Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on Freedom13, its ministry to human trafficking victims and survivors, and the issue of human trafficking in Louisiana.
A Call to Freedom event Tuesday evening at Temple Baptist Church in Ruston kicked off an important fundraising campaign in North Louisiana for a cause foreign to many residents in the community.
Human trafficking has been around for decades, but those words used to describe one of the most despicable crimes in society don’t do justice to how disturbing the sex trade industry has become.
Freedom13 is a ministry created by local resident Lindsey Crawford that has become an oasis for victims in the sex trade. The ministry’s mission is to rebuild dignity in the lives of those they serve.
Campaign13 is the ministry’s drive to not only raise funding, but also reach out to bring awareness to the community regarding the underbelly of human trafficking. The campaign will run through August 13.
How did Crawford become involved in human trafficking ministry?
She was a school teacher by trade, but when she decided to start a family she became a stay-at-home mom.
“Those seven years at home were wonderful, and I enjoyed every moment. But when my kids became school age, I knew I needed to do something with my time. During that time, I was called to ministry, but God didn’t reveal what that would be, so I had to wait and I had to trust. I remember one evening, sitting in our living room, because I had become involved in some things in the community,” she said.
It was a trip into the seedier side of society that may have been the spark that ignited Freedom13. On a mission trip to New Orleans, Crawford said they were serving breakfast to exotic dancers and pimps in the middle of the night in the Ninth Ward.
“It was the scariest but the most wonderful moment of my life,” she said.
It was because of that trip, one evening sitting in the living room with her husband Brent Crawford, that Lindsey had her epiphany.
She told her husband, “I believe that God is calling me to some type of sex ministry. I think he knew what that would entail for us,” she said with a smile.
Thus, Freedom13 was created, and victims of human trafficking in North Louisiana had their advocate. If only it would be that simple, though.
“On February 2, 2015, Freedom13 was born. Initially, we started out educating groups in our community — women’s groups, youth groups, college groups — even if it was just a couple of ladies willing to listen to what I had to say, what I thought sex trafficking looked like in our community; what I had learned at that point,” she said.
She began to ponder what society was doing to be on the proactive side of abstinence and sexual integrity.
“What about bringing back the importance of teaching the beautiful design that God has in His word about marriage and relationships? Having grown up in the church and knowing what was said from the pulpit about sex and romance — the message was always ‘don’t … you can’t … no.’ Not being taught why not. The message could be ‘do … do wait … do honor … do live your life for the Lord.’”
The world victims of human trafficking live in couldn’t be further from Lindsey Crawford’s hope for them. Bridging that divide is the role Freedom13 plays.
According to John Asmussen, criminal investigator with the Louisiana State Police in the Monroe Field Office, human trafficking, in basic terminology, is divided into two categories.
Labor trafficking is when individuals are compelled to work or provide services through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Asmussen, who was guest speaker for the Campaign13 kickoff, said the other category is sex trafficking — when individuals are compelled to engage in commercial sex through the use of force, fraud or coercion.
The shocking aspect of sex trafficking is the average age a teen enters the sex trade in the United States is 13 to 14 years old, according to Freedom13 statistics. Approximately 130 people are trafficked worldwide every hour.
In 2019 there were 159 cases of contact from Louisiana to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. That means 159 times that year contact was made to the hotline via calls, texts, web chats or email.
Asmussen thinks cases that are reported are only scratching the surface of the issue.
“People need to understand exactly what this is and what this looks like,” he said.
According to the Polaris Project, a non-governmental, non-profit organization founded to battle sex and labor trafficking, there are 22,326 trafficking victims and survivors in the U.S. There are 11,500 situations of human trafficking and well over 4,000 human traffickers operating in the country.
When cases do reach law enforcement and traffickers are prosecuted, this is when Freedom13 gets involved.
Someone needs to pick up the pieces on behalf of victims. Lindsey Crawford and her staff — Wendy Johnson and Cici Lee — work to restore dignity and hope in the lives of young people who had their childhood stolen by criminals.
Those willing to help can visit freedom13ministries.com/give to donate to Freedom13.