The scriptures say that faith without works is dead. Ascent 121, a local faith-based nonprofit agency, seeks to embody that passage through its initiatives and programs. Ascent, co-founded by Megan Jessup-Smyth and Megan McGuire, addresses the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) through clinical services, awareness and outreach.
“We work closely with the attorney general’s office, the Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans (IPATH) task force and the Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (ITVAP),” said Jessup-Smyth. “Our primary focus is on clinical victims services. We have an 11-bed residential program where girls stay and receive schooling, life skills and therapy, and we are contracted with the Department of Child Services to provide home-based therapy for those girls who are not in need of residential support.”
Beyond offering hands-on support to trafficking victims, Ascent 121 and its partners work to provide opportunities for the community to get involved, as well. One such opportunity is the Prayer Journey, a program that takes participants on a tour through some of the city’s most critical areas to get a different perspective on the issue of trafficking in Indianapolis.
“People think it happens in Asia, South America or in big metropolitan areas,” Jessup-Smyth said. “This is a way for people to be informed on the prevalence in central Indiana and what it looks like here.”
Participants in the Prayer Journey start at Brookside Community Church with a brief orientation. They then drive in groups of three or four to different locations on the city’s east side. Some of the stops include the juvenile probation department, a local high school, a victim treatment facility and a strip club, a place where much of the illegal business of the sex trade takes place. Once their tour is concluded, the group heads back to the church, where they de-brief about what they’ve seen.
Lorena Lane, a volunteer and past Prayer Journey participant, shared that her experience was life altering. “I think there’s something powerful about immersing yourself into an environment. Combining that with the prayer and information that’s provided through a narrative that you read while on the journey creates an opportunity to make an impact,” she said. “The area of sex trafficking is a difficult one for people to gain awareness in, because there’s a big misunderstanding of what it really is in our community. If you want to truly learn what the dynamics are and how you can make a local difference in helping remedy the problem, the Prayer Journey is a good entry point.”
According to Jessup-Smyth, many of the young women they’ve come in contact with are exploited by someone they’ve learned to trust and even love.
“The best definition I have for trafficking is that it’s an exploitation of vulnerability,” she said, adding that most victims start off by being promised that their financial, emotional and social needs will be met by their exploiters. This, of course, comes at a price, as many of those affected are routinely physically and verbally assaulted by their exploiters.
Statistics show that worldwide sex trafficking has generated roughly $150.2 billion. Domestically, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimates that one in six runaways reported to them were likely victims of sex trafficking. Locally, law enforcement has cracked down further on this issue in recent years. Last year, 53 cases of human trafficking in Indiana were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline.
For Jessup-Smyth, The Prayer Journey, which has been in existence for over a year, is a way to shine a light on this very important issue. “It’s a very powerful experience; people say that their eyes are open and they want to get involved. People say to me over and over again, ‘I didn’t know how to pray; I’ve been praying for you and didn’t know what I was praying for. Now I have some context.’”
The next Prayer Journey is scheduled for Saturday, Dec.17, at 9 a.m., and pre-registration is highly recommended. Participants under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. For more information, visit ascent121.org.
Did you know…?
27 million people are victims of human trafficking in our world today.
100,000 to 300,000 U.S. children are victims of sex trafficking each year.
12–14 is the average age that U.S. girls are pulled into commercial sex.
Roughly one human trafficking investigation is opened every month by law enforcement in Indiana.
83 percent of sex trafficking victims found in the U.S. were U.S. citizens, according to one Justice Department study.
The Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans Task Force offers free training to educate youth and adults about the problem of human trafficking and how each person can make a difference in the fight against this crime.
If you would like more information, contact the Indiana Attorney General’s Office at [email protected] or (317) 234-2301.
Source: Indiana Protection for Abused and Trafficked Humans Task Force