The desire to give hope to others, especially when it comes to humanitarian issues. That’s the goal behind New Hope Foundation International.
Since the early 2000s, NHFI has been producing short films and documentaries featuring various social injustices such as foster care youth and the incarceration system.
NHFI’s founder, Richard Fujita, was inspired by the impact that films and documentaries possessed. Coming from an era before cellphones and the internet, it really stuck with him the importance of harnessing modern technology.
“It really started with this idea of really harnessing media for good to, you know, spread truth, to highlight issues that people weren’t talking about,” said Brianna Chaves, Project Director at NHFI.
After moving the headquarters to Las Vegas, Chaves and the team noticed an issue surrounding their community, and how the nickname for the city seemed to actually cause problems within the culture.
“Las Vegas is known as Sin City..but because there’s a demand for this kind of thing, then things like sex trafficking, labor trafficking are very much a byproduct that people don’t typically think about.”
In making the documentary Surviving Sin City, the team learned how much danger the local community, and the world was on a larger scale, to sex trafficking, especially in the modern age. They decided to start an awareness project.
Sex Trafficking Awareness
NHFI now strives to educate the public on what sex trafficking looks like, how to talk to kids about it and how it happens. They’re one of the main organizations that focuses on the awareness piece, and the training.
Training sessions are offered to medical professionals, first responders, teachers, parents and anyone else interested. They also cover how to get out of domestically abusive relationships and create healthier ones with their support.
A big partner is the Southern Nevada human trafficking task force, run by the police department. They also work with faith-based organizations, other nonprofits and agencies that deal with victim services.
“We definitely are always working together because that also provides much more opportunities for people to know,” said Chaves.
According to Chaves, the way the media is writing about the issue is sometimes doing more harm than good.
“Currently one of the biggest things is the idea of how we use the language in terms of how we are naming victims. A big thing, especially with youth is there has been a huge tendency to call a child…child prostitute or underage prostitute….that we have normalized the word prostitution makes it a big problem for people to think about this person as a victim instead of a criminal.”
The release of several major movies coming out has shed light on the issue, many believe that they’re educated enough on the matter.
“It’s hard because in a way it’s a good thing because at least people know about it, but they’re not getting a good understanding of what it really looks like day to day. Typically in Vegas what we see a lot of is what we consider a Romeo Pimp,”said Chaves.
A Romeo pimp is oftentimes (but not always) a male pursuing a younger female and seeks a romantic relationship. They’re looking for someone who is very vulnerable, with lower self-esteem.
“I just want to highlight to you that this is big in the LGBTQ, especially with trans folks, you know because of a lot of the trauma they face coming out, they’re oftentimes homeless youth or a runaway youth,” said Chaves.
A lot of these kids experience issues in the home where they would typically have a support system. Many are chronically homeless or always staying at other friend’s houses. The age range of victims is a larger net.
“I’d say middle school and high school. Of course there’s grooming being done even earlier than that, but it’s not so front and center and maybe not as often because it’s more connected to the family before then”.
Signs to Look Out For
There are several red flags to look for if you suspect a child is being groomed. Behavior changes, issues at school and grades (if not before) and language could change. They may also be suddenly in possessions of things they normally can’t afford.
“If you have a gut feeling that something’s off look into it.. If there’s at least like a trusted adult or elder sibling or auntie or uncle that they can have a relationship with, then they can really feel that they can go to them with this information and that there wouldn’t be judgement and that they would help”.
A victim having this kind of relationship is key, because at some point they may not feel comfortable but not know who to turn to. According to Chaves, these children often struggle with love; they want to love this person because they feel accepted.
“In terms of trafficking specifically, we have to be able to prove force, fraud, or coercion if it’s an adult. But if it’s not an adult, then you don’t have to prove it”.
A common misconception is that sex trafficking goes hand in hand with kidnapping or involves the mafia.
“The reality of trafficking right now is that you probably know someone who was affected or you probably know someone who knows the trafficker or is related to a trafficker or, you know someone who is buying sex from underage people. They may not even be aware that they’re under age.”
Something the public doesn’t think about much is the demand side of the issue. According to Chaves it’s something important to think about; why we have a society that wants this from children.
She advises parents who allow their kids to have cellphones to take them away at bedtime.
“You bought the phone, it’s yours, charge it in your room and yeah, look through it. There’s a new app everyday for messaging”.
A mother several months ago had an issue with her 12 year old daughter, who she found out was being groomed by a much older man.
“All of a sudden she started to have an attitude and it was very out of character for her… giving both of her parents so much attitude, being rude and disrespectful to her other sibling”.
As a punishment, the mother took away her phone and had a strange feeling she needed to look through her daughter’s messages. That’s when she found her daughter was in a relationship with an older man living in Texas. They lived in Las Vegas.
The man told the girl that he loved her and wanted to marry her. They had been discussing a time for them to meet in person.
“She had already given this “boyfriend”, her school address, her home, all this personal information and had even sent him nude photos of her 12-year-old body. The “boyfriend” was sending her porn.”
The mother was able to intervene before anything more serious happened. Now she has a daughter who was exposed to pornography at 12.
“She was so in love with this guy, she was so mad when the parents found out because she couldn’t get over, no he loves me and I love him… just always check the phone” .
Companies like NHFI and various other non profits strive to increase awareness of the vulnerability to traffickers that many children all over the world have. In this day and age with technology at their fingertips at such a young age, teaching adults to be aware of what to look for is essential to keeping them safe.
To Learn more about NHFI, volunteer, donate, or learn go to: https://www.nhfinternational.org/