Human Trafficking


Episode 49: Free to Thrive

In our litigious society, attorneys are rarely the heroes, rather they are usually the villains. However, in this story, the attorney is the hero. Her name is Jamie Beck and she is an attorney whose career took an unexpected turn when she decided to do some pro-bono (free) work for a victim of human trafficking. What happened next is a remarkable journey of service and compassion.

Join us today for an inspirational conversation with Jamie Beck, the Founder of the nonprofit Free to Thrive. Jamie shares with us an insight into human tracking and remarkable work she and her team are doing to help so many.


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Free to Thrive does?

Jamie Beck:  Free to Thrive helps human trafficking survivors with their legal needs. We also do policy advocacy, training and education. A big part of our training is to help educate the community about this issue through kind of more traditional trainings. We also produced two films to help the community learn about this issue.  I’m so often surprised about how steep the learning curve is with human trafficking. This is not an issue we talk about as a community and most people don’t even know the basics of human trafficking.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Human Trafficking is?

Jamie Beck:  Human trafficking is essentially  exploiting another person. Generally speaking, it’s exploiting them for sex or labor. It can be other things as well. Really, it’s just taking advantage of someone and using them as a source of free labor.  When we’re talking about retracting, it involves force, fraud, or coercion. When we’re talking about labor trafficking, or sex trafficking, it is any minor involved in the commercial sex. That’s human trafficking, regardless of force, fraud, or coercion. And an adult involved in any sort of commercial sex act requires force, fraud or coercion is human tracking.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Free to Thrive?

Jamie Beck:  I was always very involved in the community growing up, helping out in ways big and small. And that’s something that I grew up with, that mentality of giving back.  I really thought I would do that as a lawyer and that’s a huge part of why I went to law school.

I went to law school wanting to be a public interest lawyer.  Like most law students, I had student debt but got a great opportunity law firm. I said, “I’ll work there for a couple of years, and pay down my student loans, and then I’ll figure out my path from there.” While I was there, the way that I filled my cup of this need to give back and to do some good in my community was through volunteer work and pro bono work at my law firm. That was actually the very beginning of what put me on this path. 

I was really involved in Lawyers Club of San Diego, and taking pro bono cases from local legal nonprofits. I first learned about human trafficking there and discovered there’s a huge need for lawyers to help survivors. And I was like, Okay, well, I’m a lawyer, I can help survivors. So, I took a pro bono case with a survivor who she had some criminal charges related to her trafficking. She came from a loving two parent home. She was very close with her middle class family, a very good student, and was just a normal teenager.  Then she fell in love with an older guy and it was actually him and his family that exploited her. 

There’s so much shame that happens, that she didn’t tell her family was going on. It just kept kind of pulling her further and further into this world. By the time she turned 18, he had complete control over her. She had been kidnapped at that point, and was  no longer able to talk to her family. After I got  to know her story, I helped her with these criminal charges. Essentially,  the ultimate outcome of her criminal case was was an expungement. As a result, we were able to erase her record, or so we thought.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Jamie Beck: One of our challenges is legislative advocacy. In the case above the law and expungement didn’t clear her record. The girl went on to college and she’s trying to get a job and she couldn’t get a job because of her background. They were were running it and her record still showed. We learned there are these laws called vacatur laws that California didn’t have.  So we we had this legislative roundtable where we pitch ideas to elected officials for new bills that will help survivors. Just two months later, in December, we pitched this a local state Senator who took up the bill. He said, “We’re going to pass a vacatures laws.” They did.

Shortly after, a request for proposal or a contract with the County of San Diego for somebody to provide free legal services to trafficking survivors presented itself. This really happened because there was a huge unmet need. Nobody was doing this work in San Diego.  I definitely can’t take all the cases of all the survivors that need this help. We now have this new law. So we have all these survivors who not only need it now, but survivors for years who’ve needed this help, but never get it. So a  huge backlog of cases. At this point, I’ve been involved in anti trafficking work for two or three years and this is now my passion.

 I applied for this funding. I had a name of a nonprofit, I filed articles of incorporation. I’ve created this nonprofit but I don’t have a board, I  just have a name. I had a vision and I understood what the services that we’d offer and how we deliver them. We just didn’t have the funding to do it or the organizational structure to do it.

There was not enough time in the day, I was doing this by myself. We had no staff, we had some pro bono lawyers, and I had some volunteers, but it was just me. So I’m trying to do this by myself and try to get it started with enough very little funding. It was like drinking from a firehose. I think one of the hardest things about being a nonprofit is that there the need for your services. If you are doing something that is having an impact on the community, the need for your services almost always will outpace your capacity to fill it. 

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Jamie Beck: What fuels me is truly our clients. I mean, they are so incredible. When I think about both their stories and what they’ve overcome pales in comparison to what I’ve experienced. So like on any hard day,  I think about my clients and their strength and their resilience.  I also think about the wins.  We spend a lot of time at Free to Thrive, we have a lot of hard days, and we talk a lot about the wins because they’re so powerful. When we think about what does it mean to have this client’s record completely cleared?  Or what does it mean for her to have a restraining order custody of her child?  These are things that you just can’t quantify the impact on that person’s life, on their children’s life and  on breaking generational cycles. It’s just it’s incredibly powerful.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and what your impact has been? 

Jamie Beck: So we we’ve been a nonprofit for six years serving clients for five years. You know, the first couple years are our numbers were so small because we’re  trying to get up and running and learning how to do the work. We’re about to hit a huge milestone and just completed our 500th legal matter.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Jamie Beck: I have lots of dreams for Free to Thrive both big and small,  short and long term. So the kind of big visionary dream is to be a global organization. To work on this issue, not just locally or regionally but on a on a global level because human trafficking is a global issue. I would love Free to Thrive to be to have a global footprint, and help survivors everywhere.  You know, there’s such a huge unmet need for services for survivors 

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Jamie Beck:  I’m learning my own strengths and weaknesses and growing as a leader.  It’s one thing to run an organization and it’s another thing to have a staff of people, to be able to have a vision, lead them forward and support them.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Jamie Beck: I’m just constantly learning and growing and finding  how to how to be better and do better.



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The Wellhouse

Our world seems to shrink everyday as technology and communication continue to advance. A few weeks ago, I was attending an online webinar for nonprofits and started a conversation with a woman named Kat Kirkpatrick from Alabama who is part of an amazing nonprofit called The Wellhouse. What began as an online conversation became multiple emails and phone calls to learn more. I have done two interviews this past year on organizations similar to the The Wellhouse and initially thought twice about writing this now. However, I believe things happen for a reason and there are no accidents, so I am excited to share our conversation with you.

Kat told me that 40% of the human trafficking that happens in the United State happens in the South East off of Interstate 20 and the average age of young women who are trafficked is 12 to 14 years old. That information was more than enough to continue the conversation on this uncomfortable topic.

Charity Matters: So tell us about what The WellHouse does?

Kat Kirkpatrick: The Wellhouse is a safe place that rescues and restores young  women from human trafficking. We restore these women so they can live their lives. We are a residential safe place that can help these women deal with trauma, addiction, health care and counseling. We give them mentors and set them up for life to be successful.

Charity Matters: When did your nonprofit begin and what is the back story to the WellHouse?

Kat Kirkpatrick: Our founder was a victim of human trafficking. She escaped from her trafficker with $33.00 in her pocket and was taken into a place in Birmingham, Alabama called The Dream Center because she heard about it on the radio. Our founder became a mentor there in helping other young women and realized that more needed to be done so in 2010 she began The WellHouse.

She realized there was not a facility that existed only for trafficked victims and she conceived the idea of a home that would not have any prerequisites that can often hinder victims from obtaining needed help. Her goal was to welcome survivors who wanted to move forward in their lives.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Kat Kirkpatrick: The team. Seeing everyone work together and support these women. The women who change their lives.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Kat Kirkpatrick: We know we have changed lives. We have rescued over 400 women since 2010. We know we have made a difference when a girl has a safe place to be for the first time. We know we have made a difference when they share their story and then graduate into our long term program. We know we have made a difference when they graduate and when we celebrate every little step along their journey.

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Kat Kirkpatrick: I have seen the public’s misconception and stigma for these girls. They are victims of horrible crimes, victims of violence and yet there is hope. They are coming from the darkest of times and yet their resilience is astounding.  I have learned that people are good and are always there to help.  I know when we walk along side these young women on their journey they can accomplish anything.


Charity Matters



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Saving Innocence

“i raise up my voice-not so i can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard….we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

Malala Yousafzai

There are so many things that make us uncomfortable. ….driving past the homeless and seeing the ravages of war on the nightly news but this topic is beyond being uncomfortable, it is down right unimaginable. The topic is human trafficking or modern day slavery. It is something that we want to believe only happens in other countries but the harsh reality is that it happens here in the United States of America to over 300, 000 children a year. Children who are sold and enslaved into prostitution, like a product or good sold….but these are our children.

Last week, I was invited to a friend’s home for a Friends With Causes dinner. Her guest was the nonprofit Saving Innocence and the speakers were the Executive Director and a young girl who was sold here in LA at the age of 11. We will call her O and her story was truly unbelievable and haunting.

This inspirational twenty-two year old girl told us her unimaginable story. Raised by  a loving single mom who worked two jobs to support them in house full of love and extended family. O accidentally discovered at the age of 11 that she was adopted and the news sent her reeling. She was confused, angry, sad and upset. At the same time, her mother had just broken up with her boyfriend. The boyfriend came to O’s school to ask how she was doing and offered her a ride home. That moment changed everything because he kidnapped her and sold into sex trafficking at age 11, right here in LA.

Founded in 2012 by actress, Kim Biddle, Saving Innocence are the first responders when trafficked children are identified by the police or other authorities.

The nonprofit arrives within 90 minutes with a Child Welfare and Probation officer. They take the child to the hospital, provide, food, clothing, emotional support and a safety plan and housing for the child. The child is given up to nine months of time, support, love, counseling. Saving Innocence works with the child to see the perpetrator through the justice system and then continues empowerment programs with these young children.

This incredible nonprofit has contracts with the probation offices, judges and prosecutors to help these children through the system and have shown the courts that children who have been commercially sexually exploited need intensive aftercare.

Today, O is working for Saving Innocence and helping the girls get through their ordeal of being held as part of a human trafficking ring. She mentors young girls, works with the police, social workers and empowers these children to become survivors, just as she has done, because of this remarkable organization. As I hugged 22 year old O and told her what an incredible inspiration and leader she is, she cried and said, “No one has ever called me a leader.”  When I told her that a leader is someone who uses their gifts and experience in the service of others, she smiled, hugged me again and said,”Then I guess I am a leader.”

charity matters.


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Have you ever heard of Annie Cannon? She was a pioneer, who worked at the Harvard Observatory in the early 20th century. Annie Cannon and a group of women discovered the very categories that stars fall into. If ever there was a more perfect name for an organization about two stars who are truly pioneers, it is Laura Hackney and Jessica Hubley’s nonprofit organization Annie Cannons.


Truly one of the most innovate organizations tackling one of the most horrific problems, human trafficking or slavery. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally. Sixty-eight percent are trapped in forced labor, twenty-six percent are children and over fifty percent are women and girls. According to the nonprofit organization Polaris there were over 8,000 reported cases in the United States in 2016. I truly had no idea and was shocked by these statistics.

What was even more stunning was two Stanford graduates (one a Masters from Stanford and the other Stanford Law) who were determined to find a solution to empower these victims by teaching them skills, earning income and building solutions to empower them to break the cycle. Last week I had one of the most incredible conversations, I have ever had…. with Co-Founder Jessica Hubley.

Charity Matters: What is the back story to Annie Cannons, your nonprofit is pretty unique?

Jessica Hubley: Laura was the manager of the Program on Human Rights on Stanford and had worked as a Senior Research Associate for Stanford’s Anti-Trafficking Project. I was an attorney, we had both gone to Stanford and in September 2013, I was writing a nonfiction book about human trafficking. Laura was going to Myanmar for work and asked if I wanted to come along. We met and interviewed nine people who were victims of human trafficking and they all said the same thing. That they were desperate for work, they were poor, vulnerable and trusted someone.


This was shocking to me, but not to Laura who had been in this space for much longer. I asked Laura, “What if we got these people a job?” The answer wasn’t as simple, but we knew that if we could find a way to address the financial piece we might be able to impact change.

When we came home, I was a successful attorney working with digital media companies in the technology industry. I was seeing so many people in software development making $400 an hour writing code and couldn’t help but wonder what if we taught these women victims of human trafficking how to do this?

Charity Matters: What did you do then? 

Jessica Hubley: First we spent an enormous amount of time talking to people who ran nonprofits, shelters here in the Bay Area that housed women who were victims of human trafficking, we spoke to Fortune 500 companies and gathered a lot of information.

 We are self-proclaimed huge geeks. That being said, we taught ourselves to write code. Laura taught herself, then she taught me, we began essentially putting a school together for these women and kept refining our curriculum. We knew the market and need for coders and believed that these women who had escaped unimaginable past had what it took. They were good problem solvers, they were survivors, hard workers and they had grit. It turns out that it is exactly what it takes to be a perfect coder.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work? You are running a nonprofit and a school, essentially and then you are helping these women get jobs writing code? It is an enormous undertaking, how do you do it?

Jessica Hubley: I think there are three things. One, I still feel I have something to prove to the world. Two, we built the kind of workplace that we both always dreamed of that is supportive and collaborative, where we all learn from one another. Lastly, Laura understands and having a partner to lift me up ….and we keep each other going.

Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?

Jessica Hubley: When I see one of our students thriving and being successful. When I receive a card or note saying you changed my life and my children’s’ lives. When our customers love their apps and websites and when we have found hidden figures in the world that no one is looking at and have given them the economic power to break the cycle of human trafficking. We have helped people build solutions.

Charity Matters: What have you learned from this experience?

Jessica Hubley: I have learned that most people are good but more than that, I have learned that what really matters is the mark we leave on the world.

Charity Matters.


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Copyright © 2017 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.