Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. It involves controlling a person through force, fraud or coercion to exploit them for forced labor, sexual exploitation or both.
But that's not here, right? That's in some faraway country, affecting some faraway people?
Human trafficking is a problem in the U.S.
- 80 percent of trafficking victims are women
- 50 percent are children
- 350,000 American youth are at risk of being sexually exploited
- 100,000 American kids are being sexually trafficked right this minute
Flores says, "In our country, human trafficking is different. It's not the plantations and the brick workers and the brothels. It's called teen prostitution. It comes in a different form, and we don't know it."
People stumble across this disheartening and disturbing information, and some feel an urgency to do something about it. This was the case for author Heather Huffman. Huffman says, "When I hit 31, I decided to stop drifting through life and renew my childhood dream of writing. I wanted to share the stories swirling around my brain. Throwaway, my first published novel, happened after a dreamt conversation between a police officer and a prostitute."
Huffman says that while researching Throwaway, she unearthed the fact that slavery still existed in the U.S. She explains, "What I learned horrified me. Like so many, I was under the wrong impression that slavery in America ended with the 13th Amendment. At this point, my research was largely done on the internet. I knew right away that I had to do something to stop what was happening to women, children and even men all over the globe right under our noses."
Writing the story
Huffman worked human trafficking into the storyline of Throwaway. It wasn't a gritty detailing of atrocities — just one aspect of the story meant to raise awareness in a way that, hopefully, people would care about. She has since published her ninth novel. Some of them are centered on trafficking, some don't even mention it. But since all of the books intertwine, they all work together to raise awareness.
Huffman's books weren't picked up by traditional publishing houses. She says that she understood why her books didn't fit the mainstream market as it stood then (trafficking wasn't a hot topic then), but she also realized that her books weren't doing any good sitting on her hard drive. So she did the only thing she could think of: She released the four completed novels for free to raise awareness, only asking readers to make a donation to a group like World Vision to help end trafficking.
Spreading the word
A few things happened after Huffman released those books. Huffman explains, "First, they started being downloaded more than I'd ever dreamed they would. Thousands of people from all over the world were reading my novels. I started getting emails from readers coming from all walks of life, sharing their stories with me and telling me how my books impacted them. It was absolutely surreal. Some of the emails were from former slaves, telling me what it meant to them that someone would share their story. I was humbled to say the least. I was also put in touch with groups on the front lines, working to end slavery in America and abroad. As I spoke to those knocking down doors to recover children lost to this evil, I realized just how pervasive the issue was and how important it is that we fight. I also got firsthand information to include in my books to raise even more awareness."
As Huffman became more vocal about the trafficking scene, she also became more known. She was approached by Booktrope Publishing, and from there her story takes off. Booktrope republished the first four books, and they've since put out five more. Throwaway had received thousands of downloads independently published. It received tens of thousands in the first six weeks under the Booktrope banner.
The front lines
Huffman's stories raise awareness via theme and storyline and she still donates to organizations that fight trafficking, working most closely with Project Liberty.
But her work doesn't stop there. Huffman says, "My family also sponsors children through World Vision, because when we help end abject poverty, we cut off traffickers at their source. I give talks in schools to raise awareness and to teach teenagers online safety because 12 to 14-year-old girls are most at risk here in the U.S. My family has also reduced the amount of goods we consume, along with buying fair trade whenever possible to help fight labor trafficking across the globe. Even my children have rolled up their sleeves to help, from participating in walk-a-thons to setting up their own fundraisers and telling their friends about modern-day slavery, they're each doing their part."
It's this compassion coupled with advocacy that makes Huffman's work one that readers want to champion.
Fighting the (scary) fight
Huffman's publisher, Booktrope CMO Katherine Sears, took a chance on Huffman because of the good cause and the good writing. She says, "Heather is a unique author. She writes romantic and hopeful books as a way to shine light into the dark corners of humanity."
And it's this darkness that keeps Huffman doing what she does. Huffman says, "For me, I fight because I look at my children and can't imagine their light being extinguished by such darkness. If it were them, I'd want others to care. Someone has to fight for all of the children we're losing to trafficking; someone has to be a voice for the voiceless. Maybe if enough of us add our voices, it'll create a shout loud enough to get the world's attention."
^ To find out more about human trafficking, visit the sites Heather works with such as the Polaris Project, World Vision, Project Liberty and The Covering House. And to find out more about Heather, visit her author site, follow her on Facebook and, of course, buy her books.