Guest blog by Mike Bartel, co-founder, FREE International
So many people ask, “What can I really do to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking?” I was one of those people. After hearing about the horrors of children in Africa being sold into brothels or labor camps—some as young as eight years old—my wife, Denise and I knew we wanted to do something. We HAD to do something. We started working in Southern Asia on global human trafficking prevention efforts, and when people back home in the US started asking us what they could do to make a difference, Denise and I founded FREE (Find Restore Embrace Empower) International in 2007.
FREE’s The BIG Search is a major effort in finding and freeing children. The BIG Search was originally started by Brad Dennis, president of KlaasKids and current national search director at FREE, in partnership with the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Now in its 13th year, this three-day effort is hosted in cities around the US, where community members work with city partners, churches, shelters and law enforcement to find missing children. Not all of these children are being trafficked, but each one is vulnerable. During our last event in Las Vegas, we found 24 of more than 30 missing kids.
“How Do You Do It?”
That’s another question I often get. To be clear, no one is a vigilante or a hero. We work with social workers to get victims’ backgrounds. We have relationships with local law enforcement. All volunteers are screened, trained and equipped with photos and information of each child, and they observe and report. During a BIG Search, citizen volunteers are safely in the periphery, but everyone is alert, looking for the same thing and constantly connected. The result is powerful, especially when people realize a report they made was the catalyst for freeing a child.
BIG Searches are the tangible engagement that so many people want to support. While awareness is important, The BIG Search enables residents to get involved in the fight against human trafficking in an impactful way. It also strengthens community relationships, as people pull together to find these exploited children…and, in doing so, learn about local resources they can call to report or refer a child for support.
Now back to the question, “What can I really do to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking?” The simplest answer I can give is, “Find a hole to fill in the fight.” Reach out to different groups to determine where there are gaps in your community. Try to connect with people locally through mentoring or life coaching. Volunteer at shelters, crisis centers or hotlines if you’re built for it.
If you’re interested in The BIG Search, we have 13 cities lined up to host events once COVID-19 restrictions ease. If you’d like to register your city and learn more about how you can get involved, visit http://www.freeinternational.org/the-big-search/
We’ll keep fighting until everyone is free.