Tyler native Julianne Baker works to brings hope to victims of human trafficking.
By Morgan Jones | Courtesy Photos
Fulfilling her childhood dream to help women empower themselves, Tyler native Julianne Baker has devoted the last six months to volunteering in a Redeemed Ministries safe house.
“I didn’t think it would look exactly like this, but this was sort of always my life dream,” Baker says. “My dream was to be in a place that I could provide a healing atmosphere for people who are severely struggling … I am living my dream right now, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Redeemed Ministries is a nonprofit Christian based organization dedicated to seeking, empowering and bringing Jesus Christ’s love to women rescued from the human trafficking and commercial sex trafficking industries.
As a complete volunteer supported organization, Redeemed relies on dedicated individuals like Baker to reach their goals to save lives.
After living in Tyler the majority of her life, Baker left behind her family and friends to live in a safe house in the Woodlands, north of Houston, to serve as volunteer resident adviser. She provides for the rescued women brought to the safe house by cooking, cleaning, chaperoning and implementing the program healing objectives.
Having grown up desiring to help individuals who have undergone a traumatic event, Baker attended Texas A&M University, where she acquired a degree in psychology.
Baker was aware of the general notion that the human trafficking and sex industries were a global problem; however, it wasn’t until she traveled with several mission groups that she was really aware of the heartbreaking crisis.
While in Germany attending a Discipleship Training School with Youth with a Mission (YWAM), Baker treaded down the streets of the red light prostitution district witnessing to the women that were working in the sex industry.
“You could just feel the darkness there, and you could see the pain reflected in the women’s eyes,” Baker says. “We would go up to each window and show them that we thought they were beautiful and that God loves them and He could give them a gift. For some of them that might be the only time they weren’t being used and instead were being treated like humans.”
Baker also ventured to Asia with YWAM to also help those affected by the industries.
“When I went overseas with the missions, it really opened my eyes to the problem,” Baker says. “When I saw all of these things happening I realized that this was a perfect avenue for my passion to help women and get involved in a different ministry.”
After returning to the states, Baker set out to find a ministry in which she could utilize her degree and follow her helpful heart.
“I pretty much immediately started looking for some sort of ministry to be a part of that was going to enable me to fulfill my passion, so Redeemed just kind of fell in my lap out of the blue,” Baker says. “I was just astounded because of the heart and the magnitude that Redeemed has for helping.”
Now as an adviser for a safe house, Baker works to heal women, who have previously been enslaved, during a 12-week Bible based course.
Each girl is required to attend a weekly Bible study and accompany the advisers to a church service. The program is incentive based that allows the girls to earn gift cards and other prizes when they finish a positive inspiring book.
“We aren’t forcing God upon them, we just make sure they feel mentally restored when it does happen,” Baker says. “They are required to go to church service every week, but we don’t require them to sit in it; we just require that so that the resident advisers do get that chance to go.”
While in the program, the girls also are able to make hand-made tile coasters to be sold through the Redeemed organization. The girls receive their whole sales proceeds for each coaster sold.
“The (coasters) are super professional-looking, and it’s pretty therapeutic for the girls to make them,” Baker says. “It also allows them to be earning money while in the house without actually having a job.”
After their time is up in a safe house, the women are fostered by a family for a year when they will further continue to establish their own lives.
“When the girls come into the house, their conversation to us is generally all about their experience in the industry and the abuse that they received through that,” Baker says. “It’s incredibly exciting to hear them start talking about something in the future instead of something in the past.”
Baker explains these small moments to be what makes her donated time and efforts worth it.
“It’s little things like conversational patterns that change, or what they chose to watch on TV that is an indicator to the change that is going on inside,” Baker says.‘That is such a moment of excitement and you just want to do an internal happy dance. Most of these girls didn’t have dreams, their dream was to stay alive, stay alive, survive.”
Sex trafficking is when an individual makes a profit by selling a human being in the commercial sex industry by means of force, fraud or coercion, according to the Redeemed Ministries website.
About 14,500 to 17,500 victims are brought into the states annually for the purpose of human smuggling and human trafficking. Of those thousands of victims, 25 percent of human trafficking cases in the United States occur in the Texas, according to Redeemed Ministries.
In 2007, of all the calls made to the national trafficking hotline, 37 percent came from the Houston area, according to Redeemed Ministries.
“Redeemed often talks about it as being just about one girl, one life saved, one girl redeemed and they have many success stories, but ultimately it is about the little victories that we can celebrate on a daily basis with one girl,” Baker says. “Because on any given day, I hear horrific stories, I see the pain and trauma that these girls have gone through and how it affects all manner of their daily habits.”
Redeemed focuses on the Houston area and the growing need there based on the 137 known brothels. Other known locations that provide a front for human trafficking include cantinas, strip clubs, massage spas, modeling studios, brothels and other private establishments, according to Redeemed Ministries.
To aid those who have been under forced labor and exploited by the growing human trafficking and sex industry, Redeemed is focused on educating people, seeking victims, and redeeming hearts. The organization also focuses on building relationships with legislators, law enforcement and other service providers to foster cooperation.
“What we have come to realize is it’s not the police’s fault, because they know about them, it’s the structure of the laws that disables them from going in and doing something to shut these places down,” Baker says. Redeemed utilizes three key focuses to confront the gruesome industries: outreach, aftercare and advocacy.
Redeemed utilizes different denominations of churches and their congregations to network and collaborate to fight human trafficking and commercial sex.
“Redeemed is so amazing because it functions in a way that brings together all these different church groups and organizations to band together against this one issue,” Baker says. “So everyone can help out in so many ways.”
Redeemed also provides outreach through field ministry groups who are responsible for prayers, direct contact work with victims, and research.
“Some of the girls have come to us that way, but most of the girls have come by referrals through law enforcement or government agencies or even other programs in different cities that transfer girls to us because they feel our program would be the best fit for them,” Baker says.
The final mission vision focus is the aftercare the organization provides to the women rescued and is the branch of effort that Baker is fulfilling by volunteering as the resident adviser.
“I see working with women in the sex industry as a long-term career, but it is so taxing emotionally and physically for me,” Baker says. “I hope God will show me a way in which I can keep this up long term, maintenance wise. But I am open to him moving me to a different place and ultimately this has always been my passion and dream.”