KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals open a 3-game series against the Los Angeles Angels at the K on Friday, but there’s one thing they can team up on. The organizations are coming together to combat human trafficking this August.
“You come to the ballpark. You want to have a great time with your kids and your family, and it’s a baseball atmosphere,” the Angels’ Albert Pujols said. “To bring up an issue like this, it’s really tough. You can look at it as a dark issue, whatever you want to do, but for us it was about sending a message and to create an event.”
Royals pitcher Brad Keller is teaming up with Pujols and his organization Strike Out Slavery. Pujols’ wife, Deidre, started the organization after traveling and learning more about issues affecting communities across the United States and the world.
“It’s really eye opening to hear it’s in your backyard, and then to come to a great city, like Kansas City, and to hearing the facts here you just want to get out in the community and help as much as possible,” Keller said.
Keller said he learned about human trafficking in high school when a victim came to speak to a psychology class he was taking, and a friend of his witnessed trafficking firsthand.
He said when Pujols offered him the opportunity he jumped at it.
The educational event, game and Lauryn Hill concert afterward will be on August 17 around their game against the New York Mets.
The event aims to bring attention to the 400,000 enslaved people in the United States and 3,500 in the Kansas City metro at any time.
Benjamin Nolot with Exodus Cry in Kansas City said human trafficking is a $150 billion per year industry, and 40 million people are enslaved in the world today. He said Kansas City ranks as the number two city among major metropolitan cities in the U.S. as a hub for domestic minor sex trafficking.
Nolot said the U.S. Attorney’s office in Western Missouri has prosecuted more cases involving human trafficking in Kansas City than any other district in the United States.
“Strike Out Slavery exists to shine a light on these activities and to expose them,” Nolot said. “Social awareness is the key component to preventing this injustice from continuing.”
They want to bring attention to victims like Rachel Thomas, who was groomed by her abuser when she was in college with the promise of helping her modeling career.
She filled out a tax form, and he then had her social security number and the majority of her personal information for herself and close family members.
“By the time I realized I was in danger, I was already too crippled by fear to reach out for help,” she said. “And by the time the police tried to intervene almost a year later, I believed that my life was already over, and that I was damaged goods, and that I had ruined the wonderful upbringing I’d been afforded, and that I was no longer worth living.”
Thomas was able to escape and realized her life was beyond worthy.
She got her masters degree in education from UCLA and started Sowers Education Group. She teaches, trains and writes curriculum to combat human trafficking. Her educational tools are currently used by 500 educators across 23 states.
She hopes her story can educate others about the issues going on around them, how to identify them and inspire victims to get to safety.
“Reach out for help,” Thomas said. “Threats, intimidation, violence — that’s going to happen in that lifestyle anyway, and so you’re not avoiding that anyway by staying silent, and staying in captivity.”
She said thanks to the investigators on her case, her family and church community she was able to restart her life, and it took her seven years to realize her true worth.
Thomas wants anyone out there who may be reading this in a situation like hers — there is hope.
“If I was there’s one tip that they ever called in it was worth it, and so the hope is us, when we become aware and do events like this, and reach people where they are — at a baseball game. They may not watch a documentary, or watch the news, or read a book about trafficking. But if we can reach them where they are and help just one, it will be worth it,” Thomas said.
The event, game and concert are at Kauffman Stadium on August 17 when the Royals play the New York Mets.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sex or human trafficking, you can get help through the national hotline at 888-373-7888.