(June 5, 2019) Catherine Read sits down with Jay Pinksy, Associate Director of Just Ask, to discuss human trafficking in Northern Virginia, and is later joined by Susan Young, the mother of a local trafficking survivor.
Just Ask was founded in 2013 by Bill Wolf, a retired Fairfax County Police officer who dedicated himself to fighting human trafficking. He became aware of this practice towards the end of his career, and after retirement he started Just Ask to help educate the public on this very threatening issue. He now dedicates his life to fighting this terrible practice.
Human trafficking is any time when a human is being leveraged to make a profit, and it is being done against the person’s will. It is a $150 billion market, second only to the drug trade. Often times we think of trafficking as young vulnerable women being kidnapped and taken away from home, however, many times it is happening right under their families’ noses.
The Just Ask Prevention Program offers youth curriculum, awareness campaigns and professional training to schools, youth groups, hotels, retail, health professionals, faith communities and other front line professionals. The goal is to increase identification, prevention and response to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Since 2013, the Just Ask Prevention Project has held over 90 school campaigns, reaching over 90,000 students.
Along with educating about human trafficking, their program teaches warning signs designed to prevent youth from falling into a trafficker’s trap. In addition, Just Ask Prevention has educated over 800 professionals in community-based organizations, equipping them with the tools and skills that they need to safeguard their communities.
Susan Young had a daughter who fell victim to human traffickers. Her daughter was out one night at the movies, and met a charming young man. They exchanged numbers and began an online relationship. He was an MS-13 gang member whose job it was to manipulate young girls into trusting him. Before she knew it, he had manipulated her and exploited her. He lured her off after school one day, where he and a group of gang members sexually abused her. They videotaped the assault, and then told her that she could never tell anyone what happened, or they would hurt her family if she betrayed them.
She told her parents that she was doing after school clubs, and that was why she was coming home late from school. She was being trafficked, and going home each night and sleeping in her own bed. Young’s daughter wound up going missing twice, and both times the gang threatened to hurt her family if she didn’t comply. Young finally enlisted the help of Bill Wolf and he was able to help them get her daughter back before it was too late. She counts herself as very lucky.
Young is now on a mission to spread the word about the heinous practice of human trafficking, and to help raise awareness that it can happen to anyone. She certainly never expected that it could happen to her family. She encourages all parents and families to be aware of this issue, and ask questions if you sense something might be wrong. That is one place where she felt that she went wrong, she sensed something was awry but did not dig deep enough to understand what was happening.
Founder Bill Woolf and Susan Young were on a panel addressing Human Trafficking at the Rotary International Convention in Hamburg, Germany, in June. The organization was also recognized as Non-Profit of the Year by the Rotary Club of Centreville-Chantilly based in Northern Virginia.