Note: The Poiema Foundation educates the public and raises awareness in order to prevent sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other methods of sexual exploitation. Gabriella van Rij, founder of the Dare To Be Kind movement, talked with Monica Greer on November 11, 2018 about the volunteer work she does with The Poiema Foundation.
Q: What made you want to get involved in your line of work?
I felt a passion for it when I saw the numbers of how often it was happening in my hometown of Dallas. And then when Lake Pointe Church started talking about starting a ministry here, in that moment, I knew I wanted to be involved.
Q: What are the stats for human trafficking in this area?
Traffickers will often come in from Central America to Houston. So Houston is one of the top areas where this happens and if they land in Houston, that bleeds over to the Dallas area. In the U.S., Texas ranks second in reported cases of human trafficking. The Urban Institute reported that the commercial sex industry in the Dallas/Fort Worth market, annually generates $98.8 million dollars; which trafficked victims are a key role.
Q: Tells us about your volunteer work with the Poiema Foundation
The Poiema Foundation focuses on preventing the abuse and exploitation of minors. We go on websites that post about missing minors and we print out flyers of their descriptions and related info to distribute. Once a month, we go to hotels, motels, and bus stations, and we speak to the people who work there, introduce ourselves, and let them know that the girls on the flyer have been missing from the area and if they see them, we have a hotline number to call. We also work with a private investigator and he helps with the law enforcement side of it.
Some girls are reported missing because they have run away from home due to something happening in their homelife. But in some cases, they are kidnapped and taken against their will. Through the training I received, you learn what to look out for, and we also educate the hotel and their staff, the maids and cleaning crew, about what signs to watch for. The hotline we use goes to our private investigator.
One thing we have done: We printed that hotline number, and we put it on bars of soap, and we asked the hotel if ever they see a girl who is staying in one of their rooms who looks like she could be in danger—to slip that into the bathroom.
Q: What do you want to tell the public to watch for? Is there something that our general readers can do in the fight against human trafficking?
You can definitely educate yourself on clues as to what to look for. If you see a girl or boy who is not dressed according to the weather, or if he or she is with a much older man or a woman. And if they are not on their phone or talking and are just kind of sitting there—these are warning signs.
In your own community, look for organizations that are focused on spreading awareness on this topic. Look up missing girls reports in the area. Know the hotline of the number in your area to call. You can even call our hotline: 469-757-8888
Q: Tell us a little more about the psychology of girls who appear to have gone into this lifestyle of their own volition.
These girls are at an age in life when they are vulnerable. Whatever way they get caught up in this, whether they have been kidnapped or they’ve run away from home and somehow got involved in a lifestyle that leads to prostitution, from there, they do get trapped, and they are literally in a prison where they lose their voice. And at that point the pimps can tell them whatever because the girls are scared for their lives.
Q: Any closing thoughts to share with our readers?
I would just ask that people educate themselves on this topic. One of the first movies that opened my eyes to this issue is Taken (2008). That girl was my age, and she traveled with her friends to Europe and it can happen in an instant with anyone. So we need to educate our girls and boys on the basics of “don’t talk to strangers” and also sharing the details of what is out there and what is happening.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Take self-defense classes if that will help you feel more comfortable.
In high school, be mindful of your friends, even when you are going over to a friend’s house, always make sure your parents know where you are going, and that your friends’ parents know, too. In extreme cases, pimps will have girls go into high schools and pretend to be enrolled and invite teens to come to parties and it just goes from there.
Look up human trafficking organizations in your city and see how you can get involved.
Note: To learn more about The Poiema Foundation and the work they do to prevent sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other methods of sexual exploitation, visit the following links: