Community Stories Human Trafficking

Koru House: Fighting Human Trafficking

Lynn’s mom left her to die when she was six weeks old. She was crying in her crib when the downstairs neighbor found her in an abandoned apartment. He took her in, locked her in a bathroom for five years and only let her out when he wanted to sexually abuse her.

She was homeless by the time she was 11, living on the streets of Oklahoma City until a biker gang took her in. They sold her to different people until she escaped and got involved with a Mexican drug cartel and started running drugs across the border.

So, when Lynn Caffery tells human trafficking victims she knows what they’ve been through, she’s telling the truth.

Her involvement in the drug cartel landed her in jail, but Lynn came out a changed woman. It only took one person—a social worker who took interest in her—to change the course of Lynn’s life. She started studying and going through all the programs the prison offered. She found God and strived to be faithful during the remainder of her sentence.

“It’s hard to live a Christian life in prison when you’ve been an outlaw all your life,” Lynn said.

By the time she was released, Lynn had her GED and had even written an anger management program. She started working with at risk teens as a house mother so she could use her experience to relate to teenagers who had been through the same things.

Eventually, the FBI reached out to her for help rescuing teens. That’s right—the FBI asked former-inmate Lynn Caffery for help. What a far cry from her former life of crime!

At 52, Lynn now spends her days working with teenagers and young-adult victims of human trafficking at the Koru Silver House for transitional living. Thanks to Lynn, Alabama is the only state with a program like this—something for 16 to 22-year-olds who have aged out of foster care.

This Is Happening

Human trafficking is big in Huntsville, a fact that would surprise most of the city’s residents. Our city is known as the trafficking hub of the South because of the way the interstates and highways are laid out. Predators can take I-65 to Nashville or Birmingham or Highway 72 to Florence or Scottsboro.

“A lot of people think that they’re untouchable, but they’re not,” Lynn said. “Everyone thinks that it’s just in poverty-stricken areas. It’s in the rich areas just like it’s in the [poorer] areas. Anyone can be kidnapped at anytime and be put into trafficking.”

In the past 15 years since Lynn started working with teenagers, she’s seen victims from every walk of life come through the doors of the Koru Silver House. The home also helps runaways, homeless teens and abuse victims.

“We’ve had rich; we’ve had poor. We’ve had middle class,” Lynn said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are…This is happening [here]. It’s not overseas.”

Another surprise: Child pornography is also big in Huntsville.

Lynn explained there are other types of human trafficking prevalent in our area. It doesn’t stop at selling a teenager to one buyer. Once a predator or pimp gets victims, he can sell them over and over again for increased profits. Also frequent in this area is labor trafficking—day laborers who are brought in from other countries by an independent contractor and then not paid what they are owed.

It’s big business. In less than three years, human trafficking in the United States has grown from a $30 billion industry to a $160 billion industry due to the growing number of outlets available for sales.

Lynn tells of one man who was propositioned for sex at Madison Square Mall by a preteen girl and an older man. She said that kind of age difference—a man in his 20s with a girl in her early teens— along with possible matching tattoos is a red flag to spot trafficking.

Other things to watch for include absent parents and teens who won’t look you in the eye.

Victim to Survivor

Teens and young adults who come to Koru Silver House must abide by certain rules while they get counseling for their past experiences. Of those who come into the program, many have faced trauma that will take years to deal with. Some have PTSD, while others struggle with feelings of worthlessness. Many are unsure about their sexual orientation because they have been sold to both male and female clients in the past, Lynn said.

It’s when they stop thinking of themselves as victims and start realizing they are survivors that the lightbulb goes off for them.

Lynn tells of one woman who was kidnapped in California, wrapped in chicken wire and brought to Alabama to be sold for sex. When she got to Alabama, she tried to overdose on drugs and was taken to the hospital. A nurse there befriended her and took her out to dinner before taking her back to a hotel room and selling her to the highest bidder. That woman eventually found her way to Koru Silver House and began to recover.

Others who have been through the transitional program have gone on to college, happy marriages, and one is even in law school.

You Don’t Give Up

After rescue, a big part of these teenagers’ lives consists of grieving the family they lost—either when they were kidnapped or when they ran away. Maybe they never had a family. They have to be assessed mentally and helped through any disorders they may have.

One thing they all crave is stability, Lynn said. Nobody has been consistent in their lives. Even volunteers who come to the house are vetted to make sure they will uphold their commitments to the teens.

A lot of people can’t handle this kind of work the way Lynn can. She doesn’t quit on them the way so many others have.

“You work with them and work with them until a lightbulb goes off,” Lynn said. “You don’t give up.”

The Community Journal is proud to share this story in support of the work Koru House is doing to combat human trafficking in our community, but they need your help. If you would like to donate, please click here

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About the author

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Jessie Harbin

Jessie is a newlywed living in Meridianville with her husband and three dogs. She's learning to sail on their 26-foot sailboat in Guntersville. At the time of publication, nobody has fallen ill because of her cooking.

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