Human trafficking isn’t limited by community size or socioeconomic status.
When Abigail Perry, a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Rogers, started exploring the subject to better educate teens about the many forms of trafficking, she was surprised by what she learned and the people she met.
Perry, a senior at Ozark Catholic Academy in Tontitown, was researching her senior capstone project. To graduate, seniors must take a subject area of interest or a passion project, research it and then give a presentation to a panel of judges and students. Perry decided she wanted to spread awareness but also make a difference in the community.
Perry said she encountered several misconceptions about trafficking.
“It doesn’t always include traveling or transporting victims across state or national lines. People also often think the victim is a person the trafficker knows or that girls and women are the only victims,” Perry said.
However, being introduced to Kachia Phillips, a trafficking survivor who lived in Fayetteville, was how the subject became real for Perry.
Phillips was first trafficked as a teen in 1993. Her sister was being groomed by a man who was 20 years her senior and married him at 18. When he became abusive, her sister asked her to stay with them.
“When I saw all of the material things they had: their home, cars and clothes, I wanted what she had,” Phillips shared with the OCA audience through a video Perry had recorded.
At first, Phillips said she began answering the phones for the escort service the couple ran and watched their home. As time passed, she helped them open other escort services in the area and learned the trade and how not to get caught.
“I was sent into bars and strip clubs or regular clubs to befriend other girls and show them how they could have all of this money,” she said. “At that time, I began placing my value in how much a person would pay for me.”
Phillips said wherever there are large gatherings or events, prostitution proliferates.
“Some of the bigger events that happened in the area were when we made the most money,” she said.
After being imprisoned twice, Phillips said she wanted to get out of “the game” but got discouraged because she was now a felon. A prison chaplain talked to her and gave her a Bible in 2015. One night after reading John Chapter 8 and crying, she asked God to help her clean up her mess and give her a sign that she would recognize as him working in her life. A friend visited and took her to church the next day.
When Phillips was released, she vowed to surround herself with people who could help her. One of those people was Jenny Sorey, founder and executive director at Hub of Hope in Rogers. Phillips participated in an awareness training and re-entry program. Hub of Hope’s goal is to improve the response to victims and provide healing and opportunities for victims and prevention and education for communities.
It’s been eight years since Phillips left that life.
“I promised the Lord that since I had spent 22 years of my life drawing other young girls in, that I would spend the rest of my life helping them get out,” she said.
Phillips is the first survivor on Hub of Hope’s board of directors and has facilitated a support group for survivors for the last six months. She also currently works as a re-entry program specialist with Goodwill Industries of Arkansas in the Springdale and Rogers area to help others recently released from prison reenter the workforce and learn life skills.
“I have been given a second chance, and I feel as if I don’t have time to waste,” said Phillips, who is now 48. “My goal is to help as many people as possible for the time I have.”
Senior Abigail Perry is helping Phillips in her mission to accomplish that goal. On Nov. 9, Phillips spoke to the Ministerial Alliance of Northwest Arkansas to broaden their awareness of the subject and the need to address it in the area.
“I learned so much doing this project and hope others can benefit from what I have learned. I really felt God was working in this, and the message can be shared,” Perry said.
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