Restoration for human trafficking victims
Ten years ago, Sedalia resident Jonathan Spencer learned more people are enslaved today than at any other time in history. There are an estimated 40 million people trapped in various forms of trafficking around the world.
Spencer spent 25 years as an environmental engineer, but over the last decade, he took a hiatus to help develop water systems in third world countries. That is when he learned that India is the epicenter of human trafficking. “It’s the most dangerous place to be a woman,” said Spencer.
Traffickers target poverty-stricken areas, sometimes convincing parents or grandparents to exchange daughters or granddaughters for money – and sometimes it is even family who instigates the exchange. “Poverty and a lack of education are two of the most significant drivers of human trafficking,” he said.
Spencer has always had a passion for social justice. He attended church in Lakewood and spent time on multiple mission trips and served as a mission’s coordinator. In 2014, after opening his eyes to what was happening in India, and after a year’s worth of research, he started a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating young girls from the devastation of trafficking. He did this alongside other compassionate and dedicated individuals he met over the years.
India was selected for three reasons: the dire need; the relationships and trust they had built over the years with locals who could become staff; and the impact they could make based on the money they had available, which stretches much further there.
Spencer purchased three acres in a rural area in the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh. The property is full of mango groves and butterflies – a beautiful place for new beginnings. Over the next few years, he raised enough to build a facility, obtain a government license, and hire staff. The nonprofit is called New Horizons House (NHH) and in 2018, the first girl arrived. Today, they are serving about 65 girls, ages 12 to 21.
“The biggest barrier to overcome is trust. These girls have been deceived by everyone,” said Spencer. “The young girls experience the unimaginable including drugs, beatings and forced sex.
Human trafficking is a very relevant problem today. Spencer shares that except for illegal arms trade, human trafficking is the second or third most lucrative illicit trade. “You can only sell drugs once, but you can sell a girl over and over again,” said Spencer.
“My mother forced me to do prostitution by sending me with different men to different places for two years. I went to NHH in 2020 when I was 14 years old. I was very depressed and did not like to listen to staff. I always tried to be by myself. With counseling, I slowly came out of depression and developed a positive attitude. I started mingling with other girls and showed interest in education and sat in junior classes and learned education basics. Today, I am studying with persistence and go to college. My future goal is a bachelor of education and to secure a job as a teacher.”
– Sex Trafficking Victim, NHH Resident
NHH is staffed by nearly all women, who love the girls like family. The girls are reintroduced to life through individual, group and recreational therapy. They also gain basic life skills such as nutrition, conflict management, health and hygiene, and focus on spiritual, emotional and general wellness.
When the girls become 18, they can no longer be housed with the younger girls, so separate space, closer to universities and businesses, is rented. The focus there is education and career guidance, including options like nursing, information technology and small business ownership, so they can grow as women and stand on their own financially. The government has asked NHH to build additional homes for the older girls and, as such, fundraising efforts are underway.
Spencer is passionate about educating others about human trafficking. He shares that Colorado, with I-25 and I-70, is a hub of trafficking in the United States. Spencer regularly speaks about the topic, including at the annual trafficking conference held at Colorado State University, and is open and available to visit with any interested organizations.
“It’s so gratifying to see our girls acquire the confidence and skills they need to be able to make alternate choices for themselves and their futures,” he said. Visit www.newhorizonshouse.org to learn more. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.
By Elean Gersack, photos courtesy of Jonathan Spencer