Did you know there is an estimate of 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally with hundreds of thousands within North America? Human trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, and other heinous exploitations. Children and adults can be victims of human trafficking with 71% of them being women and children and many cases going unknown.
Sylvia Blythe and Allison Hiller realized the severity of this problem and started an organization, Prism Project, to raise awareness and educate others to prevent further human trafficking within our society. Through the organization, they aided victims of human trafficking through fundraisers to help them live outside their oppressive circumstances. Early 2022, they built a safe house in Michigan for child survivors of sex trafficking and do annual fundraisers for victims of human trafficking.
This week on The Good Squad, we interview one of the founders of Prism Project, Sylvia Blythe. She shares her story about the mission behind the Prism Project and the importance of educating yourself to protect those around you. Continue reading to find out more about what you can do as an adult to protect the children around you.
1. Tell us about your journey with The Prism Project!
Well, I am a SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) nurse and also a foster/ adoptive parent and I believe that these two paths merged together when I heard about human trafficking. Like most people, my heart broke, and I knew I had to do something about it. Between my career as a SANE nurse and journey as a foster/adoptive mom I knew that 1: human trafficking was very real and happening in my community and 2: I knew the love and consistency that children who have been through trauma needed. I started learning as much as I could, networked with local organizations, joined the Genesee County Human Trafficking Task Force, and set out to accomplish a mission God laid on my heart to do.
2. Can you share any inspirational stories that came from your journey with Prism Project?
There are SO many. Especially the way our community has come together…but I will tell this story.
Three years ago, I decided to look on Zillow for possible homes. We did not have the money to purchase a home…but I saw this beautiful ranch and knew it was ours. I went to look at this home- with $200 in the Prism Project bank! Let’s just say I didn’t even have a fraction of what this home was selling for…but I knew it was ours. I knew this would be Prism Project’s safe house.
God told me when I started this not to worry about the money. So, I didn’t. Fast Forward two years and it was still on the market. Through a mutual connection, we were introduced to a group of people who had a passion for helping child survivors of human trafficking. After we met, they quickly offered to invest in the home for us so we could get things rolling. I have to tell you, we were told by several different people that our dream was too big. That we should start small with a $100,000 home, serve 1 or 2 girls at first. But that was never the dream. That was never the call nor was it ever the plan. Watching this all unfold has been nothing short of surreal.
3. For those who don’t know, what is the end goal, or what would you like to see happen with Prism Project?
I would love to eventually open transitional housing for the girls who go through our program, expand on the property to serve more girls while maintaining our 1:3 worker-to-resident ratio, and someday serve male child survivors as well. Currently, when we open, we will be serving 6 girls ages 12-17 for 6 months up to 2 years depending on their individual needs. Our program is based on providing an entire circle of care from therapy, to medical, to educational, to social skills all in one place. The level of trauma these girls will have endured will require as much space and time needed to heal and thrive- not just survive- outside of the life of trafficking. One of the key things about our program is how small it is. It has been my priority to create a program where the girls will have as much 1:1 attention and care as possible. Each girl will have her own bedroom she will get to personalize and they’ll share a bathroom with one other girl. The whole house is set up like a home to cultivate a peaceful, inviting environment where these girls can feel safe to heal on their own time.
4. What are some ways that we as a community, can prevent human trafficking?
Education. This industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It preys on our youth, robbing them of their innocence and destroying their self-worth. The most vulnerable are those who do not understand how it works. A child or parent not equipped to see the signs of grooming will be among the most at risk.
For those reading- understand that only about 3% of human trafficking cases involve a violent, random kidnapping. 97% of trafficking victims are trafficked by someone they trust. Whether that is someone they know in real life, or someone they met online. This is probably the biggest misconception. With minors, online solicitation is among the most common place for predators to groom. Parents need to be aware of this and educate themselves by attending seminars and conferences on this topic.
5. How can people get involved in the project and how will they contribute to the mission?
The biggest way for people to get involved at this time is monetarily…we have an incredible community of people local to us who have served countless hours helping us get ready to open and I have no doubt they’ll be around once we open. We would love to have 3 months worth of operation costs in the bank before we open! Donations are by far the biggest way to contribute at this point in time.
We also would love the professional help with social media- so if you know anyone looking for an internship and how to create content meant for growth, send them our way!
6. What have you accomplished with Prism Project so far?
We knew that undertaking such a project as opening a safe house specifically for minors would be a difficult road, with a lot of obstacles and red tape. We’d have to call on the community to make this work. There is a reason why there aren’t many resources for child survivors of sex trafficking- opening a safe house for them is very difficult and near impossible if not done right, even if you try your very best. That being said, I knew this was something God called me to do- and I never once worried or doubted that it would come to fruition.
In 3 years' time, we have watched this dream become a reality right before our eyes. Not without hard work. I always knew that the Prism Project had to be a piece of the pie- I had no intention of going “rogue” or reinventing the wheel. I knew from the beginning we would have to partner with local organizations that are already boots-to-the-ground helping survivors like our local sheriff’s office and child advocacy center, Voices for Children, in order for this to work.
3 years ago we had $200 in the Prism Project bank. Today, we have a beautiful ranch on over 100 acres and are one visit away from the state to being licensed. Every single step of the way has seamlessly fallen together even when we couldn’t exactly see how…and it has happened so fast, which I am certain is unprecedented for the nature of the task.
7. Tell us more about the event happening on August 26th! What’s the purpose behind it?
On August 26th we are having our 2nd Annual Free to Dream Festival. This festival-style fundraiser is full of food trucks, a dunk tank, petting zoo, and prizes to win. Some of the vendors at the event include the businesses of local youth! The purpose behind the event is to showcase what our youth can do when they have the freedom to dream- something that is robbed of survivors of human trafficking and that we hope will be restored back to them in the healing process. A child who has been trafficked for years may have never even learned how to make themselves a pb&j…so helping them find themselves and rediscover their interests, their capabilities and passions, will be a huge part of their journey.
8. Anything exciting for the rest of 2022 and beyond that you want us to know about?
We are hoping to open officially in 2022! We have just a couple of more steps as we work with the state, but we practically have everything ready. This will be an incredible time as we welcome some of the first girls into our program, and I couldn’t be more excited. Maybe a little in shock too! Seriously, this whole process has been amazing and the fact that we are almost here is like I said already, pretty surreal.
There was always a reason why our parents told us not to talk to strangers. However, as Prism Project said, 97% of trafficking victims are often trafficked by people they trust.
We’re so glad to help Prism Project prevent human trafficking in any way possible. The Good Tee teamed up with Prism Project once again to create T-shirts and masks for their fundraiser the Prism Project Educate again this year. Check out Prism Project’s Free to Dream Fundraiser and educate yourself on human trafficking by checking out Prism Project’s socials down below!