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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Anne

Empowered Through Volunteering: My Journey with Exitus in Anti-Human Trafficking

Exitus Gala 2022

Since the beginning of this year, my life has taken quite a few unexpected turns. One of which has included diving in the world of anti-human trafficking work through my friendship with Candace Rivera and volunteer involvement with Exitus. I want to share my personal experiences and the incredible impact this organization has had on both the survivors we've helped and on me.

It all began when I attended a gala for Bridle Up Hope at the end of last year. Little did I know that this event would lead me to cross paths with Candace, the founder and CEO of Exitus. As we connected on a business level, our shared passion for mental health and the impact of emotional trauma on women became apparent. I made an introduction between Verijet, the company I worked for, and Candace. I was able to assist Verijet in facilitating a donation to the Exitus gala, and had the opportunity to attend. It was beautifully done and incredibly impactful. Survivor stories filled the walls and letters were used as the focal point in each the centerpiece on the tables. Tragic stories were shared followed up with empowering messages of hope and inspiring music. I knew then that this was an organization with a cause I wanted to continue to know.

The Reality of Human Trafficking

Throughout my time with Exitus, I have witnessed the incredible work being done to combat human trafficking. I have had the privilege of meeting courageous survivors who have walked through unimaginable pain and come out the other side with strength, resilience, and a determination to find sustainable aftercare and justice for those who continue to suffer. Their stories have left an indelible mark on my soul and have fueled the fire within me to make a difference for women who have been subjected to abuse, exploitation, manipulation, injustice, and so on.

Unveiling the Lack of Awareness

One of the most shocking revelations for me was the lack of education surrounding the reality of human trafficking and the communities it permeates. This pervasive issue thrives in the shadows of society, often unbeknownst to the general public. Exitus strives to raise awareness and shatter the misconceptions surrounding human trafficking, allowing communities to recognize the signs and take action.

Dangerous Misconceptions

When I first heard Candace talk about Exitus and say it was an "anti-human trafficking" organization, the picture that came to mind was something along the lines of the movie Taken; I'm sure you know the one... Liam Neeson and the whole, "I will find you" speech. I was fascinated to learn that while what is depicted in that movie can happen, it is not what makes up the majority of human trafficking. Human Trafficking most often starts from a close relationship such as a family member or intimate partner.

In regards to combatting human trafficking I was both surprised but also not, (because it just makes sense), to learn that helping someone in a human trafficking situation is a lot more nuanced than simply barging down doors. In fact, going in "vigilantly" style can prove to be more harmful. This is because most of the time those who are being trafficked either don't recognize they are being trafficked or they aren't ready to exit that life yet due to many incredibly difficult circumstances. The intense amount of trauma, threats, and substance abuse they have been subjected to do not just go away after they have left; it takes time, patience, and a lot of work to provide sustainable aftercare that allows these individuals to feel confident and capable of functioning in society. Think about it; no one wants to be trafficked or exploited in that way - when we come across girls who are not yet ready to leave it is often because they have felt and probably been told for a long time that they have no other options. This is why helping them see that they do have options, that we believe in them, and that we will continue to be there for them to guide along the way is so vital to this work. I would even argue it is essential and without it, the cause is almost lost.

The movie Sound of Freedom depicting dramatized operations from the organization Operation Underground Railroad, (or O.U.R), was very recently released and has been gaining a lot of attention. It has been somewhat controversial to which I have seen people question how fighting human trafficking can be controversial. While we're on the topic, I thought I'd go ahead and throw in my two-cents. To begin, I am very grateful this movie is creating the conversations surrounding this topic, that is great! However, I think it is important to research credible sources for education on such serious topics along with researching where donor money is going and what exactly that money is funding within any organization. O.U.R has even recently posted to their Instagram:

This story depicts what human trafficking typically looks like: FALSE
At the first of the film, it shows security camera footage of several different kidnappings. This is real footage, and while this type of human trafficking exists, it isn't the majority. When we hear the phrase “sex trafficking,” our minds often picture dusty, dark alleyways in foreign countries where orphaned children from the streets are kidnapped, exploited, and sold. And that is a horrific reality, but it is also important to understand that sex trafficking is not just a foreign issue, but an acute domestic concern within the United States that is ever-increasing.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states (NCMEC, 2022). Predators are soccer coaches and trusted teachers, neighbors across the street, uncles and aunts.

I found this to be rather interesting when the O.U.R. website has an entire page dedicated to the movie and they have clearly spent a lot of their resources in marketing efforts to promo a movie that admittedly paints a false picture of what human trafficking looks like. So why does this matter, especially if it's creating important conversations? It matters because the vast majority of those who are actually being subjected to trafficking are being overlooked, misrepresented, misunderstood, or outright ignored. We cannot help those we choose not to see. In order to know how to best help, we need to know how to best recognize and identify.

I suppose that's where the overwhelming difference lies... if we believe that human trafficking looks exclusively or even mostly like children being grabbed off the street and taken to a foreign country or dark alleyway to be sold then yes... barging down doors and getting them the heck out of there seems like the obvious thing to do. However, if we recognize that the majority of human trafficking looks like a toxic relationship or the many homeless women and men we pass on the streets of Salt Lake City every single day, the prescription changes drastically doesn't it? Suddenly we go from solving the problem by making quick, intense "rescues", to slowly building trust and relationships with people. Helping them with what they need. Encouraging them. Continuing to check in with them. Not judging them for being in the situation they are in. And then if they are ready, when they are ready, having the resources available to take them to a safe place where they can recover through detox, therapy, government programs, a solid long-term plan and someone who is willing to check in on them regularly and help them with basic life skills is the correct course of action.

Join Exitus

Engaging in this vital work has had a profound impact on my own personal journey. After enduring a difficult and unfair time in my own life this last year or so, volunteering with Exitus has empowered me to channel my experiences into something meaningful. It has provided me with a renewed sense of purpose and a way to contribute to a cause much larger than myself.

I was going to share more about the volunteer work I have done with Exitus, but that would make this much longer than it already is. So I will save going into detail for another post. But amongst the things I have been able to participate in are the NBA Allstar Operation, Massage Parlor Operation, marketing, mentorship to four girls, outreach, and more.

World Day Against Human Trafficking

Sunday - July 30, 2023 is United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons and in honor of this important day, Exitus will be hiking up to Silver Lake with special host world record holder Jenn Drummond to declare that People Are Not For Sale! Register to join me on July 30th at 7:30 AM - I'll be there, even though it's early and hiking 😜

One of my very first experiences with Exitus was getting to see the first safe house being built in Utah for aftercare

poker night

Exitus gala

Aston Marton

mary crafts culinary

James bond

Gala look
Gala look that never made it to Instagram becuase I was taking a social media break

exitus gala utah

amazon dress gala look

exitus gala look

amazon fashion

disney on ice
We got to go to Disney on Ice as a thank you from Exitus for helping out during the All-Star Operation

candace rivera
Candace and I

birthday party
I helped host a birthday party for Candace's son and we got lots of great cake pics

michael jordan

basketball cake

disney on ice

disney on ice

number 23

basketball party

basketball birthday

moana disney on ice



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