She was an FBI agent, thriving in what she calls her "dream job." But that all changed one Sunday morning. Now her job is much different, yet it attacks the same problem: trafficking, human trafficking.
Many call her a hero, for having the courage to step away from a more mainstream, popular occupation and help people at a "grass roots" level. She's a helper, and what she does takes guts, determination, and compassion. She wants to empower and protect those that find themselves in a tough situation, much like Mace® Brand. Our missions follow similar paths, and focus around the personal safety of the the people, whose lives we can improve.
This former FBI agent paints a picture of what it's like to make a dramatic career change, in hopes of having a much greater and lasting impact on the people who need her help. This is her story, in her own words.
When I served as an FBI Special Agent, people often asked, “What kind of Agent are you?”
Initially, I requested clarification. To me there was one kind of Agent—the kind that conducted investigations to protect freedom, bring justice through the courts and protect the vulnerable.
It turned out the question was about whether I worked in the field or at a desk job.
Although I felt like I spent far too much time at a desk doing paperwork, I was a field agent. Primarily an investigator of human trafficking and child exploitation.
Once, someone from a Department of Justice (DOJ) desk showed up when we were indicting subjects in one of my human trafficking investigations. He said he travelled to support important cases. I lamented that the only difference between this case and others was the media attention it received.
All of my cases were important. Few received public attention. Each one mattered. Our seemingly invisible neighbors matter just as much as those who make headlines.
Predators prey upon vulnerabilities to entice, manipulate, degrade and enslave. They identify vulnerabilities and pose as the solution to needs for affection, affirmation, entertainment, money or education.
Trafficking rarely starts with an abduction like you see warned about in viral social media myths, although it often degrades into the sort of violence you see sensationalized.
I served as lead case agent on dozens of investigations during my FBI career. That sounds more impressive than it is. Mostly, my day-to-day team consisted of me, myself and I.
On headline-making cases, like the one that prompted DOJ visits, I seemingly had the full force of the federal government at my disposal.
Even the full force of the federal government is not enough. In movies an FBI Agent saves the day. In reality, it requires a community.
Routinely, I encountered victims requiring connection to a safe place to truly be set free. Often, a physically safe place was an immediate need. But the greatest need was for a safe place relationally.
I discovered that just as traffickers have networks, we need networks to provide safety and empower the victimized and vulnerable to become all they were meant to be.
Once, early in my FBI career, colleagues asked why I’d spent hours in the middle of the night sitting by a trafficked teenager’s hospital bed, when there was no expectation that a case would ever come from it. Why? Because there was no one else to do it, and a safe presence can make all the difference.
Sadly, I couldn’t stay. And she needed more than just me. She needed a community.
A call to grow a community that brings freedom prompted me to leave my dream job to join Reaching Above Hopelessness and Brokenness Ministries (RAHAB). RAHAB delivers hope through trauma-informed care to trafficking survivors and those who are high risk. Services include safe housing, case management, mentoring, outreach, jail ministry, drop-in houses and education.
RAHAB speaks the truth that combats trafficker’s lies and lives real love that counteracts traffickers’ false version. Real relationships restore freedom and bring healing from unimaginable pain.
As an FBI Agent, I could momentarily remove a victim from a trafficker, but that is only one piece of the solution.
WHY MACE® BRAND?
Just as the FBI and RAHAB are pieces of the solution, Mace® Brand also plays a role by providing community and family safety through individual empowerment. We provide vulnerable people with a means to protect themselves, which leads to stronger communities. We're a leader in non-lethal personal protection devices, but our commitment to our community and our commitment to our values is what drives us to make a positive difference.
THE GAME CHANGING DAY
One Sunday morning I recognized the importance of the community seeing the need. Before dawn I had responded to a SWAT team’s call for assistance. Later, I sat in a church pew and listened to a guest speaker request support for anti-trafficking efforts overseas.
I sat in that seat both grateful and horrified. Grateful that compassionate hearts responded, horrified they didn’t recognize the need in their backyard, where victims were falling through the cracks. I’d seen it that very morning.
These and other experiences propelled me to leave my dream job on the tenth anniversary of my graduation from the FBI Academy.
I left to be a voice for the voiceless. I left to make the invisible visible. I left to be a conduit to connect the dots, to grow a continuum of care to combat traffickers’ networks.
Every day I miss my work as an FBI Agent. I miss my colleagues, my friends and my FBI family. But I don’t regret my choice.
I’ve seen lives transformed at RAHAB. As I write, we’re celebrating several high school graduates, including one who arrived years behind in school. Under our roof she completed three years of school in just over seven months.
I’ve just received a data report from Case Western University that shows 100% of those recently surveyed across our programming indicated services at RAHAB led to positive change in their lives.
I’ve sat with women who were once left to die and now not only dare to dream but are seeing dreams come to fruition.
I believe the hope that grows here will change generations. And, as restored families share the hope they have received, I believe the ripple effect will set entire communities on a trajectory that leads them to fulfill their destinies.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The seemingly small things, with all of us doing them together, will save life after life. I’ve seen it over and over.
The “big” case that caught the DOJ guy’s attention resulted in recovered victims and federal convictions of traffickers because person after person simply did the seemingly small thing in front of them.
Over the course of time, a non-judgmental presence, offering opportunity and belief in their potential, delivers those who are vulnerable and victimized with strength to rise. You can be a vessel for that presence.
The most important thing you can do to prevent and stop trafficking is to see those who feel invisible.
Speak encouragement to the person next to you. Smile at someone who appears defeated. Donate to our programming. Share RAHAB’s myth-busting social media posts to combat viral misinformation about trafficking. Volunteer. Ask us to provide training for your company, school, or other group.
Everyone can do something. If you feel unsettled by the brokenness in our world, maybe that is a sign you are meant to help bring restoration. Together, we can be the conduit to save a multitude of lives.
Suzanne Lewis-Johnson CEO, RAHAB Ministries
Mace Brand provides community and family safety through individual empowerment.
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