Sarah Jakiel, Deputy Director: At 8:32am on Wednesday December 7th, 2007, Polaris Project answered the first phone call on the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. The night before, I hadn’t slept terribly well – knowing that all of our preparation for that first call would be put to the test.
When the phone finally rang, I didn’t know then that I was at the beginning of one of the most important journeys of my life. One that has taken me through the highs and lows of running a national hotline, of being on call 24/7 and learning to wake up at a moment’s notice, of building a team of professionals whose innovation and commitment would never cease to amaze me, and of connecting with thousands of callers, service providers, and law enforcement across the country who were as eager as I was to build a real response to fighting trafficking in this country.
Since that Wednesday morning we have taken nearly 65,000 calls, growing, refining, and striving to improve our services every single day so that we can identify, reach and support more victims of human trafficking. We are succeeding in this task. In 2009, we connected 975 victims to services and support. In 2012, we’ve connected more than 3,200.
When we receive a call, we try in whatever way we can to remind our callers that there is someone out there who can help them. Our goal and desire is to make them feel that they have found someone who will commit to helping them regardless of the challenges. We have operated for the last five years with a caller-focused mindset – we wanted to connect people, to create easy paths for survivors to access the services they need and to be connected to those services in the fastest and most thoughtful way possible. And we have been lucky enough to work with thousands of our peers across the country who stand at the ready to help survivors of trafficking in their communities. It has been an intense learning curve, where I have felt that every single day I have learned something new.
I am so incredibly proud of this program and in particular, of the purposeful and inspiring women and men who have built this lifeline for so many. Dozens of call specialists, program specialists, support staff, and more who have thrown their blood, sweat, and tears into this task for the last five years. Whether it was working weekends, long overnight shifts, or being on call, their quiet dedication speaks for itself. The hotline team has grown into a family – we support each other, we boost each other up, we inspire each other, and every day we get a call that sits gently in our hearts and minds and reminds us why we do what we do.
One of my favorite quotes from William Wilberforce on the subject of slavery is the following: “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” We know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country living in modern slavery. At this very moment, some are considering suicide, some are struggling to get up wondering if their bodies can physically make it through another day, and others wake up with the same thoughts they do every day – thoughts of their home, of their children and families, and of returning to a life of their own.
Each and every one of these people is wondering if they will ever regain control over their lives or if someone will stand up for them and make a difference. Please call us today to find out how you can make a difference in your community. I’ve seen it myself — thousands of times over the last 5 years — the difference a single call can make. The neighbor who wonders about the nanny they met who isn’t allowed to talk to anyone. The trucker who sees a pimp force a young girl to offer sex at a rest stop. The teachers, nurses, taxi drivers, lawyers and more who all hear someone’s story and ask themselves, “Is this person a trafficking victim?” Their calls have led to a different reality for thousands of people – a reality of freedom, of choice, and of love.
So I challenge you to choose action this holiday season, to learn how to recognize the signs of trafficking, to share this information with your friends and family, and to join us in this fight.