Human trafficking is a domestic and global crime, where victims can be of any age, gender, or race. Jordan Levin sits down with Hannah McPeak, the Director of Education at Hope Against Human Trafficking, to discuss what Hannah’s organization does to help the trafficking survivors and the crime that traumatizes its victims. The Hope Against Trafficking organization provides residential holistic programs that offer rent-free housing and services for physical, mental, and economic transformational needs. They also educate the community on the issues of human trafficking, including vulnerabilities, signs of manipulation, and ways to identify possible victims. Hannah hopes that people can work together to fight this crime by educating the community and saving more lives and people’s future.
Listen to the podcast here:
Hannah McPeak – Director of Education At Hope Against Trafficking
I have a special guest, Hannah McPeak. Thank you for being here, Hannah.
It’s an honor to be here. I’m excited.
You and I have known each other for several years. We’ve gone to know and help each other out with various trips and the friendships. The biggest thing for you is Hope Against Trafficking where you are the Director of Education. You’ve had a couple of other positions within that company. Let’s talk about the education aspect of it. What is it about that position that allows you to do what you want to be able to do?
There’s quite a bit of history with Hope Against Trafficking. I’ve been there for several years from the start of the organization and from being on the board, the board president, running the organization, and helping to get it launched. I’m working hard to the point where we could raise enough funds to hire a full-time executive director, which we’ve done in 2020. It’s been awesome. I did not want to be the executive director. I wanted to hire somebody to be in there full time. Because of my schedule and the place that I am in my life, I provide a lot of support, consult, and help with the day-to-day operations.
My focus is more on education. I love education. I love working with people and talking about the issue and educating the community at large, providing awareness, providing a better understanding of what we’re dealing with in our world, our state, and our cities about human trafficking. I’ve fallen in love with the youth. Over the years, I’ve been speaking so much more to youth, high school students, and middle school students. I realized that there is a great need for education for youth. Prevention is important. Thanks to COVID I’ve been able to commit a lot of time to develop an educational curriculum for the youth and that’s been an awesome, fun, and exciting journey.
Give us an example when you say education with the youth. You mentioned prevention. I’m curious how are you bridging that gap.
We’ve promoted a lot about the fact that we send teams out to educate. We’ve been invited to lunch and learns. We’ve done different education events. We’ve done some at CrossFit Bloomfield. We’ve worked together. You guys have come alongside us over the years, which has been amazing. The coolest thing is watching somebody learn about this issue and seeing that they’re realizing the truth about what is happening and wanting to come alongside and partner and help make a difference. We’ll go to gyms. We’ll do different events. We’ll be invited to churches, hospitals, or schools. We’ve been asked to speak to different organizations in the community. Whoever needs education or whoever’s interested will reach out to us or we’ll have something with someone and they’ll ask. They’ll invite us in to speak and educate about human trafficking and also about our organization.
Do you have any involvement with the FBI or with a local police department when these events are found or happening? Are you able to help guide them through the steps that the FBI or the police or even the individuals who might be in those situations that you are able to help bridge that gap a little bit?
I’ve partnered with FBI agents to come with me and educate. We put a lot of projects like that together. It’s been awesome collaborative work. It takes a community to make that difference. Yes, we have worked a lot with the FBI and Homeland Security. As far as rescues go, that isn’t something that our organization necessarily does. I have activated rescues. I have been called to help in more immediate situations. I have helped extend resources or connected to the FBI or connected to attorneys and things like that to help people in the immediate need.
With increasing education on human trafficking, we are able to do a lot more, which is really powerful.
Help Against Trafficking educate in that prevention area. We’re not necessarily involved in the rescue or the intervention and even in the prosecution process. If somebody needs help or we get called to answer questions or help provide some more information about anything in particular, we’ll be more than happy to do that. Our main focus is the aftercare of the adult who now is coming out who has been rescued and now wants to put their life back together. That’s where we involve ourselves and work with the women that come in. Our mission statement is to create safe places for survivors of trafficking that provide restorative care and programming specific to our survivors. We’re like bookends, education, prevention, restorative care, and the work to help somebody get back and rewrite the source of their lives and regain independent living.
I’ve helped you out on the good times through the years with some of the different homes you have built and gotten renovated. That’s got to be a fulfilling and rewarding endeavor in that sense.
It’s been quite a journey. We’ve acquired four facilities, four buildings, three are homes, all of which we’ve renovated. One story that I love is we have this one building, it’s a four-apartment building. There was a tree growing through the roof. It was completely a disaster, but we saw the potential of this beautiful building. It needed love. It needed restoring. How parallel is that? We had over 600 volunteers coming in and out, touching and loving. The community came around this space and renovated it to its absolute glory to be everything that it’s meant to be. We didn’t cut corners anywhere.
The designs, decorations and furniture put in the house have to meet a certain standard. We wanted to create an environment of excellence to share with our women, to give them the message that when they come home, they are worthy and excellent as well. We wanted a home as if it was one of our own. When it was done, I said, “I could live in this house.” All of those homes have a story, one of which I love telling us about the doors. In this one four apartment building, these doors were a disaster. They were painted over. There were cuts, scratches, and nicks all over them.
We didn’t want to replace them. We took them down, left them in the basement, and had volunteers coming in and sanding them down, fixing them up, loving on them and working on them. We revarnished, repainted them and put them back up. Another story parallels spending time and putting some hours in and loving on these doors that have their natural marks, nicks, and dings throughout its life. We restored every single door in that building. It’s been a great journey to see that happen and to see the woman now coming in and seeing this home that now is theirs.
Is that one of the houses that I helped you out on years ago?
Yes. You helped at that house and at our other house on the mark. The one that you were at, we were taking apart that house and re-updating and restoring some of the areas of the home that needed to be touched up and fixed up. We’ve been blessed by CrossFit Bloomfield, truly. One of the times, I sent you a text message 24 hours before and you guys showed up. Our team back at Hope Against Trafficking was blown away. They’re like, “These guys showed up and made it happen.” We were moving furniture. The job was getting done. We were grateful and excited all the way to set up days of service that you guys have been a part of. We did a virtual 5k. CrossFit Bloomfield joined in and they became a huge part of that event.
I love doing that stuff. I love helping out. When you think about it, what you’re doing is helping all these other individuals come in to have a safe place and to be able to be in the beginning portion of that. To do that is rewarding. Hillary did a piece of art that she painted for the first house.
Hillary is an incredible artist. We do have a piece from her. The other thing I want to say, too, Jordan, is that Hillary is coaching our residents once a week. She does a virtual fitness class with them. It’s important to get them moving. Hillary is gifted and talented. We are honored to have her. She’s a part of our family. CrossFit Bloomfield is a part of our family.
When we first started talking years ago about it, I was like, “Why not? Let’s make this part of everything we do.” If I understand right, Michigan is one of the top states that have human trafficking involved and some of the other states. I’m assuming that because of the borders and stuff like that. It’s a two-part question. One, why do you think that is? Number two, how has this changed in the pandemic with that trafficking going on through different states?
There are reasons for Michigan having a lot of activity with the highways, byways, waterways, the borders, and things like that. We also have a strong and incredible team of agents and law enforcement that have done an incredible job in getting out there rescuing and doing busts and spending effort specifically dealing and handling human trafficking in the state. There are a couple of things. When you look at numbers and statistics, it’s hard to say. I’m glad that you said it’s one of the top states. We know it’s happening in Michigan. it doesn’t matter if it’s a top state or it’s one person, that’s a life that needs to be rescued.
As numbers keep adjusting and shifting, people are learning more and more about human trafficking and understanding more about how to identify and understand what they’re seeing what’s in front of them. It could have been happening for a long time. Now, people can identify it. They’re turning the lights on in those dark spots that nobody ever turned the light on in there and are seeing what’s happening underneath that they’ve never looked before. There are a lot of different reasons why numbers are the way they are. Statistics are hard to gauge because it’s organic. People aren’t necessarily reporting the activity. With the increasing education, we’re able to do a lot more, which is powerful and good.
With COVID, predatory activity is available, and targets have increased because there are more people online.
It’s interesting because one major trend that has shifted with COVID is kids are home and online, and so are adults. People are at home a lot more. People are on their laptops, computers, and phones. They’re on the internet all the time. Predatory activity is available. The targets have increased because there are more people online all the time. Kids are home now, too. Parents still have to work. Supervision is a struggle, to be right there with your kids while they’re online and you’re in a meeting. Let’s say they’re done with one of their classes. Now they have time to navigate and get on social media and do stuff online while you’re still in a meeting and distracted as a parent. You can’t supervise your kids.
There has been an uptick in the need for watching, protecting, and educating our kids to be online and how to be online safely. My husband told me of a case of a minor who was caught up in an internet exchange and was brought to the hospital as a result due to a meeting that happened that was completely wrong. The vulnerabilities are there. The other added layer to this is now a lot of people are struggling to get work or they’re no longer working. They lost their jobs. Their pay has decreased. Their hours have decreased. There’s a level of this need to earn an income. That in and of itself increases vulnerability. It increases the potential that you’re going to look for a job. Maybe you’ll find something that looks like it could be a great opportunity. Being in a different situation, you might have caught that and might not have fallen for the lures that have been put out. Those vulnerabilities increased.
We’ve also seen an uptick in mental health, depression, and suicide rates. All of these things are now a reality because we’re home and some of us are alone. Some kids are stuck at home where it’s not necessarily the best environment. Victims of domestic violence or abuse can’t get out as readily as they were able to before. Those things are all factors that need to be considered. Wherever there’s vulnerability, manipulation and exploitation happen.
I didn’t realize that, but now I understand what that means. The internet is accessible to everyone. It could be kids, young adults, adults, or anybody. What are your suggestions or some preventative measures that people can take to prevent that from happening?
One of the things is surrounding yourself with people who love you. Get into a community. Join CrossFit Bloomfield. Don’t be scared to pick up the phone and call somebody if you’re home. Talk, communicate, open your mouth. Parents, talk to your kids about the internet. You have to educate them about how to be safe online. There is a need for that. This is an issue. If we don’t educate our kids about it and if we don’t create environments or spaces in our homes and talk about these things, we are not going to be able to protect our kids. Parents and adults should be willing to say no to their kids.
Set up limitations. Get those apps that you can use to protect yourself. Create a framework around your kids so that they can’t access anything. You’ve got to get involved. You’ve got to take the time. You’ve got to get in conversations with these kids talking about slavery, manipulation, and what that stuff looks like. When somebody asks you for something online, if you have a second thought about it at all, listen to it. Think twice before you hit post. Think twice before you click submit, always. When you have the inclination or that feeling, teach your kids to listen to that. Teach an adult to listen to that voice. When something catches you, there’s a reason. If something looks too good to be true, it is.
The other thing is for the kids out there. If an adult is talking to you and telling you pretty and wanting information from you, always say no, turn and walk the other way. No adult should ever be engaging youth in that way. It’s 100% not okay. Let me make that clear to you. An adult should never be talking to a child, a youth, a teenager in that way ever. If ever that happens, turn and run. Even if this person is the nicest person that seems like he’s got a lot of resources and access to stuff, say no. Turn and walk the other way. You have my permission to do that. It’s never okay.
On that same note, I’ve seen a lot of reports on people that prepare themselves and that they are recognizing that these things are happening. I saw a report of a woman who was about to get in a car. She turned around and there were a couple of people trying to grab her. He used her mace and ran away and then filed a police report and all that stuff. There seems to be more awareness of it. As you know, the more we talk about it, the more you get the word out there, and more people are able to recognize it and make a difference.
I’m glad you brought that up because the other thing is to pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t be walking across a parking lot, in a street, the mall, or anywhere staring at your phone and not engaging in real life. I had a woman taking a walk and she was staring at her phone. She almost walked into my car because she was staring at her phone. Not only can you prevent yourself from interacting with people who are not good, but you could get hurt. You could walk into a ditch and hurt your ankles. Pay attention. Don’t be staring at your device all the time. Get off of it.
You got your Master’s in rehabilitation coaching. You provide a therapeutic program for head trauma survivors. When I think about the amount of work that you did at that time, in my eyes, it parallels easily into what you’re doing right now. How did you get into that whole rehabilitation part of that? How did that lead to human trafficking?
Wherever there’s an increase in vulnerability, there’s manipulation and exploitation that happens.
I always have a heart for people. I always wanted to help people. As I was looking at graduate schools and figuring out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, I was drawn to this specific industry and specifically working with head trauma survivors. I specialize in brain injury and understanding the functions of the brain and understanding how different parts of the brain impact everything, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. I was drawn to the study of that, so I ended up in the field providing brain injury services or working with different organizations and survivors of brain trauma.
As we were transitioning, my husband and I were moving locations, I ended up feeling that I want to do something more. I felt limited. I’m like, “What other impact can I make?” I love that I was impacting individual lives within the premise of brain injury rehab. I felt like there was something more I needed to be involved in. When we moved here to Michigan from New York, my husband was entering his field of work. I was wanting to work. I wanted to stay home and have kids and enter into that phase of my life. I am a Christian. I truly believe that God has brought to me my assignment. He was calling me into anti-trafficking. I was like, “No way. I’ve got kids. I’m going to help the poor. I’m going to feed the hungry. I want to help students.” I avoided this whole thing, sex trafficking, and human trafficking. “What do you even mean? This is insane. What am I going to do about this?” I ran from it for two years.
Finally, after my beautiful daughter was born, I was called into anti-trafficking. I didn’t realize what’s happening within our own country. This was years ago. I couldn’t undo what I learned. I had to get involved. That was it. That’s what drew me. I couldn’t undo all that was going in my head. I felt like everywhere I went, people were talking to me about it. I saw a documentary on it. I put a post on Facebook and then people started asking me questions, “How can I get involved? What can I do? I heard you were involved in anti-human trafficking.” I was like, “What do you mean?” It was like God was putting people in my life.
I’m one of them because I didn’t understand what this whole thing was until you guys came in at the gym and I’m like, “This stuff is happening.” It’s literally in a backdoor, in a sense, not to be too little. I was like, “Okay.” That’s how I got involved in that.
I met you and then I shared it with you. We were talking about gym for a long time. I’ve even had some people come to me saying, “I’m seeing human trafficking happening everywhere now. I didn’t see it anywhere back then when you were first talking to us about it.” I felt this draw, this mean to get involved. I listened and I’m glad I did. I ended up meeting the founders of Hope Against Trafficking and they had invited me to be on the board and started my journey then my work with Hope Against Trafficking.
That goes along with what I’m saying, all good things start with you. You heard this calling and were trying to find something. You researched and were checking out these different options and then this hit you. What people don’t understand is being patient and taking the time to listen to yourself and see what drives you. Taking the previous rehabilitation experiences and having that compassion and empathy is what drew you to this whole thing. Let me put it this way. We went to the first annual event in Pontiac fundraiser. That was the first one. I remember it’s at the theater. The first annual fundraising, remember?
It’s fun. Where you guys were then to where you guys are now is legendary. It’s a big difference.
We started from nothing. There were no long-term care environments. Nobody was doing what we do now in Southeast Michigan. Even now, it’s limited. There are two maybe, which is a few that are in Southeast Michigan. We’ve come a long way. CrossFit Bloomfield and you guys have been a huge part of that journey and continue to be. We’re grateful.
I’m happy to be involved. Speaking of that, let the readers know how they can reach you. What type of donations? Are you’re looking for volunteers? Do you have any upcoming events coming up that you’re looking for some help with?
As the weather is warming up, we are going to start looking for volunteers. We’re going to be doing a lot of days of service with regards to outdoor work with landscaping, cleaning up, getting things ready for the spring. We’re certainly going to be needing that. We’re excited about this. We got our fourth property, our first-course facility. We’ve demolished it. It’s flattened and ready for build. We are building our North American headquarters, which will house our social enterprise. We’re starting a business where our women can learn job readiness skills where we can hire them to come in and work. That is all in the developmental phases right now, which is exciting.
This building will also house our art studio for our therapy and art that will potentially be a part of our social enterprise, which we’re excited about. This building will also house our offices. We’re going to be doing huge fundraising campaigns for the headquarters building. We’re working on all of those pieces right now. We will be promoting that. Our website is www.HopeAgainstTrafficking.org. Keep up with us on that and you’ll see things as they come up. Jordan, I don’t know if people can reach out to you or you can put it on the live Facebook chat. If anyone’s interested in getting on our email list, you can sign up to be on our email list through our website. We’d love to have people be a part of that.
We’re always looking for skilled professionals to donate their skills like photography, dentistry, therapies, workshops, computer literacy. We’re always looking for contractors, builders, electricians, engineers, and different trades and skills like that. We’re always open to donations. COVID was a tough year. Fundraising was challenging during COVID. Every single one of our fundraising events was canceled and that’s about 80% of our fundraising. We’ve been able to do well, but we always could use more. If anybody is willing to donate some treasure, we would be honored to gain that support.
As a very devoted volunteer, how did you recalibrate and center yourself?
For the kids out there, if there’s an adult telling you you’re pretty and wanting information from you, always say no and walk away.
One of the things that is important and that was helpful for me was to understand the freedom that I have to restart my day or recalibrate my day anytime. It doesn’t have to happen. I’m going to start my day well so it’s got to be in the morning when I first wake up. It could also be halfway through the day when you’re in your car. It’s like, “I dealt with this challenge. I’m going to change my mindset. I need to start thinking positively. I’m going to restart my day right now. I’m going to take a deep breath and clear my mind and get ready for the next part of the day.”
You can recalibrate as many times as you need. You could recalibrate right before you go to bed. I clear your mind and I’m going to reset and I’m going to get ready and I’m going to go to bed. Tomorrow, I’m going to wake up ready to go and give my best. That was freeing for me when I was like, “I can recalibrate or I can reset anytime I want.” I could do it five times a day. I can do it one time a day. I can do it ten times a day. Give yourself the ability and the freedom to do that and to start over if you need to. Changing of the mindset, clearing of the mind, when you go into that next activity, you’re ready to go.
The other thing that has truly been my therapy is Olympic lifting. At CrossFit Bloomfield every Tuesday at 5:30 PM, I am there. I’m like, “I need to center.” Olympic weightlifting is probably the most centering thing that I do in the week. It is the most centering because it’s physical and you have to be focused. You’ve got to work on your technique and you have to have body awareness, so every lift, I’m centered, focused, and it’s grounding.
I love that because that’s what I tell people. For me, working out, going mountain biking, or any of that stuff is not just a release, but it’s also a form of meditation. People don’t understand meditation. It comes in many forms. Even though doing your calibration thing five times a day, that’s fine, too. That’s all the different types of meditation. To be able to appreciate that part of the fitness mindset is an important thing.
I pray a lot when I’m working out. It can enter into any space. The last thing I want to talk about that’s important for having a life where you can thrive is habit building. Forming habits and the discipline of habits are important. If you have a goal and you want to cut down a huge tree, you go out and you’re like, “I’m going throw five swings at it.” You’re swinging all over the place. You’re hitting all different sides of the tree trunks. I don’t care if it’s 100 years from now, you’re not bringing that tree down. You’re flustered. You’re not recalibrating yourself when you start whacking the tree from wherever.
If you have a habit and you’re creating these disciplines and you’re going in and you’re hitting at an angle at the tree trunk the same spot every single time over and over again, consistently every single day. Recalibrating, resetting, making sure your mindset is good, and going back to that same spot picking up that same ax, hitting it in the same spot and in the same way every single day, that tree will come down. Habit-forming is important. There’s a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. That is my recommendation of the day.
I’m checking that one out. I love that analogy. As I’m finishing up my online coaching program, it has to do with forming the proper habits. When you said that, I’m going to be launching this habit-forming program. We’re on to something here.
It’s challenging for people. It’s figuring out different ways to create habits in your life that will lead to the ability to have a thriving life, truly.
I’m going to take that information and make clips of this because this is perfect. The last question I have is, what brings you joy? What makes you happy?
Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Spending time with my husband. Spending time with my family. Playing and having fun with the people that you love brings me so much joy and reading. I’ve been doing a lot of audiobooks. It’s not necessarily reading but listening while reading. That has been peace-giving and it brings you a lot of joy to get into a good book. In the summer, on the lake and rowing your boat.
Every time I see you, there’s always a smile and a hug. When I come over to your house, that what I’m going to get. You do that with everybody. That’s the joy of working with people and meeting people, having that presence and attitude. This was absolutely a pleasure. I hope the readers learn and be a little bit more educated on what human trafficking is all about. I hope we could do this again sometime soon. We’ll see where we stand.
Thank you for having me. This was fun. It’s always fun hanging out with you, Jordan. This is a time not wasted. Thank you.
Thank you, too.