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Kim Westfall, a catalyst in the anti-trafficking movement

Kim Westfall, a catalyst in the anti-trafficking movement

Focussed on the tremendous and complex task of rescuing and restoring shattered hearts, minds, and psyches, Kim Westfall, like many others is moved by compassion, outrage, and faith. 

Her organization, UNCAGED.ORG, places special emphasis on young women in the sex trade. Our conversation is about Human Trafficking and her goal for Uncaged to become one of the world’s leading catalysts and resource hubs for the anti-trafficking movement.


 📍 Welcome to the Unforgettable Conversations podcast, where every week I introduce you to people from all walks of life, from experts in the fields to ordinary people who have had extraordinary lives. I'm your host, Sandy McKenna. 

 My next guest is focused on the tremendous and complex tasks of rescuing and restoring shattered hearts, minds, and psyches.   She like many others is moved by compassion by outrage and by faith. Her organization places, special emphasis on young women in the sex trade. I'm talking with Kim Westfall about human trafficking and her goal for uncaged to become one of the world's leading catalysts and resource hubs for the anti-trafficking movement.

Kim Westfall. Hello and welcome.  

Thank you so much. Happy to be with you today, Sandi. 

I'm so excited to talk to you today, Kim, and find out about how you created, came up with the idea of uncaged. It is an incredible organization.

Tell me, how did it come about?  

Okay, great.

Yeah. Happy to. Well, it's a relatively new venture for me. It all started in 2017. I had a pretty bizarre incident happen in my life and the words that were dropped into my life on a very specific day were children in cages. And the person that kinda downloaded this information to me suggested that I should be involved in anti-human trafficking and anti-child slavery efforts.

And that certainly got my attention. Children have always been something near and dear to my heart. I have a history in nonprofit management and leadership and,  definitely have a heart for the children. And that sent me on a journey.  I heard children in cages and I thought, man, if this is a real thing in our world, I need to know something about it.

So it sent me on a deep dive and I started studying everything I could about human trafficking and child slavery. I was reading the books, watching the documentaries, talking to the experts, learning, uh, facts that, uh, a lot of us don't know and probably don't want to know, but, we've got to know, we've got to do something about it. We got to change this  fact in our world. 

Kim. Tell me a little bit about human trafficking. It's a huge problem. Not only here in the United States, but worldwide.  

Absolutely. It's a massive problem. And they say, you know, if you throw a dart at a world map, you've hit trafficking it's everywhere. And the facts are 48 million people are currently enslaved in our world. 48 million wrap your head around that number and then realize that 85% of those 48 million are women and children. Uh, I learned that the average age that somebody enters into human trafficking is just 13 and the life expectancy from that point on is about seven years. It's very hard on the body, the mind, the soul, the spirit, it, it breaks people.

What exactly is human trafficking.  I imagine it comes in several different forms and how do we recognize human trafficking if we see it

Well, it comes in a number of horrific forms. Uh, the one that we focus on or encounter the most would be sexual exploitation, where somebody is bought and sold for sex.

 We also have things like labor exploitation, where people are forced into a scenario where they're working basically for free and oftentimes. Sexual exploitation comes along with that. Uh, and then you've got things like child brides and, even organ removal, or  organ  harvesting, that's all part of trafficking, but like I said, we focus on the sexual exploitation of women and children.

So, how do you find victims to assist?  

Okay. Wow. Yeah. Great question. And there's not one standard answer. Every survivor has their own unique, horrific story. Um, you know, sometimes it's a bust or a raid done by law enforcement or one of those agencies out there that are doing great work and kicking down doors.

That's not what I'm called to do. Thank goodness. Um, but we have created our work is primarily in Eastern Europe and we've created an incredible network of people that, uh, through a number of different circumstances, come in contact with the human traffic survivor. And they've heard about our work and they reach out and say, Hey, we've got a Romanian survivor.

Can you help? And of course we're, we're happy. Um, interesting thing. We're doing our work in Romania and when we got there, we figured out something really fascinating. 78% of human traffic victims in Europe are in fact Romanian. So they're scattered all over Europe. And fortunately we have a great network of Romanians that are also scattered all throughout Europe.

And, um, we get calls from embassies, from church groups, from social welfare agencies from just concerned, individuals, other anti-trafficking organizations that have come across Romanians. And, um, yeah, that's, that's kinda how we find them. 

Why did you decide to focus your efforts on helping victims from Romania? It's pretty far from where you're located in the U.S.. Uh, how did that  get on your radar

well, it's kind of a bizarre story. Um, but the long and the short of it is we had come up with a strategy, uh, and it's called the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is a place of peace and safety, where survivor has access to everything she needs. It's all trauma informed. And, um, so we came up with this beautiful scenario.  I should also say that when I recognized that there were 48 million people in the world, I, it came to me that we really need a scalable model. There are a lot of great organizations around the world doing great work, caring for two or four or six survivors at a time. But when you look at that massive number 48 million, it becomes apparent we need a scalable model so we can care care for large amounts of people. And we need a transferable model, meaning it can work in any context, culture country.

And, um, so really I was just having a conversation with the big guy and saying to him, okay, you've given us this beautiful model. But where on earth am I supposed to put this beautiful model? Like I said earlier, you throw a dart at a world map you've hit trafficking, it could go anywhere. Well, I was having a rather overwhelming day. I had been meeting with a lot of different experts. Some of them were architects. Some of them were psychologists and traumatologists, some of them were, I called them the assassins, FBI and CIA guys that wanted to get involved. And quite honestly, I don't speak any of those languages. It was way over my head.

I was feeling completely overwhelmed, uh, in the midst of the meeting. I said, you know, let's just take a little break and I secretly just needed space and air and needed a little time to clear my mind. So we were meeting at a resort in Southern California, and I did my favorite walk. I walked straight out to the ocean.

I turned right. I went to the end and sat on a peaceful bench, overlooking the ocean and had a little conversation with God. That sounded something like this. God, you've got the wrong girl. This is way too big for me. I don't even understand what's going on in that room. And, um, and this is your opportunity to bail on me and find somebody that can actually do the job.

And I sat there waiting for that lightning bolt moment where he would let me off off the hook and it didn't happen. Well, I got up and walked back to the meeting and on my way back, um, I encountered something rather bizarre. It was a giant aloe leaf, probably two feet long. And on it was carved a word. And I just felt this little prompt in my spirit that said, that's for you.

And I looked at the word and it said Romania. And I thought that was rather interesting since I had been praying, you know, God, where do you want this thing? In the moment I was pretty overwhelmed. I didn't really fully process what was happening. I snapped a picture of it. I'll have to send it your way.

And, um, went back to my meetings. Well, two days later, I get an email in my inbox from a friend and she says, Kim, I know what you're up to. And you know, really excited about your sanctuary model. For some reason, I feel really compelled to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Benny lou He runs an organization called world teach and he's located Romania. And that's when the sirens started going off in my head. Um, she explained that he had been involved in anti-trafficking efforts and suggested that I get ahold of him. Long story short turns out my husband has known Benny Lou for 35 years. And really when I brought this up to him, he really encouraged me to reach out to Benny.

Got Benny on the phone. He told me the story about having rescued over 750 people out of trafficking. And, uh, I started to explain the sanctuary model and he stopped me and said, Kim, this is kind of blowing my mind. We've had the same vision for the, for the same concept here in Romania for about seven years.

We've been waiting for the right partner. And,  a couple of weeks later we met and our hearts just bonded and we, we recognize it's like, there's a path here. Let's start walking down that path. And within a matter of months, we were introduced to a piece of property, 237 beautiful acres. Um, our model had been for, uh, had been designed for about 60 people.

And in fact, this piece of property already had cabins built, built on it and larger buildings for programmatic elements, um, and beds 60. Just exactly as we designed it even came with 12 miniature ponies for equine therapy program. It was like a gift from above. 

 That's incredible. So, what does your program look like when a survivor is rescued and brought to uncaged the sanctuary? What is that experience like for them? How long are they there? What is their day to day? 

 I'll map it out for you. We like to use the term wrap around approach. It's really another word for holistic, right? When you think about a traffic survivor, she's broken physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, financially.

So we really need to surround her with a level of care. That's going to minister to all of those areas. Um, so what it looks like is this, right now we have 75 survivors tucked away and safe homes throughout Europe because of COVID we can't bring them home. Uh, we're waiting for those travel bans to lift and we're supporting them in the intro medically and trying to get their legal status on track.

But, um, what it'll look like is we will go and, uh, pick up those survivors one by one from wherever they are Switzerland, Austria, the UK, we'll bring them home to the sanctuary and they'll spend six to eight weeks in the sanctuary, just sort of being assessed and stabilized. During that time, we'll be searching for sort of the perfect home for them to go and live in with a Romanian family, that's been vetted by our team. Uh, we have several families there that are anxious and ready to receive their first survivor and she'll live with them for a period of two years. Um, throughout that time period, we'll be coaching and training the family and, um, probably about half a dozen times the survivor will return to the sanctuary per two week trauma informed retreats. And that's when we're going to do the deep dive and begin to unpack the trauma and heal the trauma and, um, maybe train her educationally vocationally and use a lot of creative resources to again, wrap her and wrap her in this trauma informed therapy.

It's a beautiful model we're seeing people fully restored. Uh, the incredible thing is these women are resilient and they go on to open businesses and lead incredibly successful lives. So it's, uh, it's just exciting to watch that happen. 

How does somebody become a victim of trafficking?   

Ooh, that's a great question. Again there's not one answer. Um, traffickers are creative. Uh, I'll tell you about the most popular method that they use. That's called the Loverboy strategy. Okay. So imagine that you're a young woman, maybe you're 15, 16 years old. You're living in a tiny village in Romania. Um, by the way, Romania is the economy is equivalent of Mexico's economy.

So it gives you. Some ideas. It's basically a third world country, as you can imagine, there's not a lot of opportunity for, uh, for a young woman in that country. So a charming man rolls in from Italy and starts wooing her and telling her that she's, you know, the greatest thing since sliced bread. Um, we've actually interacted with several reformed traffickers that tell us if I tell her I love her five times and give her a rose I know she's mine. So he treats her like a queen for those first few months and then begins to kind of play on her desire for love, for affection, uh, for future. And, uh, eventually it comes up with a great idea, you know, oh, I've heard about a job in a hotel back home in Italy. Why don't we just go and start a new life together?

And of course she's dazzled by this, this handsome gentleman and ends up jumping in the car with him. Um, he creatively removes her documentation from her, her passport and other documents, and somehow gets a hold of her phone. And now they're traveling to Italy. They crossed that border. She's now in a country where she doesn't speak the language.

She's not holding any, um, identifying documentation. She's at his mercy. She doesn't have her phone. She can't reach out to her family and. The next thing, you know, he's sold her into slavery. She wakes up in a brothel the next morning, sometimes drugged, um, a lot of horror stories, but they prey upon that need and desire of every woman to be loved, to be cherished, to be nurtured. Um, and then they take advantage of it. 

What are the signs somebody should look for if they suspect somebody is being trafficked? How do you recognize it? I imagine not everything is in a brothel. I know here in the community I live in, they've had several busts for human trafficking, which I found shocking because I live in the suburbs.

 I mean, sometimes it's incredibly obvious. I think back to just a month or two ago, I was driving down a pretty busy street in Georgia. And there I saw on the side of the road, you know, a girl being dropped off in kind of a bizarre location. Um, and you could just tell by looking at her, that was the situation she was being trafficked and sold.

  The other thing I would say to people, uh, if they appear to be drugged, if they appear to be controlled by the individual that they're with, if that person is speaking on their behalf, if they don't have documentation, um, those are all signs of a traffic victim. Uh, yeah. 

What is the best way to act upon that? Who would you call? What would you do? Would you speak to the girl or call somebody else or give her a number? How do you address that?

Th the U S government does have a one 800 number that you can certainly call and report. Um, It's a tricky business, because if you're going to get involved, you're going to get pulled into some pretty ugly stuff.

So I would say identify a local resource, a house, a safe house in your area. And they, you know, basically every town has one.  If you can speak with them, maybe get an, get some information, contact information for that home and pass it on to the individual. That's your best bet. Let the pros handle it.

 Of course the police, you can always call the police, um, and, and let them know what you've seen, where you've seen it. Um, that's really your best bet.    

And how do you protect your family members? A lot of people have young daughters or even young sons that are potential for being trafficked. How would you, advise somebody to make sure that doesn't happen to their child? 

Right. Um, I would really highly recommend that people educate themselves and I can share with you some links to organizations that have excellent training programs.

I'm thinking about one of our partners right now.  A former traffic victim herself here in America started an organization and a prevention curriculum. It's called the Cool Aunt Series.. And it, uh, I think it's $40 to buy the subscription. And it walks you through how to talk about these difficult things with your children, right?

How do you talk to a six year old about sexual exploitation? It's not an easy job, but she gives you all the words and all the resources that you need. that's a really, really valuable, um, investment in your family. And it's very effective. The words of a traffick survivor. So she knows what she's talking about.

If somebody wants to be involved, if they want to be part of the solution. What can they do? How can somebody do their part?

 I would say. The greatest need for organizations like ours. No surprise is financial and there's so many great organizations out there, whether they're here in America or across the pond that, that you could donate to.

And trust me, it is a, a very valued investment.. Um, it is not easy or inexpensive to bring healing and transformation to a traffic victim. We're talking about a two year process and you know, a lot of details and strategies and programs that need to be implemented to bring healing to that person. So my number one plea is like, give, be generous.  We believe that we have a model that is, like I said, scalable and transferrable, and we are trying testing and perfecting it in Romania right now with great success.

Our goal is really to roll this out in the most desperate parts of the world. We need your, uh, your talent, your treasure,  and your prayers. This could be your daughter. It's worth  investing  

 📍 the numbers are staggering traffickers, access, vulnerable women, and especially children online. And last year online grooming increased by 98 point 66%. Education is the key to prevention. What can you do? Learn the signs of human trafficking. And if you ever suspect trafficking call the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373 -7888.

  Become a mentor to a young person or someone in need. Traffickers, often target people who were going through a difficult time or who lacks strong support systems. As a mentor, you can be involved in new and positive experience in that person's life during a very formative time.

 Talk to your kids about safety online and how someone sketchy could use an app in appropriately. 

I finally become a freedom fighter. When you support, you were breathing life back into a survivor by giving her hope. When you join the fight for freedom, you ensure that survivors get critical care, like medical attention, access to food. Even basics, like clean clothes.  

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