Rhonda Sanco and Laura Coleman
DescriptionCoworkers Rhonda Sanco (60) and Laura Coleman (57) talk about the work they are doing at Araminta Freedom Initiative to help vulnerable children and end child sex trafficking.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Rhonda Sanco
- Laura Coleman
Recording LocationVirtual Recording
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00:05 My name is Laura Coleman. I am 57 years. Old. Today is Friday, May 28th, 2021 and I am in Towson, Maryland today. I'm here with Rhonda sanco and she is my colleague.
00:23 My name is Rhonda sankoh and I am 60 years old and today is Friday, May 28th, 2021. I am n Wagner Oklahoma, but I work in Baltimore Maryland and I'm here with Laura Coleman. Who is my dear colleague at araminta Freedom initiative.
00:42 Well, good morning, Rhonda. And as we've been talkin recently, I recognize that we are coming up on 2 years originally met. So it's tearing a little bit about our, our journey together and what we're learning along the way. So can you tell me really about your full bath? And what it was that brought you two are dementia.
01:04 Well, I'm not sure it's my career path. That brought me when I my dad was an entrepreneur as I grew up and so he was a home builder and I went into business with them and I learn how to build homes and from there and made that very natural next step and I became a psychotherapist. So how that happened. I'm not sure. But it was a psychotherapist for a long time and then I moved into businesses. I just got a corporate world and I worked in some large organizations are built, some fairly large complex systems. And so, you know, it doesn't it's a very organic pass and and I've loved every minute of it, but I'm just not sure that anything really can prepare 1/2 to run a non-profit. So, how about you? How did you come to araminta? Actually, there's a lot of wisdom already in that statement. Rhonda. Nothing really prepares you for this. That's it.
02:04 I can look back on my childhood and throwing up at always being the fairness police ride in. Anything that I did. I always needed things to be fair. I didn't even always have to whip with the outcome. I always preferred winning, right? But I needed it to be fair. I needed to believe that things would turn out the way they were supposed to turn out and I should have known that. I would have to end up fighting for justice in some capacity. And I've been towed along the way. I should have been an attorney, but I never went to law school and after working in hospital Administration to get me through college. I was a graphic designer for a while. I've worked in athletic training and therapy. And and then I was a teacher for 17 years before I moved to Baltimore in 2012 and a two years. After moving here. I sat down with a young professional from my church. And I first learned about this issue of child sex trafficking in the United States and how that was happening.
03:04 Across our region. And just to imagine that, you know, according to our federal definition, anytime. There is the commercial exchange for a sex with someone under the age of 18. Then that child is considered the victim of a crime. If it was just mind-blowing to wait to hear how often it was happening. And the way that it was playing out in our communities. So so then what compels you to do this work? What's your motivation?
03:41 Well, so romantic about 10 years old and my church was actually one of the founding churches. And, you know, it's our family just actually had this heart for the work that araminta does. And so, to put it even more Layman's language, what child sex trafficking is, it is essentially child sexual abuse where someone else monetarily profits to somebody else is making money off of a child being sexually. Abused.
04:15 So, one of our children, one of my own daughters found up being trafficked and when I saw what happened to her and that, and then when I saw the impact on our family, I just knew, you know, I have got to throw all of my life energy into fighting this. It's just such a pernicious crime against children. So that's what brought me. So, you know, what? What compels you Laura and doing this? Yeah, actually Rhonda, as you say that, you know, it is one of the social justice issues that so often until there. Is that personal connections with, it's hard, even when people will agree, this is not okay. It's hard to get movement into doing something about it. And as you are talkin, I reflect on my years as a teacher, and I questioned now, if I had known then,
05:14 What I know. Now, how would that have made the difference in the lives of my students? I didn't know what to look for that. But I can look back and recognize situations that I would handle differently now, or I would have pursued more intentionally because I can recognize through the trainings that I've had. And the trainings that we do the signs were there. I just didn't know what to look for and I know I missed opportunities that contributed to the ongoing harm of a child. Can I prove that they were being trafficked in this way? But just the thought that I could have contributed unintentionally to their ongoing harm a drives, the work that I do now.
06:07 And after several years of working in this industry, I recognize how challenging it is. Right? Can you speak to some of the challenges that we Face doing this work? Of course, you know, really sadly. One of the biggest challenges that we face is that it's such a horrifying crime. It's so Unthinkable. That as we work to do prevention work, which is what you lead. Any parents can't even hear it. They just use your kind of watch them glaze over. They can't even think about it. It's just so horrifying. And one of the things that we heard, you know, what, when you were working with the youth group, as they work with smaller, could they work with that? You screw works with middle-aged or middle school kiddos and what they report is that these kids say, no, it can't be true because my mom and dad would tell me about that.
07:06 But we didn't watch the moms and dads not able to to listen. And so we know this conversations are not having a happening. So that's just so heartbreaking. And I think one of the other things is the sort of pervasive sense that it's it's over. There is either is in a foreign country or is it, you know, it's them, it could never happen to us. And so it's just it's just such a strange thing. But Laura, really the one that that just breaks my heart, the most is that, for these kids that have been trafficked. They just have been so brainwashed to think that they are damaged goods and they think they can't go back home or they think that nobody cares. I mean they've been brainwashed and said that's just it's heartbreaking. But really, those are some of the things that I see, you know, so
07:56 Can you talk about some of the stuff that you've had too? Well room, you're right. I think that there is denial on, in the minds of parents that, you know, this to be happening to my child. We see it across the board even in the risk factors right there, online presence, you know, I have, no, I'm sure that my child is not visiting, those websites are engaging with people that they don't know already. And so, yes, there's definitely that challenge to prepare instead to want to have those hard conversations and you're right. When we talk about these kids that have been impacted by it and the manipulation of the traffickers we could talk about that impact of the trauma that they've experienced and how the traffickers use that to keep them under control. You know, what we know about the teen brain is that it isn't Materia and that creates
08:57 Some of their vulnerabilities, one area of the brain, that's not mature. Yet is the hippocampus. That's where a child's experiences are transferred into their long-term memories. And when those memories are painful and intense and repetitive like the sexual abuse of child trafficking, then a Survivor is held captive to the life of there being towed. During those traumatic experiences like the LIE. This is who you are now and this is who you will always be. It takes intensive trauma-informed, support throughout that restoration process to break through those beliefs and to lay down the new wiring that allows for healing to happen.
09:41 But complex trauma is complex for a. Can you share more about this kind of experience in child sex trafficking a little bit. So I mean, it's like Stockholm syndrome, right? Where they have to own it. They they have to bond with their abuser just so their Spirit can survive. And they have to believe that they have some agency here and do. What really happens is they wind up just owning this overwhelming sense of responsibility. Guilt shame, you know it but they have to believe they made the choice and really that the traffic or groom some to believe that they are choosing this activity. So so that you so you got that working against these kiddos and then complicating it. Their lives are just systematically undone by the trafficker. So across-the-board. I mean in every case that we've we've heard about him and his kids
10:41 Forced to commit other crimes. So they could never turn to law enforcement because they're afraid of some of the other things that they've done. So they if they're fortunate enough to be recovered out of trafficking. They got this legal record to deal with usually their social security card that license any paperwork, they've got it has been stolen and so whatever. I meant to we actually spend so much time trying to help kids get their social security card back or get a birth certificate or get you just get those basic documents that you need to get housing that you need to get into school that you need to kind of job. I mean, it's just as an adult rebuilding, a life like that would be overwhelming. And so, when I think of myself at sixteen, I don't know that I could have put those pieces back together, especially after experiencing this trauma repeated, trauma to. It's not one time deal.
11:41 Right. Absolutely. We've heard statistics, you know, that it is 527 Byers a night, right? And so, when you're talkin about the complex trauma that they are experiencing it, is we really can't even fathom it. There's no way for us to be able to process that. And, and we talked about risk, factors, and vulnerability and the immature team rain, but we know also, there are other things that create vulnerabilities or a children on this issue. Their risk of being traffic. We will often say no. Every child is potentially vulnerable to this issue. And we know that the online presence plays a role in that. And we talked so often about the contributing factor of community or broken.
12:39 Community and what a healthier Community looks like, and what are children who are growing up in communities that are already at creating challenges for them before they ever intersect with the trafficker. So, can you speak to some of those vulnerabilities? What makes our youth solo marble to this issue? Well, it's a combination of two things. Right? I mean, so there's the vulnerability of the children and then there's also these traffickers are hyper alert.
13:09 The vulnerabilities in children and their just literally brilliant at manipulating kids and their vulnerability. So, they were there watching for kid to where there's clearly their economic vulnerability, you know, kids who are homeless runaways, they're generally picked up within 24-48 hours by the traffic or they can just spot them. And so then there is also this complicating piece and that they're targeting kids, you know, the normal developmental process and children is their first attached to the family as their main tribe. And then as they become as they move into those teen years to sort of his twin years. They need a new tribe. I mean, that's a normal developmental process. And so they're trafficking that point, that hand off point, really my family's My Tribe to, I need a new tribe, external to the family, and that's where they target children. And so, there's a pro.
14:09 This is called grooming. It all starts, very innocently, you know, it's not very common for kids to be kidnapped, because if children are kidnapped in traffic, they want to get away. Do you start by befriending? You start by you're so pretty. I just, you know, would you maybe want to just meet for coffee? Next week is a very gradual, very safe. They can invest months into securing the Friendship, the alliance the affection of a kid and then suddenly things are being asked that are Way Beyond that child's normal.
14:51 You know, I'm self-preservation boundaries, but those boundaries have just been systematically slowly carefully broken down and then they secure that that that boundaries down. Now we go to the next suddenly that child's life has taken a turn that they did not see coming.
15:12 Yeah, you're exactly right. Rhonda. We talked about that systematic process that they follow and traffickers are keenly aware of what the vulnerability is it? That child, they invest the time and they learn a little bit about them in order to be able to speak into, what's the needed that child has. And sometimes, those needs are basic, needs, like, food, and water, and shelter. When we talked about runaways and you don't know when it was the last time they had a meal, so that can definitely be a place where traffickers will Target run away as we know that that happened. But maybe basic needs are being met. So what's the next knee? That they would have, is it for love and belonging and completion? Because a lot of these kids that are being raised in broken homes or better in foster care or that intersected with juvenile services in some way that is a risk factor in Stow.
16:12 We know that and traffickers know if there's a broken. Yes, they will speak into that. So I can give you a place to stay. I can give you a place to belong. You know, I would love to have you here. You know, I would never let that happen to you provide that for you. So yeah, we had that sense of connection for a young person is just so critically important. And we've learned this, to be true during covid-19 from peer groups, which are so important to our teams and disconnection from one another. So traffickers are using that to their advantage. How have we seen referrals and services shipped during covid in Air? Maxes were. Yeah. So a number of things have happened. I mean, there are a number of services that have had to be restricted outside of aramenta. So a lot of things have been restricted or other nonprofits have had to close.
17:06 And I think identification has gone up. So during covid-19 had the number of girls referred to as triple, and it had tripled, and the girls got so much younger. So, we've had by far, the youngest be referred to us last year in 2020 and
17:29 It's just a rougher, rougher spot. We had a couple of girls who were pregnant come to us and they were pregnant by much older men whose names. They would not give, you know, again that says stock, they're attached to him and they wouldn't give them. And then with this increasing, Mental Health crisis that covid has brought on globally, really? We just see it acted out as brutality toward the vulnerable and we seen a much rougher situation. So a lot of kids are actually coming in for medical attention because they're just in such rough shape and during this. There been a couple of girls that we had that were located by their traffickers. And so we've had to move them because the violence is just really escalated during this. So they're at risk on the street there at risk, even if they manage to get out. So,
18:27 Just at the top. Laura, absolutely and communities even of individuals who aren't being controlled by a trafficker that are in the same physical space with right behind that online presence because of webcams and that systemic exposure that they are being groomed into right? And then that's being used to coerce them. It's you more and more explosive behavior. So and, and quite honestly across our culture. So many of these behaviors are normalized, write the sex staying among our teens and young people and it's such a common thing that there for them. And there are no flags that go up or questions like to. Maybe I shouldn't be involved in this behavior. And so that can play into, you know, those self exploitive behaviors can play in to them being
19:27 Traffic later on or lower down this path, even more quickly. And I don't think we will ever fully grasp the depth of their trauma experience.
19:39 You know, as I mentioned earlier, I've always been one to fight for justice or to err on the side of. I need it to be fair and we often use that term of Justice when we are talking about defending the boys list and working for justice on all sides of this issue. But what does Justice look like to you on this issue?
20:04 Well, you know.
20:07 I don't know that I believe in an Earthly Justice Laura. I just don't know that I do. I don't think that there is a Justice that man can deliver. So, you know, these lives are irreparably damaged and it's for somebody else is commercial profit and I just, I don't think there's any getting that, right.
20:33 I don't know. What do what do you say? It is such a and I have always believed that we have this very, you know, horizontal form of Justice where the perpetrator has to pay for what was done and, you know, the scales of Justice. I guess what the balance is out, then repair as possible. And I guess in our Western thinking, and some way we think that that will restore what has been taken from the injured party, but that's just not the case and it really, that's true. No matter what social justice issue we're talking about. But in this case, it's that exploited individual. How do you restore them? Right? How do you restore? What's been taken for them? And no punishment is going to do that, but then I heard recently and there was a Bible teacher that shared about this Justice from a middle eastern lands and how
21:33 Through that culture, it takes on this vertical approach where the honorable is on one end. And at the other end of that is the same, right? That these individuals are living in and Justice is when The Honorable reaches down into the shame and lifts, one out of their shame and restores, their honor is both at lifting and the restoration. And when I heard that, I realized that's what we are working toward with the survivors that we serve. We're working for. This biblical just really has less to do with a punitive response for the offender and everything to do with lifting up and restoring the Survivor to their rightful place of honor as it as a child of God. I love that has me hope, right? That we will see Justice from that perspective or that's what we work toward.
22:33 Brings you hope in this work or what's been the greatest transformation that you witnessed.
22:40 Yeah, so it's it. I don't know that this really qualifies as transformation, but I love to see it when the girls start making really good decisions around their house or their living conditions. Like they'll stay put some place even though they may not be super happy there. But they stay put in a place that's safe and they just start really working on appropriate boundaries. It's just such a long road of recovery and when they start reforming, the sense of identity, they can forgive themselves. And you know, those those good decisions like repeated small, but good decisions. We know they're on the journey there on the recovery journey, and I love seeing those flags. You know, it's just it's
23:35 A sexual wound in. This is a repeated sexual wound and those are wounds to the soul. Ultimately. This is a spiritual journey, but these kids have to take and so we don't necessarily see that but we can see the signs. We can see the indicators that they're headed that direction and that the ultimately were there, they're healing. There was restoration there. Hope.
24:06 Lies. Absolutely. As we talked through this because when we think about transformation, I witnessed it through watching and witnessing the lies of survivors, but one of the greatest Transformations that eyewitnesses than from a very different perspective.
24:32 We do a lot of work on and I do a lot of research on the demand side of the system. And in that work, we have learned more and more than I was one of the original when I was trained with araminta, as a volunteer. I was one of the people that would sit in the audience and hear someone say we all have to think about the ways that we contribute to this, you right through our walk. And I was defensive about, you know, what are you talkin about? And I believe truly if we could just arrest all of these offenders and lock them away somewhere, then it would solve this issue. And then the more you learn about it the more you realize
25:14 This is so pervasive in our culture.
25:18 That, and the reality of it is that these are God's children to write. We always fight Justice on all sides of this issue, but that story of Hope and Redemption and restoration, as a child of God is true for the pimp and truth of the buyer as well. And one of the greatest Transformations that I've had the privilege to witness is from someone that came to us. During that, process of studying, to man, to speak about a broken. In his early, your journey in sexual exploitation of other people. Now, I don't know if that ever involved Winer recognized,
26:06 That if he was ever to step out of his shame and be restored to who he was called to be as a child to God, it was time for him to speak truth about this hard, hard hidden part of his life and
26:24 I was shocked first when he came to us and was so open to be and transparent to share that because we were sitting in this group of men and women and we recognize what a Sacred Space. We were in during those meetings, to be able to have this really hard conversations with men and women and it wasn't about pointing fingers and judging and putting blame. But it was about saying we're all walking in a broken that needs that grease filled responds. That says there is a place here for you and together collectively we want better for him and he came to me about a year later and said had it not been for that gracefield response. I would have lived out my days in shame and apart from God.
27:24 That has been one of the most sacred and privileged Transformations that I've had the privilege of watching. Real laptop. I love that beautiful.
27:38 Surrounded, we both recognize that at aramenta.
27:44 One of our strongest asset, we can do our broad volunteer base, right? People with a heart for this Mission. So can you share for a few minutes about the many ways that are volunteers, make our programs even across our organization? Yeah. I mean, it's so broad that. It's actually kind of hard to talk about so, but they are absolutely critical to our mission. Laura's. You said, you know, there's a participation. We're fortunate enough to have an annual 510k. So, just our Runners and now they're spreading their, you know, will you support me? Link is incredibly helpful and then actually how they serve as mentors to the volunteers or they help provide recover. They help provide, you know, for all the events that we do.
28:44 And it it's absolutely wonderful. So are our volunteers are critical and getting the prevention message out and then they also helped to the form that healing Community around the girls as they as they travel through this trauma. They recover from that. So many of the girls just carry such a heavy burden of shame in the sense of being alone and being isolated. And so to come back at that false identity. They just need these repeated contacts with a number of people. A large number of people. I will just treat them with love and with respect and just look into their eyes and I see you, I value you. They just need Safe Community, and that's really such a critical role. That's Way Beyond what, you know, are meant to staff, can provide.
29:39 Absolutely. Absolutely. Do you have a favorite volunteer story? Well, it's it's D stories, right? I love it. When people volunteer to be a mentor to araminta because it's like so many things. When you go in on, I love those bumper stickers. It's a little paw print that says, who saved who. I just love that. So, I mean, that they go in and you think you're committing to this child, we do a cement or commit to a one-year relationship.
30:12 But it's so powerful for both parties. And generally, I mean, a lot of time, they become family, you know, these relationships can go on for years. And so I just love that I really do. I mean, you work more with volunteers even that I do. Lord. Do you have a? Yes? Well, we actually shared during our awaken training on the Underground Railroad. There were people who had the role of your lighting a lamp that indicate whether or not a location was he can stay for the night and it's a simple task that they probably never actually even saw the slaves. They were told that they were helping, right? But we can hear that story today and recognize how many were saved? Because of that simple commitment. And so many people doing their part to search someone, they may or may not ever meet. And this is true of our volunteers as well. You know, we have a maze and volunteers who work with survivors and serving relay.
31:12 Bishop with them. But we have hundreds of volunteers who serve in many different paths. It is continuing to help us in this mission to see every child free. And each of those tasks matter. I had a friend recently, who did some research for me for articles related to legislation were hoping to propose and when I discussed it with her, she said, I've always wondered what I can do to make a difference, right? I don't have the bandwidth to serve on a weekly basis, but this I can do she was able to serve with her on time and skill set in a way that matters and we often share about the significance of our name, aramenta to the especially here in Maryland. You know, it was Harriet Tubman's name as a slave in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore. We talked a lot about her Legacy of casting a vision for others to follow her on the Underground Railroad. But what would you like for others to say about Erebus?
32:10 Well, one of the thing that is so moving about Harriet Tubman story is how she was. She was fearless, and she just showed up again, and again, and took she was took tremendous personal risk, but she did what she felt God had called her to do, and she trusted that he would guide her the entire way, but she did that hard work and sacrifice for something larger than herself. And I guess I want people to say that we show up the, we just really show up even when it's hard, because it's the right thing to do for the kids in our community. And I want people to know that they can count on us because we had a deep understanding of what we're called to, I will do it.
33:02 Yes, absolutely. Harriet. Tubman's Legacy is the perfect parallel for the mission of our organization. But I believe that it works on a much deeper level because trusted what God said about her even though it sounded very different than what people said about her. You know, she believe that she had this inherent value and worth as his child. And this is a challenge for anyone who has walkthrough complex, and it's especially difficult for the survivors of child sex trafficking.
33:34 However, without that, I'm not sure, I believe the true healing can happen, you know, because Harriet Tubman was wholehearted, in spite of her circumstances. She knew two of God's deep love for her and she was his hands and feet to bring others that help of restoration. So, for me, that's what I want others to say about aramenta that in spite of the challenges, we may face. We know who's we are and we shine his light into the darkness.
34:05 What are your thoughts on that? Yeah, I agree. You know any face is so important in life, but especially in this kind of work. So I also though Laura, I want to share that we don't have to leave our children, vulnerable to be picked over by these traffickers. I mean it it will require us adults to do the hard thing until look at the risk and to talk about it, but we can do this. And for kids that have fallen prey to traffickers. I want them to know. There are people that care deeply
34:48 And people will help dumb. I just think that's so important to share that.
34:55 So, you know what? I mean? We have a quote about Justice. And God, and our role that you use and Anne are awake and training. I wonder if you would, you would share that. I just love it. I absolutely. It was Abraham Lincoln in relation to slavery in his day. If I can't 1860 and, you know, we often refer to this issue as modern-day slavery, but it won't Lincoln said, I know there is a God and that he hates Injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming and I know that his hand is in it if you place and work for me and I think he has, I believe I am ready.
35:37 He knew it then and he stepped in right. I believe there is a place and work for each one of us on this issue, but we need to be willing to step in. Ya water park.
35:54 Thank you Laura. I appreciate everything you're doing for the kids in our community a.m.
36:00 Thrilling. Absolutely. It is privileged work. We know it. It is saying work, we know it. But thank you and thank you for having hard conversation together. Yeah, that's what we do is right.