January has been declared as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month by national government officials. The movement was created to bring awareness to trafficking in 2010 and has been gaining momentum every year since its inception.
Utah trafficking survivor Julie Whitehead is sharing her story to educate the public on human trafficking through her lived experiences while empowering people to speak up for the millions of individuals caught in the tragic cycle.
Whitehead told us her first husband was arrested for domestic violence and her marriage was unraveling. She was trying to raise three children and she started teaching preschool in Northern Utah.
During this time, Whitehead said a student's father befriended her and slowly gained her trust. The man was a trafficker who she says found her at a very vulnerable time in her life.
Every weekend for five months, Whitehead was trafficked in multiple U.S. states, out of the country, and even in her own home, where she was repeatedly threatened, drugged, and raped.
It took someone from the outside to question her situation and give her the courage to get out. Today she is a survivor advocate and active speaker who focuses on bringing victims out of the shadows.
Whitehead also consults on various projects for the Malouf Foundation, a Utah nonprofit dedicated to confronting child sexual exploitation.
Most recently, she collaborated on the Foundation's OnWatch training that raises community awareness of sex trafficking in the United States.
Jake Neeley, Malouf Foundation Executive Director, says so far tens of thousands of people have taken the one-hour training that teaches the how, what and where of recognizing the signs of human trafficking.