I believe it was 2011, Stop Child Trafficking Now’s 3rd annual, and my 2nd walk-year, when their Kansas City ambassador was asked by a survivor there, for a fairly significant amount of the event’s donations that would come in from walkers and donors, so that she could use it for her local anti-trafficking shelter. It was about 5,000. She was told that there was actually a certain process that other non-profits must go through in order to direct funding from the walk to their npo of choice and that meant applying to become a partner with SCTNow first. Then once an approved partner, they could be on the list of npo partners for all donors to choose from when they donate online – i.e.: anyone could check the box to designate 10% of their donation to go toward her shelter, or a different partner’s program.
It was clear she did not like that answer, and started asking where all of the walk funds actually go. Legit and very good question! The issue with that was, SCTNow was started as an arm of ministry under a different non-profit. Its Founders, Ron and Lynette Lewis, were/are Pastors of a large church in New York, and they thought they should start the anti-trafficking movement under that church “umbrella” like many ministries start. But the movement took off faster and expanded further than they initially expected. Word got out about this “new” exciting cause and the organization’s unique approach (decreasing demand), and 20-30 city ambassadors were soon organizing walks and other events across the nation. The funds started pouring in, for SCTNow’s operations and investigations of suspected traffickers and suspicious establishments. Each ambassador had a charge to try and raise $25,000 per walk. I think my first year we raised $33k, my 2nd year, we raised just over $25 and the 3rd around $13k.
As far as the transparency of “990’s”, SCTNow had them all up and avail. online on GuideStar.org, but if anyone was to see it, it was misguiding. What they’d actually be seeing was the funds that came in under the umbrella of that church’s outreach ministries -which SCTNow was originally a part of.
That woman was convinced SCTNow had something to hide and she wanted to get to the bottom of it. So an investigation was conducted by local (KC) news reporters and aired on their segment, “Problem Solvers”. It had one objective – to get as much dirt on SCTNow as possible. Expose their deeds of dark intentions.
There were days in 2013 – the year I heard about it all, when I really wondered if SCTNow was hiding anything from their donors and even their ambassadors. Mostly because after many requests, I couldn’t get a reply with a break-down of funds and how they were allocated. Turns out, I didn’t get it probably because it didn’t exist. All the funds received were, for far too long, put in the “Strategic Global Initiatives” nonprofit – that originally the church used for many different outreaches and ministries. To make matters more intense, there were two interviews that hit KC news stations – one where SCTnow’s Walk Campaign Director completely failed. She was at a walk, and she didn’t know how to answer the interviewer. Her unpreparedness made her look stupid and much worse, made SCTNow look guilty. As you know, news station interviews have links and can be spread all over the nation quickly. With that, the reputation of a wonderful organization with God-fearing Founders was obliterated with an unprepared interviewee and the help of social media. Of course the way they set up the organization in the first place, by not waiting it out to get their own individual 501c3 status was a crucial element that affected their reputation.
The operations (the work SCTNow hired retired Navy Seals and other professional agents to conduct) – were legitimate and expensive. To pay them a decent pay to travel to areas with suspected trafficking going on, to work with that area’s law enforcement, collect data over time and document it detail for detail in a program, in order to hand over to law enforcement for them to use in solid case building… It was spendy, and took time. But it was ethical, difficult work that was worth the time and funds raised.
The President of these Operations, Clark Stuart, was full of integrity, as was everyone I knew in SCTNow. He was targeted in a different interview by KC investigative media as well, and did not know how to answer some questions either, because they were asking him direct questions about SCTNow. The problem was, he and his team were simply hired by SCTNow. He was actually with a for-profit company called “Global Trident”, which SCTNow used to conduct these operations. So he shouldn’t have been the one to ask about funds. Since they thought he worked for SCTNow, which I learned was because SCTNow actually had him listed as Director for a time, on their website, when he said he did use funds that were raised in SCTNow walks, they thought of it as a conflict of interest (of course) and basically accused him personally, of embezzlement. But what he was admitting to, was what he was subcontracted/hired to do by SCTNow as their mission. It was legitimate. But it was confusing. What SCTNow should have done was NOT list him as Director, but as he was – President of Global Trident – the 3rd party organization SCTNow used to carry out their mission.
This whole thing was a huge spiritual battle that lasted a long time…1.5-2 years, I’d guess. Even when the Founders stepped down and they got a new Director, she asked for a large salary that SCTNow simply had no way to provide. Next thing I knew, she was gone too, and the reigns were handed over to a Pastor and Author from Chesapeake, VA, named Eric Watt. He quickly changed his title from President/CEO to Chief Volunteer Officer and changed the SCTNow name to Empower, and now it has been changed to HMNTRFK (http://endhumantrafficking.com/)
Strategic Global Initiatives did finally separate into two entities, and SCTNow got its own 501c3 status. But that was in 2012. It was too late, and their reputation was already past hope for recovery.
What was not made clear and should have been, was that all of the walk funds that came in except for about 10% for admin costs, DID go toward operations to decrease demand / help find, track and gather data on predators and traffickers. I know this first hand, as I got to know one of the agents they hired, and traveled to the State Capitol to speak with a Representative of Congress with him about all the work he was doing for SCTNow. I even saw the intricate mapping program on his computer, that he used in his operations. He was passionate.
Well, if SCTNow was investigated for fraud, misuse of funds, or embezzlement…what was the result?
The news station investigation out of KC was inconclusive, and then the Department of Justice conducted an investigation of SCTNow and Clark Stuart with a fine-toothed comb. They concluded there was no embezzlement. In fact, they could not find anything unlawful about how SCTNow conducted their organization.
At the conclusion of their investigation, there was no evidence of mishandling funds, so there were no charges against SCTNow, Global Trident, any of their agents or representatives. No arrests, guilty verdicts or convictions. Just a reputation that was ruined so badly that there was no other option but to dissolve SCTNow, which happened in January of 2013. It was so unfortunate. They made many mistakes that cost them everything. But I still believe, those leaders loved God and had integrity.
I can look back at my time spent fighting for justice as their Portland ambassador, and be proud. Not hurt. I was never angry or upset. Even with how it ended, I am still proud to say I was a part of SCTNow and all they accomplished in those few years we raised awareness across America. Thousands of people learned about sex trafficking for the first time. Many were inspired to then do other various things to promote justice and freedom in their cities. One specifically, was my co-laborer and amazing friend the Tulsa ambassador, Ms. Kristin Weis. She and her husband Jason began their own npo, The Demand Project, after SCTnow dissolved. They are doing incredible work alongside law enforcement in OK now, providing direct services to many victims and survivors and literally catching predators and online buyers. SCTNow was their launching pad for the positions they now hold, just as it was for me.
I worked for SCTNow for 5 to 6 months each year of ’10, ’11 & ’12, for no pay. About half of those months averaged full-time hours. My fellow ambassadors and I sacrificed a lot to make an impact in our communities because the Lord called us to do just that, with that organization, for that time. I had no doubt. He blessed so many of us during those years and He made some lifelong connections in our lives with other freedom-fighters. I give Him all the glory!
Some may think of scandal, embezzlement (or possibly poor fund-management at best), when they think of SCTNow. But I think of communities coming together, I think of us as pioneers of an American awareness movement, I think of hard work that all paid off on incredibly rewarding Walk days, and I think of how God uses anyone he chooses, who will say YES to Him. We ambassadors were some of His agents of change and hope during those years. It was really humbling as I had absolutely no experience organizing a large event in my life. And it was jaw-dropping to see all He did through us – how quickly he did it, and the impact of it…most of which I’m convinced I won’t see until I’m standing at the Bema seat, in heaven. And that’s totally ok.
Three years later, I guess I had some re-processing, remembering, crying and realizing to do. Maybe I’d stopped short in the midst of the scandal, and just wanted desperately to move on to where I felt God was calling me to next: prevention via education of youth.
I had to remind myself today, of all the good that came from that journey my family and I went on. Because Satan does try to whisper lies. I don’t think of it much actually, but there have been times when he’s tried to get me to focus on the negative, the lack, the visible outcomes, and if anything, get me to believe it was all for nothing. Or that I should have known better, left sooner, picked wiser.
But I choose to fix my eyes on:
what is unseen. On all that I learned. On my deepened relationships – how I now know how to set boundaries with my workload and passion in order to honor my family first. And on how God revealed his love and grace to so many who were involved. It was my SCTNow huge decals all over my car that caught the attention of a survivor living in my neighborhood in 2010 which led to her writing out her story for me, and shoving it under my windshield wiper. She was living with a customer at that point, twice her age, and she had a 3 year old son from another man. We met the next day, and I’ve been supporting and mentoring her ever since. I’ve been watching her learn who she was created to be. She loves God and has grown so, so much, especially in the last 2 years. She’s overcome PTSD, Depression, suicidal thoughts, self-sabotaging tendencies, and more. She’s now starting a family with a man who treats her with respect and has stayed faithful by her side for a long time. She has a ways to go, but I recently honored her in a post Monday and this was her comment:
This is so incredible to me. I don’t add it in here to get props or a pat on the back. I add it because it is a very tangible example of one thing the Lord has done through my work with SCTNow. He used it to connect me to her and cultivate her identity in Christ and show her what a friend should look like.
Questions to Ask When You’re Looking for a Great Anti-trafficking Organization to Join:
I took a hold of some rich lessons and I can now caution others, when they are looking for an organization to get involved in. Here’s what I came up with today:
- Ask God for direction.
- Research how long it’s been in existence. If 1-3 years, it may fizzle out against the competition or make too many rookie org. mistakes. Ask what they’ve accomplished thus far and ask about some lessons they’ve already learned.
- Ask if there’s a healed survivor on the board or giving consistent input.
- Research how much money they raise annually, and the percentage of funds that go to administration. If it’s over 10%, Ask why? It may be a legit reason to you. If it’s 20-30% that goes to admin costs, I would move on.
- Ask if they have partners. If so, who are they? Go to their websites. Do you agree with the partners’ mission statements as well? You should, because they may be receiving some of your donation. Does the org. work with local law enforcement? If so, call a few of each of them (partner reps and law enf. agents) to ask for a reference about the org.
- Look up the leaders & board members. Ask yourself if they are reputable. Look into their former efforts in social justice, human rights, etc. & look them up on their social media profiles. See if you have any mutual friends you trust, and if so, ask them what they think.
- Ask the Director for a breakdown of raised funds for the last couple years, or even the last year. If it takes uncomfortably too long or they don’t reply after many attempts, don’t invest yourself in the org. Move on to one that can answer you in a reasonable time-frame or has specific breakdown of funds received, available on their website.
That’s the good, the bad and the eternal – that I took away from my experience as an ambassador with SCTNow. I trust it will help others out there!