Eradicating exploitation

As Purchased founder Jessica Evans prepares for 6th Annual Illuminate fundraiser, she celebrates a 10-year journey into helping human trafficking victims

By Cleveland Dietz II

Jessica Evans

Jessica Evans had no idea how a trip to Nepal in 2007 would change her life.

A couple of people in her church were involved with an organization called ServLife, which worked to establish churches, care for children and fight poverty in India and Nepal, according to its website. Evans’ church sponsored the trip to Nepal through that organization.

Evans, Indianapolis resident, said the group visited several ministries, some of which focused on helping human trafficking victims rebuild their lives. At those places, Evans watched young women make jewelry and soap to earn an income. Though she had been reading about human trafficking for at least a year before the trip, she said, seeing those young women made the issue personal. She described the girls as just like her: smart and funny and beautiful and wanting to hug.

She said she left the ministries, “understanding that they were helping that handful of girls there and that was really beautiful, but there were so many more that needed that type of support and love and opportunity.”

An International Labour Organization report issued in 2014 estimated the annual profits from forced labor around the world to be $150 billion. Of those profits, two-thirds were from sexual exploitation and one-third was from economic exploitation. The U.S. State Department estimated 27 million people were being exploited through human trafficking in a 2016 report.

After returning home, Evans—then a Pike Township kindergarten and first grade teacher—said she felt compelled to do something.

“We came back and no one knew about trafficking,” she said.

Purchased volunteers/staff.

Evans and some of her friends organized an awareness-building concert called “Purchased” in 2007, which she said she thought would be enough to satisfy her desire to do something. Then people started asking how they could learn more, what could they do to help. The friends pushed forward, organizing more awareness-building and fundraising events until establishing Purchased as a permanent nonprofit in 2011.

According to the Purchased website, the organization’s focus narrowed to state and local sex trafficking after Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl in 2012.

A report issued on human trafficking by the Indiana Office of the Attorney General stated there were 178 cases of trafficked youth in Indiana during 2016 alone. The vast majority of victims—94 percent—were girls. Nearly one-third of the victims was 15 years old or younger. Some were as young as seven years old when the exploitation began. Nationwide, 83 percent of an estimated 300,000 trafficking victims were American citizens, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

“For every number we have, there are more than likely a couple of others that aren’t identified as tracking,” Evans said.

By the end of 2016, close to 180 girls and women at risk of or having survived sexual exploitation had gone through Purchased’s My Life, My Choice program—a 10-week course on prevention of sexual exploitation. The newer ALLIES mentorship program, which pairs survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation with a mentor for at least one year, has trained 15 mentors and placed five mentees. As that program develops, Evans said, it will become more clear where the girls and women served by Purchased still need help. Whatever that need is, it will be the next endeavor the organization undertakes, she said.

Purchased has two full-time staff members. According to Evans, everyone else is a contract worker, intern or dedicated volunteer. Total volunteers—including one-timers—ranges from 100 to 150.

Purchased’s sixth annual fundraising dinner, “Illuminate!” will be held March 31 at Indiana Landmarks, 1201 Central Ave, Indianapolis. An annual 5K will take place in the fall.

Illuminate

When: March 31, doors open 6:30 p.m.

Where: Indiana Landmarks: Cook Theater, 1201 Central Ave., Indianapolis.

Cost: $125 per seat

Info: purchased.org, facebook.com/PurchasedInc/