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Jul22WedAs we welcome athletes and spectators attending the 2015 Pan Am Games, we must work together to keep sex traffickers out. July 22, 2015 by Diane Stark
Sex trafficking. It's not a topic most people want to talk about. We avoid discussing it because we think it only happens elsewhere. We don't think it's a Canadian problem, so we focus our attention on other issues.
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- Faith & Friends
We see people homeless and hungry, and understand how to fix that. We have food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Human trafficking is a different sort of problem. The victims are not always out in the open, and many of us simply don't know how to help them.
But with more than 250,000 people attending the Pan Am Games in Toronto this summer, many fear that Canada will experience an increase in the number of women and children being brought into the country for the purpose of human trafficking.
Annie Lobert was one such victim. Raised in an emotionally abusive home and molested as a child, Annie longed for love. Her high-school boyfriend's unfaithfulness broke her heart, and Annie learned early on to use her looks to get what she wanted.
“I was 19 and living in Minneapolis, working three jobs just to pay rent,” Annie says. “A friend called me from Hawaii with a great opportunity. She said she was making tons of money and I should come out there.”
Annie flew to Hawaii and worked as a prostitute for the next two weeks. At first, she felt empowered, but reality soon sunk in. “I didn't know it then, but I had just put on a mask that I wouldn't be able to take off for years.”
For the next 16 years, she worked as a prostitute. “The sex industry is like quicksand,” she said. “It sucks you in and then you can't get out.”
Annie was repeatedly beaten by her pimp, and clients tried to choke her and even throw her out the window of a highrise hotel.
For many years, Annie did not use drugs. But a cancer diagnosis coupled with a serious car accident changed all that. “I started taking one pill a day for my pain and that turned into 10 a day,” she says. “Then my friend introduced me to cocaine.” She eventually became addicted.
In 2003, Annie experienced a near-fatal overdose that changed her life. “After that, I made a promise to God that I would never go back to drugs and prostitution, and I kept that promise,” Annie says.
Annie is the founder of Hookers for Jesus, an organization that helps women escape the sex industry, and provides long-term housing and vocational training. They often work with Seeds of Hope, a Salvation Army program in Las Vegas. “We refer clients to each other and work together to see that their needs are met.”
Annie praises God for her new life. “I fell in love with God because of His grace,” she states. “I know He loves me just as I am. And today, I'm helping other women discover that same freedom.”
In Fallen: Out of the Sex Industry and Into the Arms of the Savior, Annie Lobert shares not only her redemption story but also those of others involved in sex trafficking. Fallen was the name Annie gave herself when she worked in the sex industry.
“I love my work with Hookers for Jesus, and I know I'm doing what I was meant to do,” Annie says. “I know that if I could be set free from my old life, then other women could too.”
The United Nations Gift Box, now in Toronto for the Pan Am Games, illustrates the cruel practice of sexual trafficking
There is a real epidemic of sex trafficking in Canada,” declares Sarah Chaudhery, director of operations for More Than Gold (MTG), an interfaith effort mobilizing Christians to serve through hospitality and prayer during the Pan Am Games.
MTG is fighting this epidemic with two approaches. One is an awareness campaign, which includes bringing the United Nations Gift Box to Toronto (below). Located at St. James Cathedral, the box is large enough for people to go inside, and is lined with stories of those who have been trafficked.
The second initiative involves street-level ministries that will help care for the homeless, impoverished and sex workers by distributing care packs, which include toiletry items, snacks and a T-shirt.
“The Salvation Army is a sponsor of the MTG campaign,” says Patricia Elkerton, the community ministries co-ordinator at the Army's 614 church in Regent Park, Toronto. “We'll have volunteers offering cold water, with chaplains available to pray with people.”
The Army's 614 church will hand out packets of gum to sex workers. “To anyone watching, it will look like we just gave them some gum,” explains Patricia, “but inside the packet, we've placed condoms and a card from the City of Toronto with numbers to call if they need help.”