Interview with Bethany Woodcock, Founder of NIMBY Lancaster
— From the pages of FLL Issue #27 • Photo by Jordan Bush
Human trafficking is another name for slavery — modern slavery that still exists today, though it is officially illegal everywhere, but also happens everywhere except Greenland. Numbers are staggering and overwhelming and will turn some off to even becoming aware of the problem: 27 million slaves, 800,000 trafficked across borders, one million children exploited by sex trade, and 244,000 children at risk of being sexually exploited in U.S. alone (statistics by Polaris Project). More importantly, everyone can agree slavery is wrong, thus trafficking is wrong, but it is difficult for some to accept that this slavery is happening right here, in our neighborhoods, in our nail salons, in our restaurants. Right here, in Lancaster, there is slavery.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“God, some clarity would be really helpful, even one word will do.” ‘NIMBY’ was what she heard.[/pullquote]
Bethany Woodcock knows all of this information. In fact, she is one of Lancaster’s resident experts on trafficking. She is the International Justice Mission’s Pennsylvania’s Advocacy Leader and the connection between Lancaster county government and antitrafficking advocacy groups. She got here by a prayer. Three years ago, while driving home from a second and final of the week’s interviews, she asked God for direction. “God, some clarity would be really helpful, even one word will do.” “NIMBY” was what she heard. She heard it so loudly and clearly that she looked over her shoulder to see if someone was in the backseat. NIMBY in this case applied to saying no to human trafficking.
She discovered the world of human trafficking when she was in Greece, working in an organization that she founded that focused on women’s health and sexual issues. As Yugoslavia dissolved, the trafficking of women and girls became a reality for those countries battling high unemployment, government instability, and corruption in the police and military ranks. In similar socioeconomic conditions today, anywhere in the world, a similar increase in human trafficking is experienced. During this time, Bethany was exposed to both the women that were trafficked and one man who trafficked them. Hard for many of us to believe, but she became friends with both. Because of this ability to listen, not judge, and come to understand the reasons for both paths, she was able to put a face on human trafficking which enabled her to see, before others, the patterns and people here in Lancaster.
She says she has taken a self-strength evaluation test and the results show that connectivity is her main strength. She can see the big picture, but also understand how each human piece works to depend on each other. Her ability to see the big picture has also led her to see the symptoms of trafficking. While most of us in Lancaster have a “live and let live” respect for our neighbors and a belief that most people are law-abiding citizens, this in turn makes us miss the obviousness of the hidden characteristics of trafficking. Bethany sees them as she walks into local nail salons and notices well-dressed men in the salons, and they are not there waiting for their wives or girlfriends to finish their manicures. When she notices the desolate motels that make us think things like, “How can they possibly be surviving in this economy?” she sees opportunity for a convenient brothel. We go to rest areas and truck stops and dash in and out to quickly use the rest room and maybe grab a soda. She notices the prepubescent girls waiting to be bought. She plans on visiting the tattoo parlors, where we see a teenage girl who will come to regret inking her body. Bethany sees a pimp posing as her supportive boyfriend, but in reality, is having his property branded. From Bethany’s many speaking engagements, many Lancaster County residents are also seeing the reality of these situations, the oddity of these situations, and reporting to Bethany these out-of place events.
Bethany sees all of this and more, and through her grassroots organization, she wants us to also become aware. One way we can do this is for businesses, restaurants, spas, nail salons, bus and train stations, truck stops and rest areas to post a human trafficking hotline poster. This toll-free number allows victims and/or witnesses to call and receive help.
Lancaster County has developed a nationally recognized reputation for a higher awareness and response to human trafficking, though Bethany shares that our state has been given the grade of “F” for legislative responses to trafficking. “This may change,” she says, “because of two new PA legislative bills currently being debated.” There are currently two bills in the PA Senate—the Safe Harbor Bill, in which victims are recognized as that, victims, and not prosecuted for prostitution and given a wrap around safety net. The other is S.B. 75 which sponsored Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R), Montgomery County, and 25 others that looks to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and protect victims.
Bethany recognizes the reasons for human trafficking include many that average readers cannot change. We cannot instill self worth in a victim. We cannot erase the root causes of poverty, homelessness, and economic vulnerability. We cannot give young girls self-esteem and the acceptance given by a supportive family. We cannot take drugs off the street or greed out of the human experience. One expert at the November 2012 Franklin and Marshall Common Hour on Human Trafficking (at which Bethany was a guest speaker) explained that in her discussions with pimps, she has discovered that within fifteen minutes in any mall in the United States, pimps are able to find and seduce their next victim. (The average age for American girls to enter prostitution is between 12 and 14.) They look for those girls who are in need of attention. The pimps smile, cajole, flirt and act like they want to be their boyfriends. They don’t look like Huggy Bear from 1970’s Starsky and Hutch or the stereotypical pimp. They are sophisticated, cool, and ooze charm. In battling foes like that, what we can all do, with Bethany’s help, is simply become aware. Recognize the symptoms, the causes, the victims, and the perpetrators of trafficking. We should, as Bethany says, learn to trust our gut when something feels wrong and report it to either her at email@example.com or call 1-888-373-7888 (the National Human Trafficking Hotline).
In the Bible, the jubilee year (age 49 or 50 depending on the Biblical expert) is when slaves are freed and land is officially owned. For Bethany, experiencing her own jubilee year and hearing “NIMBY” loudly whispered in her ear, it meant that she did not accept the job and instead began her own organization. “By bringing awareness to a problem that should not exist and working together, we can do something about the social injustices in our own backyards and beyond.” NIMBY has begun working together with other local anti-trafficking organizations, such as Love 146 and North Star Initiative. LATN (Lancaster Anti-Trafficking Network) meets once a month to coordinate their efforts. Experts, like Bethany, speak and share their insights and knowledge.
Curiosity may have killed the cat but, in this case, it may save a child. Bethany knows this, and if we allow her to be our light, she will show us what we can and should do to protect our most vulnerable citizens: those in our own backyards.