Although the subject of human trafficking has become quite common in both secular and Christian circles, it is fair to say that most people have a limited understanding of the subject. Images of girls in third world countries, and street scenes of scantily clad, heavily made-up “streetwalkers” often come to mind. The notion of people being trafficked—bought and sold in an underground global marketplace—is seldom a concept that Americans can visualize as an operation within its middle classes, or away from its inner cities. However, Trinity International University-Florida alumnus, Katariina Rosenblatt, Founder and President of There is H.O.P.E. for Me, Inc., knows better.
God has united Katariina’s painful, personal experiences with His grace through her determined spirit and valuable education. Katariina knows that human trafficking, like all manifestations of sin, knows no class, race, gender, ethnic or geographic boundaries, and she will be among the first to tell people the shocking truth. Human trafficking does not conform to the convenient stereotypes we maintain. No one is exempt from the buying and selling of human beings…and human souls. Her story is a window into a little-known local world of what Katariina calls “modern-day slavery.”
Katariina grew up in Miami. Her family vacationed on Miami Beach—spending time, like many other families, swimming at a hotel pool and going to the beach. As a 13-year-old girl, Katariina could never have anticipated the terrible series of events to come when an older girl at the pool shared some “sisterly advice” that would lead to Katariina being kidnapped, drugged and left for dead on an abandoned road in North Miami Beach. This event was Katariina’s first encounter with what she calls “the dark world of human trafficking” here in middle class America. At the time, situations like Katariina’s fell under the general heading of child abuse, but increased awareness of this dark world has helped to classify such abuses more specifically as Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.
In Katariina’s case, she was lured far away from her hotel and her mother, and then groomed for over a month by a prostitution ring that was well-networked at the hotel. Her first buyer was a 65–year-old man in the hotel. He was willing to pay a high price for young, virtuous Katariina. While her price was being negotiated between the man and her trafficker, Katariina did not understand that she was actually for sale. However, she remembered the words another older man had spoken to her at a Billy Graham crusade when she was nine years old. “God loves you, and will never leave you or forsake you!” She prayed for divine intervention as the $550 fee for a young American virgin was set—a lot of money in those days. Even so, the women and girls Katariina works with now offer insight that makes an even more disturbing picture within the already awful truth of the sex market. The price has gone down considerably over the past 20 years, even though the marketplace has expanded.
Unfortunately, Katriina’s story cannot be summed up by a single, horrific encounter. Although she was eventually found and reunited with her mother, Katariina’s sense of self-worth was badly damaged. Most South Floridians cannot likely imagine a local apartment brothel filled with young girls in our area, but Katariina gained firsthand experience. Before too long she was lured into another trafficking ring, this time by a false friend in middle school, and escape was much more difficult. Katariina was caught up in the drugs and a life of exploitation marked by confusion and anger. Even when she ultimately escaped, she could not make sense of why she had been left unprotected, twice victimized, addicted to drugs and not rescued. She had received no counseling to help her understand and heal from the string of abuses.
By God’s grace, Katariina was finally freed once and for all from the dangerous cycle of drugs, sex-trafficking and abuse. She shares her victory saying, “At the end of a very long road of drugs, exploitation, and an abusive relationship, I have a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management from Trinity International University, and have now completed my final year at NSU for my Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution.” She speaks at universities, schools, jails, group homes and foster care homes to share what she has learned about the dangerous realities of human trafficking here in South Florida. Katariina’s organization, There is H.O.P.E. for Me, gives her a platform from which she can reach out and meet with groups of human trafficking survivors to help them find healing, opportunity, purpose and empowerment. She has developed tools that are being used by law enforcement agencies around the country to properly identify human trafficking victims.
The reach of Katariina’s personal testimony, and the ministry of There Is H.O.P.E. for Me, is beyond the scope of a single news article, so everyone at Trinity International University-Florida is excited support and help sponsor the up-coming symposium, Combating Human Trafficking: A Faith Perspective. The aim of this event is to bring increased human trafficking awareness to South Florida’s faith community, while providing strategies for combating the problem. As an academic Christian institution, TIU-Florida maintains a strong sense of responsibility for educating the community on the alarming global and local scope of this horrific, ungodly industry. This symposium will be held on Saturday, September 8th, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale. The event will include break-out sessions, which will run until 3:00 p.m. Attendees will be encouraged to respond with faith and courage. In the meantime, Katariina, and everyone at There is H.O.P.E. for Me, are eager to share some information, updates, blessings and needs from their wish list.
First of all, everyone is urged to visit the organization’s website: thereishopeforme.org to learn more about what There Is H.O.P.E. for Me does, the signs of exploitation, and how others can help. The program Katariina and her colleagues have developed now has six graduates! The organization is being welcomed into local jails, and has received an open invitation to the Federal Prison. Survivor groups have been cultivated, and they are ministering to an increased number of women. Partnerships with other non-governmental organizations have formed. Good news and good work travel fast!
Katariina has been excited to share about the generosity of Potential Church, which blessed There Is H.O.P.E. for Me girls with over 40 gift bags, and honored the organization as a community leader, this past Mother’s Day. Furthermore, the organization was able to give talks in three Broward County public high schools this year, and was also privileged to speak before the school board in Miami as part of their new initiative to reach students with life-saving information about human trafficking. There Is H.O.P.E. for Me spoke to over 500 school children and 20 came forward for follow-up sharing and help. 600 more children were reached at a youth conference on HIV held at Trinity Church. The success and reach of There Is H.O.P.E. for Me is expanding daily from Vermont to the Caribbean! Katariina is praying for mentors and donors to come forward and support a retreat for There Is H.O.P.E. for Me program graduates.
Please join with the Trinity International University-Florida community of learners to support There Is H.O.P.E. for Me, and raise local awareness of human trafficking in South Florida and around the globe. We look forward to seeing as many people as possible attend the September 8th symposium. For more information, please email There Is H.O.P.E. for Me at [email protected] Lastly, TIU-Florida and There Is H.O.P.E. for Me ask you to please be aware of the following information:
If you or someone you know can identify with any of these statements, you or they may be the victims of human trafficking. In such cases, Unites States law declares that you have been a victim and are not at fault (Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Protection Act of 2012). Please consider speaking with an adult to arrange for your protection or that of someone you know. Cooperation with law enforcement may save the life of you and/or your family members or friends. Statistics show that children who run away from abusive homes are very likely to be contacted by a trafficker within 48 hours, and they will not come across as someone whom you would suspect. Before running away from an abusive situation, please get help in finding a safe place. Call: 800-96-ABUSE. For immediate Help: dial 911, contact the Human Trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888, email [email protected], or visit www.thereishopeforme.org.