Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing author Nita Belles about her newest release, In Our Backyard. Currently she serves as the Managing Director of the non-profit In Our Backyard and the Regional Director for Central Oregonians against Trafficking Humans (OATH). A former Associate Pastor, she holds a Master’s Degree in Theology with a concentration in Women’s Concerns.
Tell us more about your new release, In Our Backyard. What was your main inspiration behind writing it?
I felt there was a need for an easy-to-read book that tackled the horrific, but hushed facts about both labor and sex trafficking.
Some of my biggest inspiration was and continues to be notes and emails from those who have been informed by the book and are now doing something to stop human trafficking. Even more than that, I am overwhelmingly inspired by the notes and emails from survivors and/or their families who have read In Our Backyard and are receiving services and getting their lives back. I said when I started this, “If I could only help one person. . .” and I’m filled with enormous praise for a God who continues to multiply that number.
The book includes many stories of labor and sex trafficking victims, both children and adults. I tell stories of what it’s like to be a victim of these crimes, as well as stories of being a perpetrator—how the drive for more money and power feeds and increases that monster within. Woven throughout the stories are statistics and facts about human traffickingand ideas of ways that anyone can become involved in this fight. There are study questions at the end of each chapter to facilitate small groups who want to learn together.
What are some experiences that you have had in the field when trying to find and help set free victims of human trafficking?
Victims are often traumatically bonded to their captor, a condition commonly known as Stockholm syndrome. Often times I get word that someone wants out of the life, or has escaped, only to find that by the time someone arrives to help them, they have gone back to their trafficker.
The most rewarding moments are seeing survivors begin to come alive after they have been recovered. After her escape, one survivor was taken to a beautiful shelter. I stayed with her all day while she recanted her horrific story to multiple law enforcement personnel. As I was leaving the shelter that evening, she grabbed my arm. She said to me words I will never forget, “Today I am free. I am no longer a prisoner.” After living as a prisoner, locking herself inside closets so she wouldn’t be sexually assaulted in the middle of the night, she now lives free and happy. She sees her family, works full time, has her own home and is a valuable asset to her community. She is happy and free to love, to laugh, to worship regularly at her church. She is a beautiful example of a person coming alive.
Does your definition of human trafficking differ from how the public typically understands it? If so, what is your definition and what are the main differences?
The public rarely thinks of labor trafficking when human trafficking is mentioned, but labor trafficking is rampant in our country. It happens in restaurants, nail salons, farming, in people’s homes as maids/nannies, factories, really, any place that labor occurs could be an opportunity for a human trafficker to exploit someone. Typically, but not always, labor trafficking victims are foreign-born nationals.
Sex trafficking is often thought of as Asian women brought over in containers and kept in massage parlors. While that does happen, the large majority of sex-trafficking victims in the United States are American born [Click to Tweet!]. Once they are in “the life” it is very difficult to get out.
This world is real. While all trafficking stories share some similarities, here is no “ordinary” way that people are trafficked.
Many conversations about human trafficking focus on what happens in other countries, yet you emphasize that it is happening in the United States, literally “in our backyard.” How does trafficking in the U.S. differ from that in other countries?
In some foreign countries, human trafficking is a part of their accepted culture to the point that there are laws that protect it. In the United States it is a part of our culture, but in more subtle ways.
In foreign countries it’s not uncommon for a person to go to a corner cop and ask them where they can buy sex. Here in the United States, for the most part, our law enforcement and other government do everything they can to enforce laws. Now we just need to continue to improve those laws, improve training and awareness about human trafficking for law enforcement, and provide better and more services for those who are getting free from this atrocity.
What are the best ways we can educate ourselves and our loved ones about the dangers of modern-day slavery?
My first suggestion must be to read In Our Backyard. I compiled the best information I know in the book.
Second, talk about it! All the traffickers ask is that we remain silent about this, or pretend it doesn’t happen. We must not do either of those things. Go ahead and organize a community or church event. Bring in a speaker and then have opportunities at the end of the event for people to get involved in some way.
Awareness of the warning signs is the best prevention for our loved ones. [Click to Tweet!]
For more information on Nita Belles and her work, please visit www.inourbackyard365.org.