It was 1978 and I was starring out the window of my social studies class waiting for Mr. Albertson to explain to us why some weird religious leader name Jim Jones was convincing some 900 plus people to drink purple Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. He went into the story about how these people trusted this quack. “Trusting the wrong people?” I think I even said it out loud then and say it very loudly now in my life while I work passionately to empower women and children not to trust the wrong people. But let’s go a step further as I continue to sit with my thoughts here in the eighth-grade having already lived through childhood molestation, rape and abandonment. Sometimes I wonder how I even got up and got myself to school or got myself up to even live. What if there had been someone watching from the sidelines to notice some of the many attempts of crying out for help that I remember so well — maybe the way I acted, dressed or reacted to certain things, people and places. What if some of the many soon-to-be victims of the tragic “Revolutionary Suicide” in 1978 at the hands of one very convincing crazy man, had someone to speak up for them or at least listen to them and recognize warning signs that this person was not OK. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But is it? Hell yes it is. And it is simply by the act of recognizing and being aware of your surroundings. For your own safety and others.
Now I understand that even good ol’ Mr. Albertson was very busy just trying to get me to read, which I couldn’t, or listen, which I wouldn’t to be able to save my life from the hell I lived in. Fast forward to today and the list of warning signs when someone is in danger, when someone might be a possible victim of human trafficking or when and if a person might be in any type of danger and they are trying in some way to get someone, anyone, to notice. While doing one interview recently I felt compelled to turn and look right at the TV monitor that was playing back my interview to whatever public is watching and say pointedly as if talking to the one person that is listening and looking for a way out of an abusive, controlling and dangerous situation. “Please do the following, get up and if you can get out. If you cannot get up and get out and you’re afraid for your life, then wait for the obvious to happen. Wait for your perpetrator to either fall asleep or even go to the bathroom because it will happen. Find the phone or run a letter to a neighbor. Explain exactly what is happening and then folks those of you on the receiving end … listen. Better yet … act. Look for signs and ask questions such as: ♦ Always with a person that is controlling them and not letting them speak ♦ Doesn’t look you in the eyes, defiant and non-responsive ♦ Has little or no control over their own money, schedule and even their own I.D. ♦ Transported to and from school, place of employment, always driven there by someone. ♦ Bruises, depression and fear — overly submissive ♦ “What type of work do you do?” ♦ “Are you being paid?” ♦ “Can you leave your job if you want to?” ♦ “Have you or your family been threatened?” ♦ “Where do you eat and sleep?” ♦ “Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?” Stephanie Henry, who lives in Texas, is a writer, author, lover of life, speaker and anti-human trafficking activist.