until a member of her own family had a very close brush with human trafficking of a teen for the sex trade. That’s when Julie’s involvement with the non-profit Poiema Foundation headquarters in Rockwall, Texas proved to be life-saving. According to their mission statement, ‘the Poiema Foundation educates the public and raises awareness in order to prevent sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other methods of sexual exploitation, also facilitating the restoration journey of survivors by providing for their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs. Our goal is to provide a safe place where victims experience the unconditional love of Jesus Christ and receive trauma-informed care on their journey from victim to survivor’. Julie is now quite active with the organization, and at the invitation of local Kiwanian Jim Thompson, she and her associate Hillary Evans agreed to share information during the Sulphur Springs Kiwanis Club lunch meeting on Wednesday August 11, 2021 held at League Street Church of Christ.
Julie shared that because some of their family were adopted teens whose country of orgin was across the globe, she and her husband were naturally aware of the growing threat of human trafficking for youth in other cultures. “Yet, I had never really been exposed to the underbelly of the world. Not until it touched the life of my own twin sister and her family. My 17-year-old niece…. who was not rebellious, attended church every week, made good grades, did not have a boyfriend, and enjoyed a good home life…. went missing. She left a letter behind which implied she was leaving to ‘seek independence’. Yet, she also left her phone and car behind. Once Julie heard the facts from her sister, she immediately suspected trafficking. The good news is that the niece was missing for only two days before she was located in San Diego, California. The bad news is that she had been being ‘recruited’ for over a year and introduced to a handsome ‘romeo pimp’ whose connections eventually took her across state lines. Due to Julie’s quick assistance, the responsible parties were apprehended and actually found to be members of three different branches of the U.S. military. With assistance from the FBI, the niece was rescued and safely returned to her family. Along the journey, however, Julie learned firsthand about how the trade is conducted, and she now seeks to educate the public on the very real threat in this country.
According to Prettiman, interesting facts about trafficking include: the US. is the #1 buyer of trafficked victims, only 1% of victims are recovered or rescued for various reasons, and it is usually average, nice-looking young people who act as recruiters of other youth for the sex trade. All teens are vulnerable, and they are potential victims because they can be easy to manipulate by peers. Trauma can also play into their vulnerability. A person who has experienced trauma has had the central cortex of the brain affected. The central cortex affects reasoning. Some traffickers will inflict a trauma, like date-rape or gang-rape or other violence to cause the victim to be more manipulative, and to not reason what is happening to them. You can call it an invisible gun to their head, to gain control of them. For those of us who are teachers, coaches, medical personnel, even law enforcement, we need to also be careful of mis-indentification of victims. We may judge someone as acting like ‘a prostitute’ and not as a victim of sex trafficking. One coded message on a teen’s phone was discovered by her grandmother. The confusing message read, “Do you want work or green?” Uncoded, the message asked, ‘do you want sex or marijuana’? The grandmother was glad she got the authorities involved. We need to know the signs if someone is being recruited, or has been recruited. It is happening here in NE Texas”.
“I now try to educate people about the very real dangers of human trafficking. I advocate for Shared Hope International which works by way of state level legislation and the Human Trafficking Task Force out of Austin. Also with the Poiema Foundation, I’m an Outreach Co-ordinator for the Greenville area. Poiema has over 100 routes that we cover regularly with pamplets and posters, and we offer training for volunteers to help us by learning how to look out for trafficking wherever they live. Please look up their website at poiemafoundation.org and become informed about the signs of human trafficking.”
You can view the video of this Kiwanis meeting posted on the ksst youtube channel.