Jen Robinson

You have the Power to Make a Difference


Activism is more than just being aware of an issue. It’s rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. Get involved anyway that you can. You have the power to make a difference! The women and girls that we work with have a vast array of needs and I know together we can meet them.

Do you own your own business?  Do you work in a welcoming environment that loves to train and teach? Every one of the women and girls coming out of “the life” needs employment.  The means by which they support themselves and their family was just taken away and many become desperate for new sources of income.  Being able to offer job skills and even allow them to shadow you would be invaluable.

Are you a doctor, lawyer, or any other professional that has a good or service to offer? At Awaken, we have a Professional Network that offers pro bono or discounted rates for services for our clients. In the past year, we have had eye exams and glasses donated to three different women before they began school.  We have retired teachers volunteering to tutor the girls and offer study and test prep help.  Even a local spa, Haven, hosts a monthly spa night to pamper and love on the women and children we work with.

Another great way is to start an awareness group or club.  You can hold informational meetings highlighting the different aspects of human trafficking.  You can also show a documentary to your family and group of friends.  After the documentary ends, you can host an open forum for questions and answers.  This gives you a platform to hear new ideas and increase momentum within your sphere of influence.

In addition, you can also host an event or fundraiser.  January is Sex Trafficking Awareness Month and this past January, the women’s basketball team at the University of Nevada, Reno dedicated their game to Awaken.  They showed informational commercials during the game and had team members speak out on why this is an important issue to them.  They also asked the community to donate gift cards that went directly to the victims of sex trafficking.

There are so many unique and creative ways to get involved.  Comment below and tell me how you plan to make an impact in the fight against sex trafficking! If we all come together, I absolutely believe we will live to see the end of sex trafficking!

PC: Plumber Assist

Why Reno is the Best City


I love when our team and community pull their resources together and the outcome is positive!  Reno is one of the most dedicated and passionate cities I have ever lived in. It is one of the many things that makes me proud to call Reno home.  We do not just want to throw money at a problem or pretend that it isn’t happening here; we are active and quick to be part of the solution!

Last night, I received a call from the precious eighteen-year-old mentioned in Her One Skill.  She was working in Las Vegas and finally decided she wanted out.  I do not have any contacts in Vegas, but I know two people who do.  Together, we made a few phone calls and sent a few messages and within the hour, we were able to have her picked up and taken to a safe place!  This morning they continued to network and got her placed into a program where she will live and continue to work on her goals and aspirations.

This afternoon, we again were able to see success in working with another local agency.  They met with a young woman this morning who was trafficked to Reno just three days ago.  She was scared and wanted to go back to her home across the country.  They were able to meet a few of her immediate needs and then partner with us for the rest.  We also reached out to a friend and together we were able to get her on a flight back home by the evening.  And it won’t end there, there is another organization in her home state that if she allows, will continue to care for her and assist her in her needs.

Cases like this don’t always end well.  Sometimes the women run.  I worked with a woman who thought she wanted to go back home to get away from her trafficker and at the last minute she ran.  At the airport, she ran! Thankfully, this week, we’ve seen many girls get placed into different treatment facilities and shelters.  There is no way we could do our job well at Awaken without the love and support we receive from other organizations.  In Reno and across the country, we are extremely blessed with amazing support from people who genuinely care.

We were never meant to do this life alone.  We need each other and if we are being honest with ourselves, other people make life more enjoyable!  This week, honor people in your life by telling them how much they mean to you and why you appreciate them.

PC: Breaking Free

Is there a one size fits all pimp?

In Raising up World Changers, I mentioned the prevention work we do in the local junior high and high schools.  This week we had the privilege of going into one of the schools we have been teaching at for the past four years. Every year we get the same question, “What do the pimps look like?” In my six years working with Awaken, I have yet to see a single pimp dressed like the men in this picture.  Put aside every judgment you have about how a pimp looks, talks and acts as I briefly describe the three most common types of pimps I see.

The first type is the Romeo pimp and is the most common.  He prays on the heathiest desires that are inside of each of us, the need to be loved and accepted.  This pimp is charming and knows just what to say to make you fall head over heels for him.  After you fall in love, it is only a matter of time until you will do whatever he asks. This pimp will continue to prey on your insecurities while promising you a piece of heaven.

The second type of pimp is the CEO pimp.  He uses tactics that include money and the false promise of jobs and an aspiring career.  This pimp is well dressed and always put together.  He will use lines like, “You could be a model.” And, “I can make you millions.” He preys on young women and girls who are naïve and desperate to make it on their own.  He will tell you what you want to hear and you will unsuspectingly do exactly what he wants you to do.

Finally, there is the gorilla pimp. He uses violent and forceful tendencies including kidnapping and intimidation.  He overpowers his victims by his sheer force. He uses physical beatings, drugs and blackmail to keep his girls submissive and obedient.  Fear for their life is very real and is one of the many reasons victims don’t speak up and ask for help.

I encourage you to stop using and glorifying the word pimp. Pimps need to be exposed for the damage and abuse they cause women and children every day.  This week, be more cautious of the words you use and be intentional about building others up.

PC: Pimp

The Death of a Sweet Friend


The FBI once quoted that the average lifespan of a prostitute is seven years.  I don’t know how they got their numbers or where they found their research, but instead of debating it, just stop and think about it for a minute. There is no other profession in the world with the average lifespan of only seven years.  A 2004 mortality study showed that homicide rates for women in prostitution are 51 times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women, which is working in a liquor store. Can you imaging signing up for a job knowing there is a good chance in seven years you will be dead?

There are a number of of contributing factors to this including suicide, violence between the woman and either her trafficker or a “john”, and inadequate medical attention.  The top two reasons sited for the seven-year lifespan were due to very high homicide and HIV/AIDS rates.  This to me is unacceptable.

At Awaken, we’ve seen two deaths in the five years we’ve been operating.  The first was due to possible heart failure.  The second, was this week.  We still don’t have all of the details, but the heartbreak is the same.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve known this sweet girl for two years, like I have, or just met her last month.  This young woman was bright and energetic.  She came from a terrible upbringing full of abuse and neglect, yet still carried a sense of optimism.  Together, we shared meals, laughter, and our stories.

She will be greatly missed.  I know we have all experienced different degrees of death and have very different ways of processing it.  For me, it helps to recount the good times and laughter we shared. I hope this week we can honor her by continuing to share stories of the loved ones that we have personally lost.  They may have passed from this life, but the memories we have will remain forever.

PC: The Wren Project

He Permanently Marks Her as His

Woman with tag in hand lying on bed

Recidivism is extremely high amongst the women and children I work with. In The Pull Back In, I talk about a few of the external influences for why a girl might run back to “the life”.  This week, I would like to address a few additional factors that go on inside almost every one of the women and girls I have worked with.

Pimps and traffickers don’t see women as precious individuals, but as a means to make a profit.  They go through extraordinary measures to abuse the women physically and mentally.  They take away their freedom to choose, telling them how to act, who to be, what to look like, even when and how much they are able to eat.  I heard one woman say that she even had to ask to go to the bathroom.  She wasn’t allowed to do anything without his permission.

Part of the trafficker’s goal is to make the women completely and utterly reliant on him.  If he can tear her down enough and strip away any sense of identity that she has, she’ll be more willing to do the things he demands and will be less likely to leave. It is often successful when paired with the many other challenges the women face including bad credit, lack of financial literacy, poor life skills, and little education.  The women are truly left with no other options but to stay.

Another degrading practice, and one that is on the rise, is the art of branding. A branding is a tattoo or permanent marking to show ownership.  I’ve seen them positioned on the back of a girl’s neck, on her chest or down her arms.  While it might be a badge of honor while the woman is in the early stages of “romance” with her pimp, it is later very embarrassing and a constant reminder of the life that she is trying to leave.

It is extremely sad to me that we hold no real value for many of the individuals in our society.  We often overlook the broken, the hurting and those that are different than us.  Have you ever been involved in stripping someone of their rights or dignity? This week, reflect on the many freedoms we enjoy everyday.  If you are feeling bold, comment on a time that someone stood up for you and how that made you feel.

PC: Do The Hard Work

Can you Turn a Hoe into a Housewife?


Thanks to Ludacris‘ terrible song Ho, the phrase “you can’t turn a hoe into a housewife” was born.  I hate this saying and it is something that is completely untrue.  Where does this hate and judgment come from? Are we as a culture so set in making others feel less about themselves in order to convince ourselves that we are better than we actually are?

One of the women I work with sat down in my office this week.  She is getting married in a few months and there are still many details to finish planning out.  She mentioned this “can you turn a hoe into a housewife” saying and we sat for a long while about what it personally means to her.  This precious woman has been out of “the life” for almost a year and every day is a constant fight toward the new life she wants for herself and her future husband.

My friend said, “When someone comes out of ‘the life’, they need to reprogram their brain.  They have to relearn everything.  I had to ask myself personal questions like what my ideal type of guy even is? Do I want kids? What would my dream job be now that I can pursue any profession I want?  What kind of friends do I want? I used to think I had friends in the life, but now I realize that they were just associates, wanting something in return.”

“Even in the life you have hopes of your partner and your life working out,” she said.  “He’s your everything, you have to wholeheartedly depend on him for everything.  On the streets, everything has to be ok with you, even if it’s not; you go numb after a while.  You become everyone else’s fantasy.  You quit using your real name.  You take on a persona and eventually can’t even figure out how to turn it off.”

My friend continued, “And now that I found the man that I think I want to spend the rest of my life with, things changed.  I am able to be honest about my past.  The biggest fear for me was bringing my past into my present and future relationships.  I am now discovering who I want to be and that is someone he can trust and care for.  It was my job for eleven years, but in no way dictates who I am as a person.”

I am constantly inspired by the courage and bravery of the women I work with everyday. Comment below and share your stories of how you have overcome past trauma and have created a bright and promising future for yourself.

PC: Redeemed

A Contributing Factor to Why Victims Don’t Run


We’ve all heard of Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological phenomenon where a victim is bonded to his or her captor.  What makes this bond so strong and last for so long? Is it ever possible to successfully break away?

I sat down with one of my friends today to try and wrap my head around the psychological manipulation that I see in the stories of so many of the women and girls we work with.  My friend said, “I was 5 years into ‘the life’ the first time I fell in love. I was 19-years-old and had never before felt anything emotionally for a man.  He came into my life at a time when I was exceptionally vulnerable.  I didn’t have anyone or anything.  I was dropped off at his house by another guy who assured me that he would come back for me.  He didn’t.  It was four days later when “J” told me I could stay.”

“It was his eyes that drew me to him,” she said.  “He was tall, dark and had deep, blue eyes.  I will never forget his eyes.  It was the 4th of July. He made me feel good about myself and really took the time to make sure I felt cared for.  He took me to get my nails and hair done and made sure I had nice clothes to wear.  He made me feel appreciated.  He even took me to get first ID, never before had I had anything to identify myself with.  He told me his story and we really connected.”

She continued, “For the first year, everything was great.  It wasn’t until the beginning of year two that everything began to switch.  He started to hit me when I made him mad or frustrated.  It started out once every month or two and after another two years, it was becoming much more frequent.  It seems everything I did irritated him.  He left bruises on my face, my arms, and all over my body.  He told me that bruises heal.  He also assured me that it would never happen again as he helped clean off the blood.  I believed him.”

“I stayed with him despite the abuse for another 3 years,” my friend said.  “We were together for a total of seven years.  Even after I left, I continued to stay in contact with him, sneaking away to meet him.  Even then, the abuse continued.  I can confidently say now that we are finished.  That I am no longer in love with him, but boy it has been a tough journey.”

Stockholm syndrome affects a wide range of people.  It has been seen in kidnapping and hostage cases, prisoners of war and in those that have been trafficked.  It is one of the many contributors to why victims don’t run away or why they are often too afraid to speak up.  Together we can be their voice.  This week, let’s continue to educate ourselves on the many psychological influences that keep victims quiet.

PC: Mental Health Guru

The Woman Everyone Aspires To Be


Tonight we celebrated my dear friend Emily Cales, who was recognized as Reno’s Phenomenal Community Member by the Alliance for Victims’ Rights.  Ms. Emily is someone very special to every one of the women we work with and every one of their children.  It doesn’t matter who you ask within Awaken, we all aspire to be like Emily when we “grow up”.  Emily is selfless, generous, and at 79 years old, became one of our very first mentors.  At Awaken, we give each of the women and girls we work with a mentor if they choose to have one.  A mentor is someone who encourages them, fights for them, and loves them unconditionally.

I was able to sit down with Emily earlier this week and ask why she decided to get involved with Awaken. It is my hope to inspire others in the community to get past their initial fear and as Ms. Emily puts it, “jump right in”.   It was in 2012 that Emily first heard about Awaken and then again at the beginning of 2013.  She was sitting in church when she heard God say that He wanted her to get involved.  It had happened before, and in the past, she just shrugged off the idea.  But this time was different.  She then spoke to us thinking it was just going to be learning more about how Awaken functions so she can pray more effectively, but boy was she wrong!

“I immediately started the mentorship process and learning the depths of trafficking,” said Ms. Emily.  “It wasn’t long after that when I took my first girl out to lunch.  I was more afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing or making her feel uncomfortable, I was not concerned about me.  But in talking to her, there was ease and peace.  And we are still in relationship today, in fact we are on our way to celebrate her birthday!”

“Knowing the girls and being in their lives absolutely blesses my life,” Ms. Emily said.  “I can’t even explain to you what a privilege it is to be involved with these girls.  They are just awesome, they really are.  And as time went on, I met more of the girls.  My heart goes out to them, they fight so hard for what they get.  Yes, they may fall, but so do I.  And they get back up and move forward again.  It’s a joy to watch and it’s heart breaking when they do fall, but God is in the midst of it all.  And I feel really blessed to be a part of it.”

When I asked Ms. Emily how she got over the initial fear, she said, “Praying God will give you strength for the things He wants you to do, outside of that, I think just jumping in and doing it.  You can’t be on the sidelines and be in the midst of their lives.  If you really want to be part of them, you need to be with them.  You’ve got to learn who they are and the struggles they face and then just love them, and that’s the easy part!”

Ms. Emily told me that you can make all the difference in someone’s life, and I encourage you to get over your initial fear of getting involved in something new or giving back.  Young adults are 55% more likely to enroll in college, and are 90% more likely to also become a mentor if they have had one solid mentor in their life. This week, take Ms. Emily’s advice and jump right in, you won’t be disappointed!

What About the Women in the Brothels?


There has been a lot of media attention recently about Nevada’s legal brothels. I see the hope and excitement in the eyes of those in the anti trafficking movement on how negative press can lead to bigger changes, such as brothels being shut down. I get pretty excited about these things too, but I also want us to consider what it would be like if you were working there, hearing of those wanting to shut down your only way of supporting yourself and your family.

Imagine yourself as someone who grew up with people constantly being against you. Exploited at a young age, now you are being taken in by an older man who showed you nothing but “love” and financial provisions. Since your dad was taken from you for what he did to you, you never really had a father figure. You enjoy the attention you receive at the brothel. Being taken in has made you feel safe. You can finally support yourself and your kids. The brothel owner only keeps half, and trust me, half is better than none, which is what your last boyfriend left you with. He took everything you used to make. So now you are in the brothel and finally have support and friends that not only care for you, but understand you. You know it’s not all good, but it’s better than what you had and now you’re hearing about people wanting to take it all away from you. You see their excitement over wanting your boss to hurt and the best life you’ve ever had might slip away. If you didn’t have the brothel, you could lose your kids and have no other way of making a living. Your mom has already threatened to take full custody of your kids if you don’t come up with the money she asked for. You begin to wonder why these people who always talk about love, seem so heartless and mean. Why do they want to hurt you and take away the life you have?

The realities of what go on everyday in the brothels can be harsh, but not nearly as tough as the streets. For many of the women living there, it is a roof over their heads and three meals a day.  As we see through our rose colored glasses, we forget about the precious lives working there to take care of their families. If we are quick to close their doors, each of the 300 plus women are out of a job with no means to support themselves, and the cycle of abuse continues. As we get excited about laws changing and our state becoming a state that no longer supports the objectification of women, let’s also think about how we can care for these women and their children. Are you a business owner who is able to offer job training and support? Are you willing to sponsor a women going back to school? Or better yet, are you willing to open your home and your life to become a new sense of community and family for these dear ones?

Together, we can make our city safe for everyone. Comment below and let me know the different ways you will help care for and support not just the women in the brothels, but those affected by all areas of commercial sexual exploitation.

PC: The Sydney Morning Herald

The Pull Back In


What makes leaving “the life” so difficult? In a domestic violent relationship, it is said that a girl will go back to her abuser on average seven times before she actually leaves.  What is the draw and why do so many girls run right back just after reaching out for help? I think we have this idea in our minds that these girls want to be “rescued” and in theory I think many do, but then why does it take so long for real change to actually happen? And why is this pull back so strong?  These are just a few of the questions that I am often left pondering late into the night.

There has to be a better way of reaching the women and meeting them right where they are at; figuring out what their exact needs are and how we can better assist them.  In the middle of writing this, I picked up my phone and called my friend, who spent many years in “the life” across Nevada and California.  I asked her what was so enticing on the other side and what was it that kept pulling her back.

She answered quickly, “The sense of belonging.  There were always people around.  You were a group, a family.  It was dysfunctional in every sense, but it was mine.”   I have heard this many times from the women I’ve worked with.  It seems daunting and scary to be left alone, without anyone around, just your thoughts and those thoughts become dark and scary.  It is said that 67% of women in prostitution suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of the harsh realities and abuse that go hand in hand with prostitution.

My friend also chimed in that she had no real responsibilities.  Sure, she had to make the money, but outside of that, she never had to pay bills or think about the future.  She was taken care of and so were her immediate needs.  Her hair and nails were always done, and she always had clothes to wear.  She said, “This changes when you get out, you no longer have the money to do things you were used to doing and you can no longer pay for entertainment and basic necessities.  It is really scary, especially if you can’t put food on the table for your kids. Outside of that, I really had to learn how to have positive thrills.  Life out of “the life” is boring! You are left with way too much time just to think!”

I really appreciate my friend’s frankness and it gives me even more to think about.  How do we offer the women and girls we work with a sense of community and family as well as educational and career opportunities, and a sense of adventure?  We need to start looking at all of the different areas that need to be met, not just one or two.

This week think about the areas in your life that are being satisfied and where there is room for personal growth.  Comment below and tell me one way you are not only going to improve your life, but how you will also help improve the life of someone else.

PC: NASEM Health and Medicine Division

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