Jason and Kristin Weis had just put their infant and toddler to sleep and were settling in to watch the news when a story changed their lives. They watched the news anchor tell of a father who had raped his 2-year-old daughter. When they heard that the father videotaped the crime and thousands watched it online, Kristin said she turned to her husband and said, "How do we go from hearing this and waking up tomorrow and just doing our normal life?" That night the Weises found their mission to fight child abuse and eventually child trafficking.
The U.S. State Department estimates that there are 12.3 million adults and children who suffer in forced labor or forced prostitution around the world, and yet there were only 4,000 successful trafficking prosecutions in 2009. "We don't ever just take no solution" said Kristin. "We're going to find a solution. There's got to be a solution to everything." The Weises believe they've found that solution in Stop Child Trafficking Now, an organization that harnesses a team of elite crime fighters to help law enforcement battle child trafficking.
The Weises began their search for an answer by training for ministry through correspondence and online classes at Victory Bible Institute in Tulsa, Okla., while they still lived in Denver, Colo., and cared for Kristin's ailing mother. Jason continued to work as a co-owner of a sign-making business, and Kristin cut hair.
One night in 2006, they decided to move to Tulsa permanently. They bought a house in Tulsa, enrolled their children in school, took a call from their real estate agent on Friday and moved the following Monday-just 10 weeks after deciding to do so. The most difficult moment came when Kristin had to tell her mother, who would die of cancer one year after they moved, that they were leaving.
Two years before they arrived in Tulsa, the FBI conducted a sting operation at Oklahoma truck stops and rescued 23 underage girls from prostitution. The I-40 thoroughfare winding through Oklahoma makes it a "trade route" for trafficking, but it also has a strong network of people fighting the practice. The Weises continued to take classes at Victory Bible Institute and started going to meetings with Oklahomans Against Human Trafficking. But they didn't find their niche until they met Lynette Lewis, co-founder of Stop Child Trafficking Now, and she recruited them as volunteers for her young nonprofit's fundraising team.
SCtN focuses on halting the demand for child prostitution. Its team of crime fighters, led by former U.S. Navy Seal Clark Stuart, works with local law enforcement to map and document the entire sexual exploitation network of a community, from brothels and massage parlors to child traffickers. After conducting an investigation that involves knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods, the team puts the information into a database that law enforcement officials can access as they fight trafficking and build cases against pedophiles.
Law enforcement officials often don't have the manpower or time to tackle the trafficking problem in a comprehensive way, and when they do they are often focused on just one aspect of the problem, like adult prostitution. Still, it took some persuading to get officials to accept an offer of help. At first, "We were more considered a threat than an asset when it came to doing this work," said Stuart. Officials worried about legality and liability, fretted that Stuart's team was coming in to take over and expressed concerns about professionalism, reliability, and how to manage the information Stuart's special team collected.
But Stuart was able to overcome their objections. Last month, the Tulsa Police Department, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett announced an official partnership with SCTN. Tulsa is the beta phase city for the program, and SCTN is working to develop partnerships in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, Calif.
When Lewis asked them to partner with her, the Weises didn't want to wait until a scheduled fundraising walk almost a year from then, so they planned an earlier fundraiser that drew 500 people and raised $10,000. They went on to organize the fundraising walk, and now they're planning another black-tie gala for Jan. 29. They calculate that they have raised $750,000 for SCTN while still attending classes and working other jobs.
The work has been overwhelming at times, both physically and emotionally. Kristin said her Bible institute classes shook her when she was learning about the power of Jesus but felt so overwhelmed by evil. Why was her mom dying of cancer and why were children being trafficked and raped if her God was so powerful? At one point she stood in the kitchen crying and asked her husband how they were going to solve this problem: "I just don't know how we're going to do this. It's too big."
"We don't have to go and rescue all these kids," he replied. "We have to fund the men who can."
Power of the purse
Nomi Network is channeling another kind of power in the fight against human trafficking-the purchasing power of the Manhattan fashionista. In December, co-founder Diana Mao sat in a booth at the festive outdoor holiday shops close to Columbus Circle in New York City, selling stylish purses and handbags made from recycled rice bags and stitched by women in Cambodia who are victims of sexual trafficking. Nomi Network designs the bags and works with a Cambodian partner called Hagar International to make them. All of the profits go back to the women's education and shelter.
Nomi Network began when Mao, who was studying public administration and international development at New York University, went to Cambodia to conduct research on microfinancing. She was shocked when a father tried to sell his own daughter to her and her colleagues. "I looked into his eyes and could really tell that he didn't want to give up his daughter," she said, and she began to see the correlation between abject poverty and human trafficking. When she got home she enlisted Alissa Moore, a church friend with an eye for design, to help her develop a product that Cambodian women could make to support themselves.
Since its incorporation in 2009, Nomi Network won the 2010 Classy Award for Small Charity of the Year.