Elisabeth snuggles her two children every night at bedtime. She reads them a story, sings them a song, and tucks the covers under their chins. The melody of her voice soothes them as they drift into slumber. School has been going pretty well; their mom makes sure of that. They have fun friends in their apartment complex that make afternoon playtime the best part of the day. These children are safe, loved, and eager for a new day to come

Elisabeth is full of hope for their futures. She has a warm home and a steady job that pays her enough, even if sometimes the budget is tight as a single mom. She has a community of people who care about her in Ventura County. She finished her radiology program and made friends with her classmates, neighbors, and people she met at church, another place of refuge.

Elisabeth remembers a time when the future for her and her children was not so hopeful. She had a newborn and a toddler and was alone in California. Her boyfriend had left them after developing a heroin addiction. She had no family to turn to. She was feeling very alone when she met John. He was a tall, well-dressed man who took her on a few dates and treated her well. After learning of her situation, he promised her a job as a housekeeper at his hotel; he would even pay room and board along with a small salary. There was no paperwork, no fuss, just a start date. She showed up and he moved her kids into a hotel room then and there. But it was too good to be true, as she was trafficked that very night, taken into the room next door, and told to have sex with a stranger or lose her kids. Her love for her precious babies kept her enslaved for eighteen months until the police came to her hotel room in the dead of night.

Thanks to a brave hotel employee who suspected that something was wrong, Elisabeth was rescued and came to her first place of refuge: the safe house provided by Interface Children & Family Services. It was there that her body and mind started the slow process of healing. It was there that she could hold her children with no need to defend them. One day at a time, over several weeks and months, the team at Interface secured her the medical and psychological care that she needed, training for a new job, a safe apartment, and legal support in her case against John. One day at a time, she could imagine the next day as something other than a trap. One day at a time, hope grew in her heart as it grew in her daily reality.

There is a persistent myth that human trafficking always involves kidnapping or violent force, but most traffickers rely on psychological means such as tricking or defrauding victims into commercial sex or exploitative labor. Victims can be any age, sex, gender, nationality, or socioeconomic status. Many traffickers are close relations to victims—romantic partners, spouses, even parents. Portrayals of human trafficking often focus solely on sex trafficking, but labor trafficking is also common. Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the subjection to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or slavery.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Our team at Interface works around the clock to spread awareness about human trafficking in our community: to educate physicians and hospitality workers in identifying signs of human trafficking, to educate children in learning to claim their bodies as their own, to instruct teenagers about healthy relationships, all to prevent human trafficking in the first place. But when it does occur, we are ready. Our partnerships with law enforcement are strong. Our safe house is a place of refuge. Our recovery services are second to none. Join us in lifting up survivors across our region just like Elisabeth and her children – let’s be there for them when they need it the most.

In gratitude,

Erik Sternad
Executive Director