This article is based on episode #14 of A Bridge To Wholeness podcast. You can listen to the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, and on our website.
Jennifer Crisp: Our guest today is Jan Edwards, the founder and president of Paving the Way Foundation, an organization committed to being a fierce disruption in the cycle of child trafficking around the globe. This is accomplished through educational and training programs that empower communities to break the cycle.
Jan spent over 25 years as an executive in sales and marketing working with organizations like Time Warner, Brighthouse, the United Nations, and other international groups before taking on the world wide initiative to prevent children from becoming victims of the silent crime. Paving The Way has educated over 6,000 children, teens, and adults over the past two years.
Ms. Edwards has been featured in Huffington Post, Marie Claire, NBC, an iHeartRadio and as an influencer on prevention education, and was awarded Humanitarian of the Year. Jan is the writer, co-director, and producer of the award winning film Trapped in the Trade, which was featured on CNN. And welcome to the podcast, Jan. It is such an honor to have you on today.
Jan Edwards: Thank you, Jennifer, so much. I’m so delighted to be with you and then share some really important information with your listeners.
Jennifer Crisp: Our topic today is disrupting child trafficking. You tell us what human trafficking is and what it looks like and how to prevent it. But before we even go into that, can you tell me what it is that led you to this? Because I see what your background is and you were in corporate America for quite a while. This is quite a turnaround.
Jan Edwards: Yes, I was. I’ve always been involved in my community. From the age of 12, my mom had me volunteering. I was always involved in doing something and making an impact in my community. My mom always used to say, you have two commodities, time and money. If you don’t have any time, you donate money. If you don’t have any money, you donate time. When you have both, you donate both.
Because it’s your community and for the community to work, you’re responsible for getting involved. So that’s been ingrained in me my whole life.
My mom was pretty amazing. Anyway, so how all this came about was I was invited to the Get Health Summit at the UN about five years ago. And it was there that I met this extraordinary man by the name of Dr. Mahari and he has a 501(c)(3) called People to People where he gathers the dysphoria of Ethiopia to help the orphans there.
And we literally exchanged cards. It was just a moment. Now, he’s also a neurosurgeon out of Tennessee and he works with a health clinic up there. And he sent me a text over the weekend after we met. He was like, “Hey Jan. We’re getting ready to go to Ethiopia next month to do this and that.” And I sent an email back and I go, “Have a great time, send pictures, we’ll talk when you come back.” And he sends me an email immediately back and says, “Do you want to go?” Now, I’m at dinner with my mom and my daughter. My mom’s across for me, my daughter’s next to me. And the two diametrically opposed thoughts that were in my head came out of both of their mouths.
My mom looking at me going, “You’re not going, are you?” You know moms.
Then my daughter was like, “You’re going, right?” My daughter’s always just been my biggest cheerleader, my biggest fan. I’m like, “Well, we’ll see.” So I go home, do the math, and I buy my ticket. And while I was there, we were there basically on a medical mission. And while I was there, we were driving home one evening. And for your listeners, if you’ve ever been on a mission trip, you’ll totally get the context.
If you’ve not been on a mission trip, just imagine those long days at camp with your kids, or imagine the long days that you were at camp and you’re driving home or practice. You don’t want to talk to anybody. You’re looking out the window because you’re tired. And I’m looking out the window and we’re in Addis Ababa and it was just a moment when I saw two young girls, two older men, and it just didn’t feel right. It got me in my gut.
And when we went back to our sponsor’s house, I shared with him what I saw and he’s like, “Yeah, that’s human trafficking.” And I was like, “Wait, what?” He goes, “Yeah. We’re the number one source of human trafficking into the Middle East. We have 4.5 million orphans.” And I’m like, “Hang on a second. You’re telling me in 2013 people are selling people?” And he’s like, “Yeah.
I’m like, oh my gosh. So it was like really right there that it got laid on my heart to do something about this. And when I came home, I live in Florida and I started to do some research, and that’s when I found out Florida has the third highest number of calls to the national trafficking hotline. Now then, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it means people are taking an action.
On the back side of the hand or you know, front side of the hand, back side of the hand, on the back side of the hand, it means they’re calling about something.
I started really asking the question is that, how can this be happening? And then I find out Orange County is number two in the state. And I’m like, hang on. How can this be happening? So I went on a quest. I had conversations with law enforcement, undercover police officers, FBI, homeland security, and most importantly, survivors. And I asked them all the same question. What’s missing that would make the difference? And the response was awareness. People do not know, the public does not know.
Jennifer Crisp: Yeah, because here in the United States, our assumption is oh, that happens someplace else. That’s in another country, in the third world. It doesn’t happen here.
Jan Edwards: Exactly, it’s an over there issue. Over there could be anywhere else from where I am, right? So with my background in marketing and media and sales, I’m like, that’s something I could do. I did advertising. I could raise awareness to this. It’s actually something I can do.
I ended up writing and producing and directing and completing and award-winning film called Trapped in the Trade. And it actually shows the intentional recruitment of children by children because traffickers and predators will put people in the schools to recruit other kids.
Jennifer Crisp: And of course, I am familiar with this film and I will tell the listeners I was a mission ambassador for six months for your organization. I’m very familiar with the film and it does not start the way you think. It’s like you’re just kind of watching it and then all of a sudden, it starts to hit you in a way that is really gut wrenching, to say the least. And when I’ve shown the film in the different places that I’ve gone, the reactions are wide. They’re varied, but they’re always surprised.
Jan Edwards: It’s the grooming and recruitment that we talk about when we go out and talk to parents in particular. Look, one child is worth approximately $250,000 a year. They’re patient. These people are patient and they’ll wait. And they’ll use every tactic they can think of to manipulate these children into believing whatever it is they say. And you know, they do target individuals that are more vulnerable than others.
For example, if there’s domestic violence in the household, if there’s sexual violence in the household, if there’s deep poverty in the household. And these children are going to school and their friends have got new tennis shoes and new clothes and new backpacks, and they’re shopping or they’re using hand me downs or whatever that is. There’s a, I want to belong. And so here’s someone comes along and offers to “rescue” them from whatever life that is.
And then they get sucked in and over time … A couple of weeks ago, there were two young men. One was recruited from Marion County, another young man was in from Louisiana. And they connected with them on an app that gamers use to communicate called Discord. This woman promised them a better life. Now, these two young men ended up being sex slaves for over a year in a filthy environment with seven other people.
Jennifer Crisp: So this isn’t just, okay, it’s in the school. I think we really want to make this clear. It’s everywhere.
Jan Edwards: It is.
Jennifer Crisp: It’s permeated every facet of society and it doesn’t matter whether you are in poverty, whether you are middle class, upper class. Of course, let me go after the most vulnerable, which they’re groomed themselves to pick out. They know what the signs are.
I think that’s where you come in and you are just, you are absolutely unstoppable when it comes to educating and empowering the regular citizen, be it grandma down to little child. This is what’s out there. This is what you need to look for. And this is what you can do to not only protect yourself but to protect those around you.
So talk a little bit about that. Talk a little bit about exactly what you do. You show this film and then what happens after the film gets shown?
Jan Edwards: So we’re actually doing a longitudinal study with a middle school here. I’m so excited about this because I know in my heart that prevention education makes a difference.
We know it in our being and there’s no scientific proof because as you know, people that create policy, people that write checks, they want data.
And I get that. So we’re doing a longitudinal study with the middle school and we did two classes with them, two one and a half hour classes. And after the first class, I had several young men delete Snapchat off their phones.
Had about 10 children do that. In the middle of our second class, the principal, because I always work with local law enforcement because I feel it’s really important that our children understand that law enforcement is here to help. Yes, you have bad apples.
And you cannot judge an entire organization by one or two people. So it’s really important that I have local law enforcement involved. And the principal came and pulled out the law enforcement officer that I work with very closely, and apparently there was a little girl who came to the principal and said, “These boys are saying that I sent a lucrative video, a sexy video to them and I didn’t do it.”
Well, he pulled those two boys into his office and they’re like, “Oh no, no, no. She sent it to us. Not only did she send it to us, she sent it to six other people.” And this is in the middle of me teaching about social media and sexting and texting and online predators. It is in the middle of me teaching this, this is happening. And so he pulled these eight kids in, parents were called, and I’m clear these children’s lives were altered.
It was altered. Conversations were altered and then later on that day, I got a Facebook message from a mom that said, “Thank you so much. My son came home from your class and said, ‘Mom, I now understand why you don’t want me on social media and why you don’t want me playing live video games. Thank you for keeping me safe.'” That’s a miracle.
Jennifer Crisp: And this is just one piece of it. I think that’s what’s so challenging here, is that it is, it’s just an aspect of it with the online. I know that I just recently saw on my Facebook feed your message obviously out to the public this past weekend with the Super Bowl and that the Super Bowl is a great source of human trafficking. And that you were really putting the word out and each person who came in received a small, what was it, like a sticker?
Jan Edwards: Yes.
Jennifer Crisp: Yeah, and what did it say on there?
Jan Edwards: It’s really about what to look for and what to do. And to answer your question, I don’t want to step over that. To answer your question, is we teach people … We say this to people, this is one way it happens. The film’s really designed to open up people’s hearts and minds to understand this is happening. And then we talk about things to look for.
So with parents, what I encourage them is you want to know every single password of your child’s social media accounts. And let me tell you why. I get Facebook messages all the time from either friends or parents that say, “My child’s missing, I don’t know what to do.” My immediate response was, “Have you called 911?” And they’re, “Yes.” I’m a huge collaborator. So I work with organizations all over the country and I’ll immediately put them in touch with several organizations that help find missing children.
My first question to them is, “Do you have your child’s passwords?” And they say no. Now the police have to go through and hack and find how to find out where your child is, where you could have done that immediately. And parents don’t know. And there’s this whole privacy thing, no, no. Until they’re 18, we’re responsible for them. And part of that means keeping them safe. Now, you don’t want to put some app on their phone or their laptop or their Kindle or whatever without having the conversation with them.
Otherwise, you’ll totally break that trust.
Jennifer Crisp: Yes. This has to be a dialogue and it’s got to be a dialogue that continues through their teenage years and even into young adulthood because I know I have three boys and my whole thing when they were young was, “Look, I am always here. Communication is always open. I don’t care what time of the day or night it is. I don’t care what type of situation you may find yourself in. You must always call me. There is no judgment. I am your safety net. That’s what we are. That’s what mom and dad are. We are your safety net at all times.”
I have to say we had a couple of instances when they were growing up where things were a little eh, they got into situations, they’re teenagers. But do you know they actually called? “Mom, this is what’s going on. What can I do?” Or, “This is where I am, please come and get me.” And I’ve always been that way and I think this is what we need to do with our children. We need to create that dialogue that it’s okay.
Jan Edwards: And it’s a safe space. And I’ll share with the students, look, you’re parents are human. They’re gonna have more reaction.
And that’s all it is. It’s an automatic reaction. They have no say over that.
Jennifer Crisp: It’s a conditioned response.
Jan Edwards: Exactly. You got to give them a minute to let them come out of that to be able to deal with what there is to deal with. We’re humans, we’re mechanisms. So that’s the one thing I tell parents, is you’ve got to be involved in your children’s social media and online, and this going out to dinner and everybody on their phones has to stop. It has to stop.
I’ll actually interrupt families eating, generally on my way out. Well, I’ll the hand them one of my postcards that has the signs and information of human trafficking. I’m like, “Look, you have beautiful children. They’re in the target audience that predators look for and the fact that all four of you are on your phones tells me right now they’re even more vulnerable. Here’s what I do. Here’s information about human trafficking. Have this conversation.”
And then I walk out the restaurant and they’re like, “What?”
Jennifer Crisp: I’m so glad that you do that.
Jan Edwards: We gotta disrupt this robotic this is what I do thing. We’ve got to put in more critical thinking and conversation with your kids is imperative. The other thing is be involved with your children’s lives. Right? A couple of nights a week, leave a little early from work. Those new pair of tennis shoes are nowhere near as important as the time you can spend with your child. It’s just not.
And so leave work early one or two nights a week, play Monopoly, play Parcheesi, go for a walk, go into the forest, go do something where you can bond with your child such that in their later years when something might happen, they know you’re a safe place to land.
Jennifer Crisp: Well, that is exactly right. And that’s why that communication starts super early and then continues right through middle school and into high school. Because if we don’t do these things, we do leave them vulnerable.
I’m 59 years old. So when I was a kid, we didn’t have these kinds of conversations because we were not even aware that types of things were going on. Obviously, we didn’t have the news outlets and social media that is available now. But I know in my world I was probably very fortunate because I grew up the daughter of a lawyer and then a judge. So I was educated early.
About a lot of things. And I will tell you, I had an experience when I was in college, actually one in high school and one in college. In high school, here’s a perfect example. I was working at the local library and started receiving really indecent notes. They would show up in the bookshelf while I was putting books away. And I’m like, what is this about? And I would blame my older sister and say, “Stop doing that.” And she’d say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Long story short, turns out the predator was a church member and for some reason had just decided I was it. And so I will tell you that of course that situation got taken care of very quickly because once I got my father involved, that was the end of that. I honestly don’t even know what happened to him because back in those days, we’re talking 1970s. I don’t even know if they did anything. I don’t know.
But they were going on, even back then. It’s been going on forever. It’s just so prevalent. So this is not, I want to make this very clear. This is not an endemic, this is pandemic. This is global. So this is not just in our backyard or somebody else’s backyard. It is global. And through your work and your organization, you are bringing such great awareness of this and the education that you do.
And I follow Jan on Facebook and I see what she does. And she is relentless. You are relentless. I think if she could just be up 24 hours a day and just keep going, she would do it. But she needs to get her rest.
So let me ask you a question for people who, let’s say we have grandparents who are really responsible for the kids. Maybe they’re coming home from school and stuff. Maybe mom and dad are a little hesitant about having this conversation. What would be a really good way just for grandparents to open up and have a conversation?
Jan Edwards: Well, there’s this really great website that has all of the human trafficking stats on it. And you can literally type in Human Trafficking Resource Center or Human Trafficking Hotline and it has stats by state. And when you state a fact, Florida has the third highest number of calls to the national trafficking hotline, Ohio ranks fourth, things like that. That’s a fact.
And you can kind of include it in a conversation. Say, “I was listening to a podcast today and I found out that know there’s human trafficking happening in the United States. And I went online and I looked this up and in our state, we’re ranked X, or last year X number of people … Did you know that?” In this inquiry and conversation, and the kids are going to go, “Well no,” or, “Yeah, I’ve heard about that.”
They’re going to say something and then you’ve started a conversation. You can actually sit down together in front of the computer and start to look up some information. There are incredible organizations around the country. We’re very specific in that we do prevention education.
That’s my lane. That is my lane. We don’t rescue, we don’t rehab. I work with organizations that do that and that’s not what we do. So to be able to have that kind of conversation, we have resources on our website which is pavingthewayfoundation.org.
Polaris has information, Florida Abolitionists has information. Really, any organization that does work in this field has information on their website. At the FBI website, the Homeland Security website. There’s a blue campaign that people can download information because we’re all in this fight together.
Jennifer Crisp: Well, I love the fact that you said, “Bring your child with you to the computer,” because you know what? That’s what they use.
You’re utilizing a tool that they’re very comfortable and familiar with and I really like that. And you’re showing them the other side of that, the good side. Hey look, this is where you go to get good information or if you’re questioning something. I really like that because we have to meet them where they are.
Jan Edwards: We do, we do. And you can start a dialogue that way. You can say, “Did you know the average age of entry is 12 to 14?”
Jennifer Crisp: I know when I did the talks, there was one group I did that the young ladies, this was all a girls group, this particularly one, they knew. They were already ahead of the game. So I was really, I said to them, “I’m so honored to be able to share this information with you, but you guys seem to have it together and you’re already familiar with some of this.” Going into another group, which was adults, no familiarity at all.
Jan Edwards: None.
Jennifer Crisp: So our kids, they are smart people.
Jan Edwards: They are. I gotta tell you, I love working with middle schoolers, love, love, love it. And people think I’m a lunatic, but that’s okay. They are so smart and they are so hungry for this kind of information.
And they were engaged, they came up with some great ideas, and that’s really … These are brilliant people that are just shorter than us. That’s it.
Jennifer Crisp: They are. It was so amazing to me because I would just look at them and go, “Golly day, at that age, I had no clue.” We just lived our childhoods. That’s what we did. But I’m glad you said that. So really opening up the dialogue with your own children and your grandchildren or even when the neighbor kids come over.
Say, “Hey, what type of discussion could we have today?” A lot of times, I know I did this when I was a kid, some of my mentors were the neighbor parents because you felt a little bit more comfortable and maybe you couldn’t discuss something with mom and dad, but you could discuss it with the neighbor’s mom.
Jan Edwards: A little less threatening.
There’s three things I really want parents, grandparents, neighbors, aunts, uncles, to really hear what I’m about to say. And that is, you’ve got to really pay attention to who your children are hanging out with and how they’re spending their time. Because these predators, everybody’s lives are on Facebook. They know exactly what you like, they know exactly where you’ve been, they know exactly who you’ve hung out with.
They’ll send a Facebook message or an Instagram or a Snapchat and go, “Well, I’m friends with so and so.” This child knows this person, but it could be a 40 or 50 year old man or woman on the other end of this invitation of friendship. And then the next thing you know, they’re spending more and more time in their room. All of a sudden, these things that they loved to do, they don’t do anymore because they’re spending all this time in their room or on their phone with this person.
And because we want love, human beings are designed to be loved and love. And if we’re not getting it, we’re going to go find it someplace else. And these predators know that.
And they will promise the world knowing that that child … All it takes is my dad upset me, my mom forgot, my big brother whatever, my best friend. And because people vent on social media, they look for that. They’ll go, “Yeah, my mom made me mad too. Let’s go be mad together at a party this weekend.”
Jennifer Crisp: Kids, they’re gullible. I know that I’ve printed out the Paving the Way to Freedom, the paper that you give out that we give out and signs to look for. I just want to mention these because I think it’s really important. If your child is avoiding eye contact, they’re fearful or depressed where you’ve noticed anxious behavior, or there’s a change in their self esteem. Do they have visible bruises and scars? Gaps in memory?
Maybe they appear malnourished, resist being touched, their grades drop. They show signs of alcohol or drug addiction. And it’s not just your child, it’s any child. This is any child. So if you have a friend whose child looks, you think, gee, something’s going on there, awareness, awareness, awareness. So actions to take, you have your educate yourself because education is power.
Be alert. Really be alert.
Jan Edwards: Get your nose out of your phone.
Jennifer Crisp: Be alert. Yeah, I always tell people, “Don’t look down at the ground and don’t stare at your phone. Look up and out. Because then you see the world.”
Sharing what you’re learning, which is what we’re doing today. Trust your instincts. Gosh, go with your gut. I always say to people, always err on the side of safety. You may look stupid for a minute or two, but hey, that’s okay because maybe that one time you won’t look stupid. So you gotta get past that.
Jan Edwards: Yeah, and every survivor that I’ve ever worked with and that I’ve spoken to, they’ll say, “Make the call. Call national trafficking hotline.” Because if someone had actually taken that action for them when they were younger, they could have been rescued sooner. Make the call. Trust your gut, make the call. And the number you want to call is the national trafficking hotline.
Jennifer Crisp: And can you give us that please?
Jan Edwards: I will. It’s 888-373-7888. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have over 200 languages that they have access to. And the first question they’ll ask you is, “Are you safe?”
You’ll say, “Yes, I’m at the corner of X and Y, I’m at the whatever gas station. And I walked in to pay my gas and there was a young girl there very malnourished, looking down, she had bruises all over her legs, and it had me concerned because the person she was with was very controlling. I’ve learned about human trafficking and I’m calling you because I’m concerned for her safety.”
Jennifer Crisp: And the thing is, you don’t know how many other calls they may have received and they may be tracking something that’s going on in that particular area. So the more information we provide as citizens, the better off the police are going to be able to handle these things.
Jan Edwards: Absolutely. Don’t interrupt. That’s what our police are for. Just make the call. If you see them get into a car, take a picture of the license plate. You can actually take some active role in it. You’re important. Your family needs you, we want you to stay safe.
Jennifer Crisp: Yes, absolutely. What if we have a listener today that decides to get involved in your organization? Maybe we want to start spreading the word in our own communities. What can we do? How do we reach out and get hold of you or someone inside your organization?
Jan Edwards: Sure. So you can go to pavingthewayfoundation.org and there’s a contact button at the top. Or if this conversation has stirred something inside of you and you’re really in the inquiry of, okay, what else can I do? We have what’s called a mission ambassador. Jennifer was one of our mission ambassadors. And there’s multiple ways to volunteer, for lack of a better term, but we train people to go out and talk to people. That’s one thing we do.
We train people to have knowledge about this so if we do go out and talk to people and we have a booth or a table, you got support there in the back of the room with you. When we go into schools, we need four or five people. So when we go into schools, people can volunteer to come with us into the schools. And then of course, because we are a 501(c)(3), donations are always welcome and there’s a donate button on the website.
And then the last thing I would ask is for prayer. Everyone can do that and it doesn’t cost you anything but a few minutes of your time. Pray that God delivers the resources that we need to continue to do the work that we’re doing, to protect the people out here doing this work, and also too, for those that are being bought and sold, that the people that are buying them actually have a change of heart and don’t buy them.
Or do something and go, “This doesn’t feel right to me either. She doesn’t look 18, what am I doing?” And then they go call the police, that we actually start to reduce the demand by educating people how this happens. And so you educate the supply, you reduce the demand, and you can actually alter how this goes in the future.
Jennifer Crisp: And so as a nurse also, we’re taught early on to look for signs of abuse, no matter what it is, domestic, et cetera. But I’m hoping that we get into the hospitals and do more of this education because it’s needed there as well.
Jan Edwards: Well luckily, my training was just certified by the Emergency Nurses Association. So we can come in and deliver training and provide CEUs.
Jennifer Crisp: Absolutely. I realize that this has been a problem for a while. When I met you a few years ago, I heard Jen speak at a Red Elephant event and asking for volunteers and I literally just popped up. This is not something that is going to go away anytime soon.
It is an epidemic in your own backyard, our own backyard of the United States of America as well as overseas. But we can become educated and we can become empowered. And we can lend our voices and our support to these types of organizations. Jan’s organization, what you’re doing is really striking at the root cause of the problem. As we say in functional medicine, the root cause of the disease, and that is educating and empowering.
If you understand what’s going on, you can do something about it. So I just want to say thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your information.
Jan Edwards: And if you’d like to get more involved with us and what we’re doing, or just maybe educate yourself a little bit more, we have all kinds of resources online. You can go to pavingthewayfoundation.org and download information, watch some of our videos, and then there’s a contact button up on the left hand side.
You can reach out to us and let us know if you’re interested in either us coming out and speaking to you or you want to participate and become a mission ambassador. We have mission ambassadors all over the country. We do training every month via Zoom. So we’re kind of a high tech company.
Our film is subtitled in Spanish, so we really want to be able to speak into the Latin community as well. And we’d love to have it translated into Creole and Korean and Japanese and whatever language your community speaks. We would love to have you on board.
Jennifer Crisp: Okay, well thank you Jan. Again, Jan Edwards of Paving the Way Foundation, and thank you for your time today. I really am honored to know that you are still continuously, fiercely disrupting the cycle of child trafficking around the globe.
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