A 14-year-old went on summer vacation and was taken as a slave. Last week, her own mother went to jail for it. An inside look at sex trafficking in the Dominican Republic and how to end it.

Liana* put on clothes, her body moving faster than her mind. “I could escape,” was her only thought. It had dawned slowly on the 14-year-old that she was alone in the house that had become her prison. The woman who enslaved her there, who brought countless men to rape her for profit, had stepped out somewhere. The house was quiet.

Liana had no money, no cell phone. If she could make it down the street, she told herself, there must be a place to hide. She could wait a few hours, maybe hitchhike home.

Home was only an hour away.

Today on International Women’s Day, we celebrate Elsa,* a survivor of sex trafficking who chose to share her story on behalf of the millions of girls and women who are still in slavery.

If you want to describe a survivor of sex trafficking in one word, use Elsa’s: Strong.

Just to imagine the nightmare Elsa lived will require strength. Night after night, men paid Elsa’s boss to take her away to their hotel rooms. They could do anything they wanted to her there. Elsa explains:

“I was treated as a slave who is required to follow orders whether I liked it or not.”

Now in her early twenties, Elsa speaks with a confidence that shows remarkable resilience. Her identity as a big sister shines through when she talks about her dreams for her…

How one country’s progress on child sex trafficking can give the world hope for an end to slavery.

Photography by Esther Havens. Films by DECADE.

“Abusers once trumpeted Cambodia as the place to purchase young children for sex with impunity, a place where the justice system was so dysfunctional, so absent, that people could exploit the vulnerable without fear or shame.”
— Christa Sharpe, former Field Office Director, IJM Cambodia

Cambodia was once viewed by many as “ground zero” for child sex trafficking. In the early 2000s, very young children were often bought and sold for sex right on the streets, simply because there was no one to protect them. Thankfully, this heartbreaking picture no longer reflects Cambodia today.

Years of collaboration between the government…

How a shattering moment
became an unlikely dream.

Seven years ago, Cindi Wolk sat in her sunny Tennessee kitchen, laid her head on the hardwood table and sobbed.

She tearfully set aside Just Courage, a book by Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission. Cindi was left heartbroken by accounts of young girls sold into brothels around the world — girls not unlike her own sweet granddaughter, Chloe.

“This is not some theoretical problem. These are real children,” she explains gravely. “These are real families who are struggling to the point that they would sell their daughters.”

Human trafficking generates nearly $150 billion a year, nearly two-thirds from commercial sexual exploitation. — ILO

“And what’s the difference between our grandkids and those children? Poverty.

Gary Haugen’s TED Talk tells how everyday violence is undermining development, and what we can do about it.

In March 2015, IJM President and Founder Gary Haugen delivered a talk on the TED2015 stage in Vancouver, Canada. His message? There’s a reason that so many are still living in poverty today and our development efforts are being undermined by a phenomenon too frequently ignored by the greater development community.

The problem?

A plague of everyday violence against the poor.

Haugen, whose new book The Locust Effect, co-authored by Victor Boutros, came out in paperback just yesterday

Why widows in Uganda need a new
solution from the world.

Benedeta’s hands lay broad and calloused across her granddaughter’s little belly, telling much more of her story than her shy voice ever would.

Spidery wrinkles show us Benedeta the Matriarch, the resilient widow who raised up nine children and 20 grandchildren largely on her own.

Her strong and able fingers give us Benedeta the Provider — the tireless worker feeding and sheltering her family on this dry patch of Ugandan farmland. Eking out a life in poverty with years spent dragging a heavy wooden hoe.

But the tenderness in her hands reveals Benedeta the Giver, the selfless spirit comforting each…

By Gary Haugen

In the midst of a busy week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) I found myself reflecting on WEF’s slogan of “Improving the State of the World.” While that is a very ambitious statement, in the past few days I have experienced tangible proof that there is indeed progress toward this goal. I’ve witnessed and participated in conversations between the business sector and the non-profit community that I believe will lead to actual good in the world, in the lives of very poor people.

And yet, I also often find myself asking, “Improving the State of the World… for whom?”…

Intl Justice Mission

We partner with local authorities to protect the poor from violence in the developing world. Learn more at IJM.org.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store