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Woman’s story of hope, responsibility to be shared during symposium shedding light on human trafficking

September 21, 2018

GERING — A survivor of sexual abuse and exploitation has turned her story into hope as she advocates for victims of human trafficking.

Jessa Crisp Dillow, of Colorado, will speak Wednesday, Sept. 26, during the Panhandle Human Trafficking Symposium. The symposium is an effort by the Panhandle Human Trafficking Task Force, made up of officials from law enforcement and social services organizations, to combat human trafficking.

As a child, Crisp Dillow was a victim of familial trafficking. She was sexually abused by family members, made to pose for child pornographers and trafficked to pimps and friends. Trafficking occurred in suburban neighborhoods and even other countries. When she was 21, she met a woman who gave Crisp Dillow her contact information and offered to help her. It was some time before Crisp Dillow said she got the courage up to call the woman, who helped her to leave and travel to a safe house for women who had encountered sex trafficking. However, the woman had to return back to Canada because her VISA expired after six months.

After Crisp Dillow stayed a brief time in a safe house in Canada, it closed. The woman found herself a victim of human trafficking a second time after befriending another woman, who she says forced her back into prostitution during the 2010 Winter Olympics. She escaped again to Denver and she has now become an advocate for trafficking victims.

When Crisp Dillow speaks next week in Gering, it won’t be the first time she has told her story in front of others. She has shared her story during Human Trafficking Awareness and Advocacy Day events, speaking in front of crowds at the Colorado State Capitol. She is also a speaker for the Rebecca Bender Initiative, an organization formed by survivor Rebecca Bender to help survivors and train others about sex trafficking. She has also filmed her story for “Real Women, Real Stories” a miniseries film project on YouTube that highlights women’s issues, and 27Million.

She began sharing her story after being approached by a professor for a sociological research conference.

After doing some research and speaking with her therapist, she said, “I just really had the desire and passion to communicate hope to one person. I want to communicate to individuals that human trafficking is not only real, but is happening all around us.”

Through her work, she has become an advocate for victims like herself. She and her husband John have formed a foundation, called BridgeHope. The organization bridges resources and fosters hope for survivors of human trafficking, Crisp Dillow said.

She wants victims to know that it is possible to move forward in their lives and that their past, and the things they have experienced, do not define them.

“Pain is pain and trauma is trauma,” she said “Hope is real.”

She decided to start sharing her story to highlight that human trafficking does exist, and is not the picture that some may have in their mind from Hollywood productions. Victims can be hidden in plain sight, she said.

Crisp Dillow often shares a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.”

She also wants people to know how to respond to human trafficking.

“This responsibility is not just mine, but this responsibility is for everyone who walks around and is in the community. Once you start to learn what human trafficking looks like, you begin to see it. Once you begin to see it, then the question is, what do you do about it?”

In her presentations, she gives people information on tangible tools, such as the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). There are also other ways for people to react and to respond, she said.

“Nebraska does have human trafficking going on” she said. “You are not immune to human trafficking.”

Crisp Dillow said she is excited to be part of the team that will be speaking at next week’s conference, to “make the unseen seen.” Other speakers include Anna Brewer and Glen Parks, of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office with the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Chrysta Pryce, a University of Creighton researcher, will speak about data that outlines the tracking of human-trafficking cases and their occurrence in Nebraska, as cited in the report from the Human Trafficking Initiative.

The Panhandle Human Trafficking Symposium will be held Wednesday, Sept. 26, 8 to 4 p.m., at the Gering Civic Center. Information about signing up for the symposium and registration is available on the Panhandle Partnership website, panhandlepartnership.com, under “training.” The cost to register is $20. The event is also open to the public and continuing education credits will be offered to doctors, nurses, social workers and others.

Scholarships are being offered for persons who may not be able to afford the registration fee. Contact Jessica Lecher at jessica.lecher@panhandlepartnership.com or 308-633-3818 for details.

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