Category "East Coast"

ZOE East Coast Trainings Foster Collaboration to Combat Human Trafficking

June 5, 2024

Recently, Sandy Esparza, our Prevention Program Manager and Lived Experience Expert, joined the ZOE East Coast team for a series of powerful training sessions. 

Sandy brought her invaluable perspective as a survivor leader to over 60 law enforcement officers, detectives, and representatives from local restoration homes and community organizations.

Both Berks and Lancaster County District Attorney offices came together and met at a local fire station for the training sessions. Sandy led intensive training for law enforcement to help them gain better insight on human trafficking victims, their experiences, and how to be more trauma informed and victim centered in their interactions with them.  

As a lived experience expert, Sandy drew from her own experiences, and emphasized the importance of building trust and nurturing relationships with human trafficking survivors through consistency and compassion.

Sandy shared, “The synergy between Berks County and Lancaster County is nothing short of remarkable. The energy, commitment, and empathy in the air were palpable, leaving an indelible impression on me. I am humbled by the incredible dedication of this exceptional group working tirelessly to uplift and empower victims.”

Sandy’s presentations created an environment of collaboration among agencies united in the mission to combat and end human trafficking and her first-hand knowledge enriched law enforcement’s understanding of survivor experiences and the need for trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches. 

Lt Nelson Ortiz, Supervisor Human Trafficking Task Force, Berks County Detectives shared, “Sandy Esparza’s willingness and ability to share her personal experience as a victim of human trafficking during our training gave those attending a clear understanding of the perpetrators’ methods of operation. We see in her words the suffering of the victims. It opens law enforcement’s eyes to clearly see the coercion, force, and psychological abuse that’s used on the victims.”

He added, “The tactics of the criminal leaves the victims feeling hopeless and worthless. They feel there is no way out of the continual abuse. Sandy’s real-life experience as a victim, motivates Law Enforcement to take a more proactive approach to the crime of human trafficking.”  

Meg McCallum, Supervising Assistant District Attorney for Berks County added,“The Berks County Human Trafficking Task Force is grateful to have had Sandy Esparza participate in our recent training. Her willingness to share her experiences so openly made an impact on each person in attendance and allowed them to truly understand the coercion and manipulation that traffickers use. By learning this firsthand, our local law enforcement now have a better understanding of how to appropriately communicate with survivors in hopes that we can build a stronger case. However, it opened their eyes that building relationships and being able to have an advocate involved to provide basic needs is part of the process and that the end game is not always going to be an arrest and prosecution.”

Sandy also gave the same training about engagement strategies to help survivors of trafficking to two local restoration homes for adult women survivors. The training primarily focused on best practices, trauma-informed care, and victim-centered support and approach.

The training opened lines of dialogue and strengthened the network of advocates, officers, detectives, prosecutors, and support services dedicated to protecting victims and bringing traffickers to justice.

Amanda Tlumach, ZOE East Coast’s Administrative and Donor Relations Assistant shared, “Sandy’s training couldn’t have been better timed. Just three days after hearing Sandy’s testimony, our team of advocates sat face-to-face with a woman engaged in the commercial sex industry. With the new insight gained from Sandy’s shared experience, we were able to acknowledge the seemingly insurmountable challenge facing this vulnerable woman. 

She could not fathom returning to a low-wage job and the reality of waiting for each paycheck. In the “life,” she can earn more money quickly and on her own terms. Despite the potential risks and hardships inherent in her line of work, the daunting steps necessary to secure a better future proved overwhelming for her. It’s why we aim to build connections and establish relationships with these women. Achieving such transformative change demands unwavering dedication and comes with significant costs. Therefore, having access to a supportive network and vital resources becomes paramount.”

Do you want to learn more about ZOE’s East Coast efforts in preventing and combating human trafficking? Click here to learn more!

Witnessing Jesus in the Midst of Human Trafficking Investigations: A Testimony from Brad Ortenzi

February 28, 2024

During a recent church service at Petra in PA, ZOE’s USA Eastern Regional Director, Brad Ortenzi, had the privilege of sharing some insights gleaned from his experiences with ZOE International and on the heart of God: A Warrior Rescuer, Tender Father.

“I’m often asked what I’ve learned about Jesus through my involvement in child trafficking investigations. My answer remains consistent: Jesus has revealed to me a duality of His nature, manifesting as a fierce Warrior to rescue and a tender Daddy to restore. This revelation has been evident to me from the very beginning of my journey in this work. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of Jesus as He intervenes in the lives of trafficking victims, both rescuing them from their plight and tenderly restoring their spirits.

In CS Lewis’s book, The Chronicles of Narnia, there’s a memorable scene where Lucy observes Aslan walking away from a celebration. Feeling sad, she asks if he will come back. Mr. Tumnus assures her, stating that while Aslan is not a tame lion, he is good. This duality of Jesus—a gentle, loving nature combined with fierce strength—is beautifully exemplified in the work of ZOE International, an organization dedicated to rescuing children from trafficking and sharing the gospel.” 

One of the most emotionally moving moments of the service was when Brad reflected on real-life trafficking investigations that he was part of. He recounted an undercover operation in Thailand, where they awaited the delivery of two young boys to a client at a hotel. The team could feel the tension as they prayed for a successful outcome. Witnessing firsthand the rescue of these boys and their restoration at ZOE’s Children Home was a testament to Jesus’ unwavering commitment to rescue and restore the oppressed.

Other stories Brad shared from Thailand further highlighted Jesus’ tender care for the rescued children. Through corporate prayer sessions at ZOE Thailand, the ZOE team witnessed the transformative power of His love as children found healing and acceptance in God’s loving embrace. Each of their journeys from shame and brokenness to wholeness and joy serve as a powerful reminder of Jesus’ tender compassion and desire to restore hearts that are brokenhearted.

Near the end, Brad encouraged listeners that as followers of Christ, we are called to be His hands and feet in combating human trafficking. While every person has their role to play, the church has a unique responsibility to lead the charge. 

“The journey of combating human trafficking has taught me invaluable lessons about the character of Jesus. His duality as a fierce Warrior and a tender Daddy is evident in every rescue and restoration. As we continue to fight against this injustice, let us draw strength from the knowledge that Jesus is with us, leading the way with His unwavering love and compassion.”

Do you want to learn more about ZOE’s work on the East Coast? Click here! Or interested in having a ZOE leader come speak at your church or event? Fill out our Request a Speaker form and we’ll be in touch!

USA East Coast Outreach: Transforming Lives and Offering Hope through Personal Connection

January 8, 2024
Update from ZOE’s East Coast Advocate After Meeting A Young Woman On A Recent Sting Operation

 

“I met with a lady for the first time since I saw her on the sting operation we did over a month ago. We talked about meeting many times, but she was hesitant. We would plan things and then she wouldn’t get back to me the day of. It was so exciting to be able to see her again and hear how she was doing.

I was able to give her a nice, new winter coat, a pair of gloves and a big bag full of snacks. I also wrote her a note telling her that she is loved and cared for and bought her a sundae from McDonalds. She was so surprised! She said that she is not used to people being this nice to her… 

She also shared with me that she is trying to get sober and hasn’t done any drugs in two days. She said she has a new group of friends that is supportive of her getting clean. She said she has been having video visits with her children and is hoping to see them soon. It was amazing to hear how she is doing better! She said that she can’t stop thinking about the night we encountered her on the sting. 

She said that something one of the detectives said has really stuck with her. He said, ‘maybe the third time’s the charm.’ This was the third time this detective encountered her at a sting operation. He specifically planned to try to get in contact with her that night and have the advocates speak with her. At the end of our visit, she said that she would be willing to look into detox programs with me because ‘maybe I need some help detoxing after all.’ 

Since we met her, she has been saying that she does not need any detox and so this is huge progress! I am thanking Jesus for this opportunity to love on her. I really feel like the meeting built trust with her and I am looking forward to continuing a relationship with her.”