By Melissa Jane Kronfeld & Megan Legband
Jessa Dillow Crisp’s story is a hope-building picture of renewal. At a young age, she was trafficked by family members, embroiling her in a vortex of sexual slavery. After escaping slavery twice, Jessa’s life was changed by the people who helped her heal. Although she was never allowed an education as a child, Jessa went to school and received her Bachelor’s in Counseling and is currently working on her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Jessa’s life was transformed by her rescuers, and she aims to offer the same freedom to people still entangled in slavery.
In the spirit of this objective, Jessa serves as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of BridgeHope, a nonprofit focused on using technology to bridge resources and foster hope to survivors, including a mentorship program called Ascent, which is designed specifically for boys who have experienced exploitation.
Jessa is a highly sought after survivor-speaker, working with the Rebecca Bender Initiative, and was the keynote speaker at the ANSR Sociological Research Conference and was featured at the National Character Leadership Symposium. In addition, Jessa has trained multiple law enforcement and medical professionals on the signs of human exploitation and has served as a trainer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security.
Jessa is a self-proclaimed ‘nerd’, enjoys climbing mountains with her husband John, artistically expressing herself through macro-photography, and connecting with people over a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
Check out what happened when we caught up with Jessa to talk about the fight to #EndSlaveryNow!
What is one fact that every person should know about slavery?
One common denominator amongst human trafficking situations and modern day slavery is the fact that all victims have vulnerabilities that are exploited. Unfortunately, these vulnerabilities are preyed upon and used, creating an environment where the victim is dehumanized and harmed for another’s personal gain.
How were you able to escape from a life of slavery & what did you decide to do to help others with your experiences?
When I was 21 years old, I briefly met a lady who works with survivors of human trafficking. She gave me her phone number on a small piece of paper and told me that if I ever wanted help she would help me. Although that first phone call was only a few minutes long, during that hushed conversation, this lady began to speak truth into my life. She shared with me that my value was not dependent on a dollar figure my body could bring and that my future did not have to be built upon the things that happened to me.
My escape wasn’t a fairytale like a Disney movie. Instead fear ripped through me as I spent months of preparing. During this time, I was terrified of the unknown and frightened that my traffickers would hunt me down. I will never forget what my first experience of freedom when I got off the plane in Denver. It was then that I saw how big the blue sky was, felt the warm sun that kissed my face, and vowed that someday I would be free like the unencumbered tumbleweed rolling around on the road. Although it took time, I slowly started the long process of healing. To learn more, visit Global Citizen, where I have shared more of my story.
One of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.” As an individual who used to be enslaved, I feel like my freedom has given me the responsibility to help other individuals. I co-founded BridgeHope to help survivors thrive through technology, trainings, and mentorship.
What is the most critical obstacle preventing us from having a slave free world?
Personally, I believe the most critical obstacle to preventing us from having a world free from modern day slavery and human trafficking is the lack of collaboration within our communities. Not any one person can rescue the world, and not any one organization can provide all the services a victim needs to successfully move into survivorship and into a place of thriving. In other words, if we cannot work together in a manner that creates unity, how can we say that we are fighting the same battle? We need each other to facilitate the recovery of victims, foster opportunities for restoration, and provide a safe place for survivors to be reintegrated into society.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while fighting for freedom?
One of the things that I have learned while fighting for freedom is that love and hope is always connected. When hope is given to another individual it is a way of giving authentic love and kindness; when genuine love is given, hope is automatically experienced.
Why do you believe the Millennial generation will be the one that can end slavery?
Millennials see modern day slavery and trafficking that used to be invisible to other generations. Through seeing and having passion that moves one into action, I believe that millennials hold the power to create a generation of individuals who will not accept this nefarious crime. In many ways, I see millennials as a community championing the spirit of William Wilberforce—they have the power to empower survivors and eradicate slavery through advocacy.
What does a slave free world look like to you?
I am an artist and see things in pictures. To me, a slave free world looks like a field of wildflowers growing and moving in the whispers of an early morning sunrise—where individuals can create their own definitions of being without the physical, emotional, and psychological bonds of oppression. In this place of being, love is given through grace and respect for all humanity.
What is one thing every reader can start doing right now to help end slavery?
Kindness, love, and respect does not start with the disclosure of victimization; instead it starts with each person you interact with and see. Once you begin to engage authentically with people you will start to see their pain and hear the stories that lurk beneath the surface. In this place, empathy and genuine regard is birthed, which can then be used to create a cycle of more love, kindness, and respect. In addition, one can post social media posts like BridgeHope’s that educate and inspire, as well as report potential red flags to the National Human Trafficking Hotline number 1-888-373-7888.
Profiles In Abolition is an in-depth look at the influencers, innovators & thought leaders in the modern anti-slavery movement. An accompaniment to Millennial Magazine’s ongoing series exposing modern slavery – a project of the Nexus Global Youth Summit (catch up with Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four & Part Five) – Profiles In Abolition will examine a diverse & inspiring array of advocates whose critical voice must be heard.
Want to learn more from the world’s leading luminaries in the fight to #EndSlaveryNow? Sign up for the Nexus Anti-Slavery Speaker Series, a weekly conference call with the men and women on the front lines of the modern abolition movement! This call is open to the public and everyone is welcome to listen in! Click here to register for free. Then learn more about modern slavery by following Nexus on Twitter, Instagram & Millennial Magazine!