Jen Robinson

Life’s Curveballs


In working with victims of commercial sexual exploitation, the only thing I have found to be predictable is that it will always be unpredictable.  This may hold true for working with any population that involves people.  I love and hate that we have free choice.  Our decisions don’t just affect us, but others.  I have found the only way to not get overwhelmed is to be flexible and try to find the humor in most situations.  After all, just one laugh can stimulate your organs, relieve pain and improve not just your mood, but also your immune system!

At Awaken, every women and girl that we work with has the option to choose to have a mentor or not.  We help to pair the two together based on personalities and interests.  Sometimes these relationships take off and really flourish and other times, they can be slow and a little trying. I can think back to last summer when I was pairing up a new girl with her mentor.  We were meeting at a restaurant up at Lake Tahoe and it was going to be a great day! That is until the girls showed up almost an hour late with a guy for their first date! I am not sure why she thought it wasn’t going to be awkward, and looking back, I’m still not sure she thinks it’s bizarre now!  But one thing is for sure, you have to be flexible!  And learn to expect the unexpected.

We also get donations once a week from Bed, Bath and Beyond and a few other stores. The women and girls love to come by our center, check out the new items we received and take what they need for their apartments and houses.  We are very generous with the women and girls and they know that. One week in particular, one of the girls shows up with a tall man.  I should state that our office is in a questionable part of town and sometimes we get people visiting who could potentially be dangerous.  I asked around and found out that he is safe and was just providing transportation for the girl.  I settled back down at my desk and a few minutes later, I look over and he is walking out carrying our piano! He nicely put it back as soon as I told him it wasn’t up for grabs! I laughed and reminded myself that the only thing predictable, was that each day is going to be unpredictable.

These are two of the many situations that used to make me frustrated and uneasy, but I’ve come to learn that it is just a normal part of working with people!  Comment below and tell me one of your stories when things didn’t go as you planned!  Looking back, are you now able to laugh and see the humor in it?

PC: Financially Blond

Celebrating Successes


Next month we hit an important milestone for Awaken, the anti sex trafficking organization I co-founded.  It was in May of 2011 when we first received word that we were now a legitimate 501c3 organization recognized by the IRS. I think back over those past years to all that I have learned, the struggles and heartache I have felt, and the amazing accomplishments that we have celebrated. As an organization, hitting the five-year anniversary mark is monumental and often unheard of in the nonprofit world.  The Census Bureau has found that after five years, only 45% of all new establishments were still around. As I consider this statistic and how Awaken could have just as easily been apart of the 55% to fail, I think of what has been most influential for me.

The best advice I could give to a new start up would be to never lose focus of your vision and mission. Write down now what it is you hope to accomplish and why it not only makes a difference in your life, but also in the lives of others.  Make sure you note any internal and outside confirmation you received before you started.  When times get hard and life’s circumstances seem overwhelming, you will need to remember why it is you do what you do. Awaken was started on a foundation of prayer, where God laid out what His plans were not only for us, but for His city.  This is something I often need to go back to.  It instills a renewed sense of focus in my mind and can sustain me through the seasons where it seems like everything is going wrong.

I have also learned to stay humble and be faithful.  Two of the harder characteristics for me to uphold, yet so necessary for a good leader.  I am the first to apologize and admit when I am wrong.  I have found that there is much grace to be given for those who say “I’m sorry”.  There are occasionally consequences for my actions and I try to do everything I can to ensure I will not make the same mistake twice.  I am transparent with my staff about things I have done well and things I wish I had done differently.

Awaken has also become far more than a job, it is a passion, a calling and something that has grown to become an extension of my life.  The girls and women we work with are not only friends but have also grown to become my family.  We laugh together, cry together and learn together.  As I think of everyone involved in Awaken, the mentors, case managers, counselors, community members, etc., if it wasn’t for the hearts of everyone involved, we would not still exist.  The biggest difference for me is heart.

And finally, we celebrate! Every accomplishment, however big or small, deserves to be celebrated!  We celebrate everything from birthdays, sobriety anniversaries, graduations, weddings, and babies.  If there is a reason to celebrate, we take advantage of it.  Celebrating the small and large achievements help give us hope and encouragement for the future.  In these moments I have found, I gain more clarity and are able to relax and have my heart renewed.

This week, journal and share with a friend what makes you come alive.  If you don’t yet know, start by writing down all of the things you enjoy doing and see if any one sticks out more than the others.  And after, celebrate!

PC: Keep Calm

Exposing Pornography


I have heard the average age of first exposure to pornography being anywhere from 9 – 12 years old.  Picture a 9-year-old, they are in the 4th grade and should be obsessing over sports and nail polish, not naked women. Seeing image after image that will never go away, it might possibly fade over time, but will be forever imprinted into their memory.

It is this very thing that perpetuates the demand for sex and sex trafficking.  It baffles me how we can be so against sex trafficking and desire to see it end, yet we accept porn as a form of entertainment and turn a blind eye to its influences. Benjamin Nolot, the founder and director of Exodus Cry, an anti sex trafficking organization based out of Kansas City, found in his research that there was not one man paying for sex that did not have a history of viewing pornography.

Melissa Farley also conducted a study and found that 49% of women interviewed across 9 different countries reported having pornography made of them while they were in prostitution. These women lacked consent and the choice to say no.  To me, there is no difference if you are getting paid illegally for sex on the streets and getting paid for sex on camera.  In both cases, you have the exchange of sex for money, which still falls under the umbrella of commercial sexual exploitation.  We need to call pornography what it specifically is: sexual exploitation.

There are also serious physical consequences for viewing pornography.  It creates a drug-like addiction in your brain, warping your view of sex.  It trains you to believe that you can have sexual stimulation and pleasure anytime you want it.  It physically alters your mind and body.  It is also linked to an increase in violent sexual fantasies and can aid to the acceptance or belief that would blame a rape victim for being assaulted. More than anything, it negatively alters our perception of women, heathy relationships and our overall sexuality.

So what can we do to increase awareness about pornography’s contribution to the sex industry? This week, research your state’s laws and stance on pornography and prostitution.  Utah recently declared pornography a public health crisis stating that it is a main cause in destroying marriages and families. Have you personally been effected by pornography? Together, let’s educate our friends and family on its detrimental effects.

PC: Fight The New Drug

Fighting for the One


There is something to be said for statistics.  People may not love crunching the numbers, but ultimately they love the numbers.  They need to be convinced there is actually a problem and testimonies of the few sometimes fall short.  You can argue the validity of someone’s retelling of a story, but you can’t argue with the numbers…right?

“There are 21 million slaves in the world today, more than any other time in human history.” “The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 14.”  “Slavery generates $150 billion for traffickers each year.”

These numbers sound really scary, especially if they aren’t even accurate.  I hear over and over again that these figures are being debated and tested.  And good, I hope someday we can better quantify the actual numbers, the actual lives.  People love numbers, but let’s not forget about the faces, the hearts that beat inside of those being trafficked and abused everyday.  Whether there is one, 21 million or 50 million, we should be enraged.  We should always be willing to look for and fight for the one.

So what makes finding actual data and numbers so challenging, impossible even?  First, our information is old and outdated. We continue to rely on and repeat past statistics and never take the time to research new information published yearly by trustworthy sources.  There is also the underground nature of prostitution and trafficking which makes counting and keeping track of the individuals next to impossible.  Very few victims will ever self identify because of fear, shame, and guilt. It is amazing how crippling fear can be to a person.  And the fear of violence and threats are very real.  For many of the victims, they’ve seen their friends beat up and even murdered. They know what will happen if they report and end up having to go back to their trafficker.  If the proper measures aren’t taken to get them to safety, their life is at far more risk than if they would have just kept quiet.

This week, let’s worry less about whether or not the facts are truly reliable and worry about the one. The one society often forgets about, doesn’t care about or is annoyed by.  What would it look like if each of us spoke up for and cared for our one?

PC: Fight Slavery Now

Subliminal Sex


I saw this picture on Monday and it has continued to make an impression on me.  How have we let the objectification of women get so far out of hand?  Do we value others? Do we even value ourselves?  We live in a society that has normalized the buying and selling of sex; we are inundated with it on TV commercials, the internet and on our streets everyday.  Specifically, in Nevada, we have made sex 100% available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week purchased legally or illegally.

Picture yourself driving downtown on Virginia Street, radio on, windows rolled down.  What do you hear? What do you see?  More than likely, you will pass an interactive billboard picturing women taking their clothes off or see a taxi cab drive by advertising one of the brothels or strip clubs on its taxi-topper.  Maybe you recognize for the first time the lyrics of your favorite song and actually come to realize how degrading the lyrics are to women or how glorifying they are to pimps.

Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton University, conducted a study of how men and women perceive each other in a bathing suit.  When men see a woman in a sexy swimsuit, the part of their brain that is triggered is the part that is associated with an object of action, viewing the woman as a tool or something of use. Women, however, show no difference in their thinking when viewing a man either fully clothed or in a bathing suit.

“A guy sees life while a woman feels and talks about life.” Shaunti Feldhahn

It is no surprise that men and women’s brains are inherently different.  Men are very visual and at the first sight of a scantily clad woman, an involuntary spike of pleasure occurs.  This initial reaction is unconscious and automatic, what happens next, will be a choice.  Men can either choose to look away or choose to engage.

This is the exact marketing strategy that the billboards and media advertisements are playing off of.  If they can elicit a spike of pleasure in a man’s body, they are banking on the fact that he will want to further explore or repeat those feelings. Thus walking right into their trap.

This week, pause and think about everything you hear and see around you, and the influence it plays into making you desensitized, while normalizing the buying and selling of sex.

PC: Ads of the World

The Men Who Buy Sex


I have often been asked who are the faces behind the men who purchase sex? Is there a particular age, level of education or ethnic background that contributes more to the commercial sex industry over another? Personally, I think it will depend on who you talk to and where they are working.  In Lack of a Choice, I introduced Melissa Farley, who also did a study comparing the men who buy sex to men who do not buy sex.

In her study, she found the mean age of men buying sex to be 41 years old.  61% had a wife or serious girlfriend.  And on average, the men were twenty-one years old when they first started paying for sex.  She found a substantial difference in the attitudes and actions in the men who bought sex regularly verses the men who have only paid for sex once.  The regular buyers acknowledged having committed substantially more violent acts against women and believe that prostitution prevents rape. The biggest difference I saw, was that 38% of men who buy sex saw prostitution as sexual exploitation.  The men who buy sex are far more likely to normalize prostitution and 93% believe the women should have the “choice” to become a prostitute.

So how do we successfully curb this demand?  One way is to increase the penalties of the men, or johns purchasing sex.  We can follow the Nordic Model and criminalize the men and decriminalize the women, while offering substantial exit services.  We can also implement a john school, an eight-hour prostitution diversion program for first-time offenders run much like a DUI school.  This school is aimed at reducing the recidivism rate by educating offenders of the risks and realities behind how their actions contribute to the commercial sex industry including sex trafficking and also further consequences if they continue to purchase sex illegally.

During this program, they will hear from an attorney on the legally implications if they reoffend, they will hear from a doctor or a nurse on potential physical risks including STDs, and other emotional risks.  They will also hear from a survivor, how she not only got into prostitution but how it has negatively effected her mentally and physically, and hopefully destroy any myth that she enjoys having sex over and over again.  With any luck, this will instill a new sense of compassion and empathy into the john, making him less likely to believe that his actions have little to no consequences.

To date there are over 50 john schools operating across the United States, Canada, South Korea and the United Kingdom.  The johns pay anywhere from $0 to $1,500 to attend and in return will have the solicitation charges dropped from their record.  There are a few reasons these programs fail outside of financial reasons, but the main reason is the police task force not doing enough reverse stings.  A reverse prostitution sting is where the police act as a decoy prostitute and targets male customers. Without the men being picked up for solicitation, they cannot be mandated or choose to attend the john school program.

Comment below and tell me why you think Reno should open and operate its own john school!

PC: Breaking Free

Raising up World Changers


As part of our prevention program at Awaken, we periodically go into local middle and high schools to teach the students about modern day slavery.  We address warning signs to look for in themselves and in their friends in hopes to prevent them from becoming victims as well as empower them to stand up and get involved in the fight against human trafficking.

It occurred to me yesterday as I was explaining the different forms of human trafficking that I hadn’t taken the time to explain them to you.  There are 5 forms of human trafficking: forced labor, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, child soldiers and sex trafficking.  The only form of human trafficking that does not occur in the United States is child soldiers.  Forced labor, bonded labor and involuntary domestic servitude are all forms of labor trafficking and contain only a few differences. At Awaken, we only work with sex trafficking, which is why my blog focuses mainly on the rights and stories of women in all forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

With all forms of human trafficking, you need the recruitment, harboring, transporting or obtaining of a person for the purpose of labor or a sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion.  You don’t need to prove all three, just one and if the victim is under 18, you do not need to prove any, it is just considered trafficking. It is sad, but force, fraud and coercion are often very hard to prove in court.  Thankfully, we live in a state that is beginning to crack down on trafficking and recently passed AB 67, which changed the current pandering statute to the sex trafficking statute, which provides traffickers with steeper penalties and increased jail time.

Often times the school district is weary of any group coming into the schools talking about sex, so we found a covert way of bringing prevention into the schools without ever mentioning the word sex!  Through building self-confidence and increasing self-esteem, girls are less likely to become vulnerable to being taken advantage of and being trafficked.  We talk about our insecurities and how the parts of our body that we are most self-conscious about are actually the very things that make us unique and beautiful.  It is powerful knowing that I am making a difference in raising up the next generation to become strong, courageous world changers.

This week, examine your own insecurities and talk openly about how you have processed through and overcome them to a younger friend who may be struggling with similar feelings.

PC: Nevada Anti-Human Trafficking

Lack of a Choice


Last week, I wrote Her One Skill about my dear friend who at seventeen believed her only skill was sex.  Well this week, she turns eighteen.  It is terrifying to think that she is now considered an adult by our state.  Besides being able to buy cigarettes and vote, although I guarantee she couldn’t name who is running for office from either party, she can now legally decide to dance in the strip clubs or work in the brothels.

Yesterday she was considered a child, a victim, but today she is considered a consenting adult.  It is terrifying how twenty-four hours can completely alter your perception of things.  In Nevada, we are often jaded and desensitized by the billboards and taxi toppers advertising sex.  We forget that the women taking their clothes off are in many cases still little girls.  They all desire to be loved, accepted and cared for.  They want a more abundant life, but in many cases have never seen a healthy lifestyle modeled.

Melissa Farley is an anti-pornography and anti-prostitution activist and researcher who has studied related topics world-wide.  Through her 2-year research study in eight different legal Nevada brothels, she found that 81% of women working wanted to get out, but had no other means to support themselves.  Twenty-three percent, which is far lower than I expected said that they were prostituted as children before they began working legally in the brothel.  We as a state have legitimized a way to further oppress women and keep them in a place where they don’t want to be and can’t even fathom actually leaving.  If our community stood up for the 23% and gave them love and an education think how differently their lives would look.

I continue to try to wrap my mind around the myth that the girls in the brothels and strip clubs want to be there, that they just like sex, but I can never seem to get away from my friend, who grew up to believe this is where she will end up. For her, this is a lack of a choice and an inaccurate perception of who she was created to be.

This week in honor of her birthday, will you celebrate her with me by not buying sex and trying to see the women behind the façade as real and precious women?

PC: Awaken

A World of Hate


I am often appalled by the judgment I see even within similar communities.  I hear over and over again from the women I work with that even when they have gone through other domestic violence or addiction facilities they are judged and ostracized.  There is an attitude of, “well at least I didn’t do that,”  meaning sell their body for drugs or money.  They are once again left feeling ashamed and not accepted.

I recently met with a transgendered woman who told me that there is even exclusion and hostility within the transgendered community between those that are pre-op and those that are post-op.  Pre-op refers to those who still have the genitalia they were born with and post-op referring to those that have already undergone the reassignment surgery to change genitalia.

I believe it is this very hate that drives the entire sex industry.  Hatred is driven so deeply into people and cultures that it produces a fear of anything that is different from us.  It is also what enables us to justify our own actions and then size ourselves up on a scale that says “I am better than you”.  The comparison, power, control and manipulation continue to destroy and drive us deeper and deeper into our own self-hate.

I encourage you today to love someone who is different than you, to pray for them and truly seek to find the good inside of everyone you meet.

PC: Highland Hospital

Her One Skill


I have a friend who is rambunctious and wild.  She lives from one high to the next, rarely stopping to see how each decision will effect the next.  She lives for today and today only. My friend is seventeen and has been in the life since she was thirteen, which is the average age of entry.  She is a second generation prostitute and was essentially raised up to be in the life despite her mother continually telling her to choose a different path.

We were visiting last July and talking about her future.  She loves hair and makeup and making people feel beautiful.  We talked about the possibility of her going to beauty school after she completes her GED.  At one point in our conversation I looked into her eyes and realized she had checked out.  She finally spoke the words that she doesn’t think she can do it; that at seventeen, she truly believes she has one skill and that one skill is sex.

We as her community have told her over and over again that she is only as valuable as her body, and that her worth is dependent upon how she performs sexually. In four years, she has seen more abuse and physical violence than anyone decades older than her.  We have a chance to be the voice she never had. We can make choices that effect my beautiful friend and so many more like her for generations to come.  We can raise our sons and daughters to be confident and understand their value.

If this seems daunting, start by telling your own daughter she’s beautiful and show your sons what it is like to be a gentleman who treats a woman with respect. For more tips on how to prevent your children from falling prey to trafficking visit

PC: The Volunteer Fringe

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