Aside from bringing knowledge to health and healing, I feel as if it my duty to highlight the growing issue of sex trafficking through this platform. I hope that through reading Sarah Koeppen’s story, you are made aware of the dangers that the evil of this world bestows upon each of us. I hope that you gain knowledge through this story in a way that protects you and those around you, encouraging you to fight against the sex trafficking industry in the process.
The rancid smoke whirled down the stairs like a drunk dancer as the flames became one with the mattress, engulfing the room along with it. Behind the flame stood a boy whose reflection painted the picture of the echoing pain ignited by abandonment and abuse, but who highlighted the burning need for the saving of a world that is held captive by the pandemic of sex trafficking, and is influenced by abuse and child abandonment. The devastating pandemic would be acknowledged and fought by selfless wife, mother, and author, Sarah Koeppen.
Sarah Koeppen, founder of THE HOPE BOX and author of the book CALLED TO HOPE.
Growing up in a large family of 12, Sarah Koeppen quickly found herself adopting the role of additional mother, as she assisted her parents in caring for her younger brothers and sisters. In looking out for her little siblings, she learned the ins and outs of raising children and how to overcome difficulties as they arose. From a young age, Sarah was instilled with a raging love for people and children, as well as a passionate desire to make a difference in the broken world around her. Sarah is married and is an amazing mother to five beautiful children and is the adoptive mother to the boy who sought refuge behind a burning flame.
Sarah’s adopted son was abandoned at her front door step at the young age of three, accompanied by nothing but a backpack. Sarah knew that in order to complete the proper steps that were required to gain sole custody of the young boy, she needed to study and better understand the ins and outs of the law herself. Upon her research surrounding the law, Sarah also dove deep into the issues of child abandonment and abuse and learned of the direct correlation they have with the growing industry of sex trafficking. She discovered that while there is a large market for males in the sex trafficking industry, the market for females is generally higher, the reason being that females are easier to control and are also able to carry and deliver infants, providing additional victims for the industry to benefit from. Influenced by this discovery, Sarah specifically chose to analyze the role that mothers and children under the age of three play in the business of sex trafficking. Upon doing so, she came to learn the disturbing truth that young children ages three years and under, are at the highest risk for trafficking. Sarah discusses that the reason being, was due to the common trafficking of mothers who become pregnant through the industry, to which their babies become the next best thing to the sex trafficking pimps. She mentions that “when you are pregnant and, in that industry, you are just surviving,” further explaining how common it is for mothers that have been enslaved in sex trafficking, to either abandon their babies in trash cans and behind bushes, or sell them to the buyers of the industry in order to make some extra money. Sarah was made aware of this through a woman who felt trapped in her own involvement with sex trafficking and who called Sarah to inform her of the plans she had to sell her baby for some quick and easy cash. Through the phone call, Sarah was shown a glimpse of the loneliness and entrapment that women enslaved in the business of sex trafficking experience, provoking a greater desire to provide hope to those who have none left.
Among her research and relationships with many victims, Sarah was disturbed to learn of the specific desire that the sex trafficking industry has for young children ages three years and under. Healthline Parenthood explains the important reflexes that infants are born with, of which assist them through their first stages of life. These reflexes are involuntary and happen in response to different actions. For example, the sucking reflex occurs when the roof of a baby’s mouth is touched. Healthline Parenthood states that “the baby will begin to suck when this area is stimulated, which helps nursing or bottle feeding,” making infants the ideal victim of sexual assault and abuse. Often times, after a baby has experienced extreme sexual abuse, their eyes turn black because of the trauma they have endured. These black eyes are referred to as panda eyes and aid in the recognition of sexual abuse in infants and young children. This devastating news encouraged Sarah to work even harder to provide a safe place for women to receive help and for their babies to have a chance at a life apart from abandonment and abuse.
Sarah did her best to provide women with the proper knowledge and resources needed to get out of the sex trafficking business. Yet, to her surprise, she found that many victims have no desire to be freed of their enslavement, as they often believe that whoever brought them into the industry genuinely loves and cares for them and has their best interest at heart. Victims are typically provided with food, water, shelter, and even drugs when enslaved in the business, of which creates an unhealthy attachment to the sex trafficking industry, despite the abuse they endure. Sarah learned how common it is for victims to be unaware of the abuse they experience so frequently, as they believe it to be normal. Families have been found to sexually exploit their children for money, creating a business out of the of the sexual, emotional, and physical abuse that they put their children through. Victims may be aware of their internal and external suffering, but unaware that they are experiencing sex trafficking first hand, and additionally, unaware that there is a way out, especially if the abuse occurs within their own home and the abuser is a family member or close friend. In order for victims to get out of the industry, they must want to get out. Sarah witnessed how scary it can be for victims to be reintroduced to the real world. Victims must also go through extensive counseling and therapy to release their minds and body of the abuse they have been accustomed to. Victims eventually have to be reacclimated to society in a way that provides them with a sense of self again, such as through work or school. Ultimately, victims will not be able to be released from the abuse until their desire for freedom is stronger than their fear of change.
After learning the saddening truth about sex trafficking, especially among women and abandoned babies, Sarah Koeppen worked tirelessly to establish a safe place for women to leave their babies, rather than selling them to abusers or leaving them to die alone. In doing so, she founded THE HOPE BOX, of which provides mothers a safe place to leave her baby without question. THE HOPE BOX states that they also work alongside “legislators, public safety professionals, medical personnel, crisis pregnancy centers, and adoption professionals to address the issue of infant abandonment,” while providing education surrounding child abandonment, sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Sarah also assisted in the amending and passing of House Bill 391, of which is a safe haven law in Georgia that increases the time of relinquishment to 30 days rather than seven, allows for infants to be left in fire stations, police stations, health departments, and hospitals, and no longer requires mothers to leave any personal information or her identification when leaving her infant. Additionally, mothers are provided with medical attention if need be, even if identification is not provided. Sarah also wrote a book titled Called to Hope, of which tells her story, highlights the hopeful stories of others, and brings knowledge and awareness to the dangerous industry of sex trafficking. With the help of House Bill 391, THE HOPE BOX, and her book Called to Hope, Sarah Koeppen has provided women and their young children with the proper knowledge and resources to assist in their involvement with and escape from the sex trafficking industry. Additionally, Sarah has brought awareness and knowledge to the growing issue of sex trafficking in an effort to defeat the heartbreaking industry all together.
See what THE HOPE BOX is doing by watching the video attached below:
Sarah Koeppen warns individuals of all ages of the signs to identify sex trafficking ‘scouts’, whose job is to solely seek out and lure in victims. She highlights the danger of the words “don’t tell anyone about this”. Sarah further states that if anyone threatens you not to tell of what they have done, that should increase your likelihood of telling someone. Someone threatening an individual to keep a secret, typically means that they know what they are doing, or have done is wrong. Additionally, she warns of people asking to look at or use your phone, as they can quickly download a tracking app to your cellphone. She advises to avoid interacting with strangers, and to “always trust your gut, and to know that you are not crazy,” because your instincts are almost always correct. She emphasizes the danger that all people and genders may pose, as women are also used to lure in victims, especially since females are more easily trusted. Additionally, Sarah says to be cautious of the images and unhealthy thoughts that you feed your brain. She discusses the way that pornography “changes your brain like drugs do, and you become more and more addicted,” altering the way you think about sex and the way that you view the bodies of all ages and genders. Above all, Sarah emphasizes the importance of being aware of your surroundings and always trusting your own intuition and instincts.
What began as a simple eye for the needs of victims that have suffered from sexual, physical, and mental abuse as well as neglect, quickly ignited the founding of an organization, book, and even the passing of a law, all of which was accomplished by Sarah Koeppen through her vision to make a difference.
I hope that through Sarah’s efforts to make a difference in our broken world, you would be encouraged to do the same, beginning with the proper knowledge in order to protect yourself and those around you.
Tips to protect yourself against sex trafficking:
- Never release personal information to strangers or people that you aren’t sure you can trust
- Avoid giving people your cell phone, even if it’s just for a moment
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times
- Never leave with random people, no matter how tempting it may be
- Be aware that everything you post on social media will never fully go away, even if you delete it
- Always tell someone if you are going out, especially if you are going out alone
- Never eat or drink anything that you don’t know where it came from
- Always trust your instincts
Listen to the interview with Sarah Koeppen that discusses sex trafficking and its entirety by clicking the link below:
Marcin, A. (2018, January 4). Sucking Reflex in Newborns: Testing, Seeking Help, and Other Reflexes. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/sucking-reflex#:~:text=These%20reflexes%20are%20involuntary%20movements,with%20nursing%20or%20bottle%20feeding.
Safe Haven: The Hope Box: United States. thehopebox. (n.d.). https://www.thehopebox.org/.
Interview with Sarah Koeppen.