This is not my usual form of book review.
I think I first heard of Rebecca Bender last year, and it was in relation to her work on the subject of human trafficking. Earlier this year, Trades of Hope began supporting her Elevate Academy. It’s the largest online resource for trafficking survivors. I’ll explain more later. But, as a result of hearing from her in the TOH environment, I bought her book In Pursuit of Love.
About the Book
Through her own gripping story of escape from human trafficking, Rebecca Bender reveals the inner workings of the underground world of modern-day slavery and helps us learn how we can be a catalyst for change where we live.
Born and raised in a small Oregon town, all-American girl Rebecca Bender was a varsity athlete and honor roll student with a promising future. Then a predator pretending to be her boyfriend lured her into a web of lies that sent her down a path she never imagined possible.
For nearly six years, Rebecca was sold across the underground world of sex trafficking in Las Vegas. She was branded, beaten, told when to sleep and what to wear, and traded between traffickers. Forced into a dark sisterhood, Rebecca formed bonds with her trafficker and three other women, creating a false sense of family. During that time, God began revealing himself to her. And in the midst of her exploitation, she found the hope she needed to survive.
After a federal raid, Rebecca escaped. Her life was forever changed as she felt the embrace of her heavenly Father guiding her to healing and wholeness. Rebecca soon began to use her own experiences to change the lives of others as she went back into the darkest places she had known–assisting FBI, VICE, and law enforcement across the country in some of their most difficult cases.
Through Rebecca’s incredible story of redemption, we remember that our past does not have to determine our destiny.
Here’s the one thing that struck me hardest:
I could’ve passed Rebecca on the street.
Between 2002 and 2005, I lived in northeast Arizona. If I wanted to hit up a shopping mall, my nearest one was in Las Vegas. When I was flying somewhere, I flew out of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. I stayed in hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, and wandered through hotels mentioned in Rebecca’s book. While walking along the Strip, my husband and I dodged the men trying to push flyers into my hands, flyers that mostly advertised “Girls! Girls! Girls” and gentlemen’s clubs.
If I didn’t walk past Rebecca, I walked past someone either promoting her “services” or another woman in her position.
I didn’t know.
And I never stopped to think about the women involved in the flourishing sex industry in the city.
Prostitution isn’t legal in the city, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It masquerades as other, legal, activities. Sure, Rebecca didn’t have sex with all her clients – some only paid for dances – but she was still being prostituted. Furthermore, she had been trafficked across state lines into the business, by someone she trusted. She didn’t choose the life.
Supporters of legalizing prostitution will tell you all the benefits of doing so. Legalizing it would make it safer; those involved would be registered, receive regular health checks, and would no longer be stigmatized. Sure, I get that. But would legalizing it bring everything above ground? Would the background checks be thorough enough that trafficked women would immediately be identified by law enforcement? I’ve heard the argument that women choose to be in this business. And, at the time, Rebecca might’ve agreed. In her run ins with the police she could’ve told them of her situation, but she’d bought in to the false dreams and promises given to her by her employer/pimp. Would one background check interview be enough for a trafficked woman to feel safe enough to ask for help? Rebecca didn’t realize she’d been trafficked until years later.
And then what happens once you’re out of the industry? Rebecca writes that living legally was a huge change for her. She’d grown used to a lavish lifestyle with expensive cars and jewelry, and of being wanted for what she could provide. Now, there was no money. Now, she had few – if any – marketable skills. What she did have was a criminal record. How could she explain to a potential employer how she’d spent the last several years?
This is where Elevate Academy comes in.
Rebecca founded Elevate Academy in 2014, with a desire to mentor other survivors of human trafficking. There were a mere five students at the time, but Elevate Academy has now worked with almost 900 students in 11 countries. It provides lifetime access to self-paced online courses, life and professional development coaching with education and job opportunities. The end goal is for each graduate to be empowered to restore and live out their dreams.
And it doesn’t charge a single cent to its students, even though there are plenty of costs involved. For example, $120 covers two coaching sessions, and $1800 covers student tuition for a year. The money has to come from somewhere, so Elevate Academy relies on donations.
Trades of Hope
I’ve been a Partner (read: Independent Consultant) with Trades of Hope for four years. In that time, I’ve come to learn a bit about trafficking and how prevalent it is. I think, if I acknowledged it before, that I thought it was something that happened “over there” and not in my countries of the UK and USA. I definitely didn’t consider that someone could be trafficked within their own country as Rebecca was. When a neighbor’s niece in Arizona disappeared and was later discovered near Las Vegas, I merely considered her to be a runaway. Now, though… well, I wonder…
Trades of Hope works with groups where the Artisans are trafficking survivors in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Nepal, North Asia, and the USA. These groups are providing jobs and life skills for women that have left the sex industry with nothing. We recognize that, globally, poverty has made these women vulnerable to trafficking and believe that we can change that. After all, if you’re making a fair wage you’re less likely to be convinced to travel elsewhere for a job which might be described as customer service but may actually be an entrance to a world in which there few ways out.
Since February 1st, 2021, Trades of Hope has provided over 2000 days of Elevate Academy for trafficking survivors due to parties. Sure, TOH could just have given this donation, but we are a home party business. The majority of sales come through parties. We give party hostesses various incentives such as free and discounted product, but now they can also say they’ve personally supported trafficking survivors. We’ve heard from Rebecca and others how important our provision has been.
All this to say, if you live in southwestern New York or northwestern Pennsylvania, I’d love for you to host an in-person party to support Elevate Academy. If you’re outside of the area, we can do something online. Drop me a comment or message me. Let’s connect and make it happen.
Host a Party? No Thanks! What Else Can I Do?
Of course, Trades of Hope parties aren’t the only to learn about trafficking and support survivors. You can donate directly to Elevate Academy or other organization with similar aims. I also recommend reading In Pursuit of Love to understand Rebecca’s story.
Publisher: Zondervan (a division of Baker Publishing)
Publication Date: 28 Jan 2020
Length: 288 pages
Rebecca Bender – https://www.rebeccabender.org/
Elevate Academy – https://elevate-academy.org/
Sports Illustrated Story on Rebecca’s Daughter – Life After Escaping the World of Human Trafficking
My Trades of Hope Site – https://tradesofhope.com/SallyMcCombs