When Jessica Thorne graduated from IWU in 2003 and began working in an Indianapolis elementary school, she never expected that God would eventually call her to quit teaching and become the founder of an anti-human trafficking organization. A mission trip to Nepal in 2007 changed Jessica’s plans. In Nepal, she was appalled by the damaging effects of the sex trade on its victims, most of whom were underage girls. But what broke her was her return to Indianapolis.
Large U.S. cities such as Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C. are home to a thriving sex trade. Worldwide, human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry, and U.S. demand is one of the highest in the global sex trade market. Jessica says she didn’t know about trafficking in the U.S. until after her trip to Nepal. “There wasn’t a lot of buzz about the domestic issue. No one was addressing it,” she explained.
Jessica felt God calling her to raise community awareness and provide relief for trafficking victims, so she worked with her church to host a benefit concert called Purchased. “Honestly, I thought that was the end of it,” Jessica said.
God had other plans. After hosting a few more events and networking with local anti-trafficking workers in Indianapolis, she left her teaching job and founded an anti-trafficking organization in 2011. The nonprofit, named Purchased in honor of the original concert, focuses on prevention and restoration. Workers from Purchased visit local schools and youth groups to talk to young people, especially those who may be at risk to become involved in human trafficking – as victims or as traffickers.
Purchased uses two curriculum to talk to teenagers. Empowering Youth is a preventative program that educates students on how to be part of the solution. My Life, My Choice is an intensive, ten-week program that helps rehabilitate girls aged 14-18 who have been victims of sex trafficking. According to Jessica, the Indianapolis Police Department and other anti-trafficking organizations other anti-trafficking organizations perform the initial rescues. The girls, most of whom come from high-poverty neighborhoods and juvenile detention facilities, are then referred to Purchased’s My Life, My Choice program.
Purchased is expanding in 2015 to include a mentorship program for the My Life, My Choice girls. “It’s hard to leave the girls after ten weeks,” Jessica said. She hopes the mentoring program will help former victims learn to manage life after being rescued by providing guidance and support as they plan their futures.
Jessica is also pleased with how far God has brought Purchased. During her time at IWU, she was involved in ministry teams and Chorale but even today doesn’t always think of herself as a leader. “I never in a million years though I’d be coming back to speak at chapel. It’s so surreal,” she said, “I’m not a leader, an entrepreneur, someone who would want to start something.”
Now that she has started something, Jessica looks forward to expanding the outreach Purchased has in Indianapolis. She encourages others to get involved by educating themselves, talking about the issue, and praying. When asked what advice she would give to fellow IWU alumni, Jessica said, “Pay attention to what God’s doing, and be open to saying yes, even if it sounds totally crazy.” For more information about human trafficking and IWU-affiliated organizations, you can visit: Bastian Center or Destiny Rescue.
Written by Megan Emily. Megan is a senior English and Writing major at IWU and a member of the John Wesley Honors College. She operates a blog about finding security and hope.