With National Human Trafficking Awareness Month being observed in January, StyleBlueprint is raising consciousness of human trafficking by profiling a woman in each of our five cities who is making a positive impact on this front. In Louisville, that woman is Marissa Castellenos, the Human Trafficking Program Manager for Catholic Charities of Louisville. She covers the entire state of Kentucky, teaching and training people how to recognize signs of trafficking, and she is an advocate for the victims of these crimes. She’s a fascinating woman who is making a difference in the lives of many. Welcome, Marissa!
Tell us what you do.
I coordinate a statewide human trafficking victim services and training program called Kentucky Rescue and Restore. I train professionals how to identify human trafficking victims in their work and about the resources available to victims. In 2014, I trained all Louisville Metro Police on human trafficking and related Kentucky state laws. I also provide direct services such as advocacy, case management, housing, food, etc. to survivors of sex or labor trafficking throughout Kentucky.
What are some ways that we can be more cognizant of the problem? What are things we can look for?
There are so many things to look for. Here are just a few:
Signs of sex trafficking:
- Teenagers in and around commercial sex businesses (strip clubs, massage parlors, etc.)
- Teenage girls with much older boyfriends
- Girls referring to their boyfriend as “daddy,” having a “quota” to meet or being “in the game”
- Foreign national women or girls who have someone who always insists on interpreting for them and controls their movement
Labor trafficking signs:
- Service industry workers (restaurants, nail salons, etc.) who are not allowed to keep their tips
- Workers who have bruises or signs of physical abuse, and are scared to talk to you
- Workers who work all shifts and/or every day, or who seem to frequently be replaced with other workers every week or two
How did you find this career?
I feel like this job found me. About eight years ago, I was working with migrant workers and their families, and I kept hearing cases of wage theft. The workers would not be paid at all for days or weeks of work. When payday came, the employer would “disappear,” having not paid any of the workers for their services. I saw a lot of exploitation of these workers, such as families living in barns, for example, with young children. This was housing provided by the farm owners as a “benefit” of their job. Then, I went to training on human trafficking and realized that some of this labor exploitation may actually be trafficking. I knew then that human trafficking is happening in Kentucky communities, and I wanted to do something about it.
Is the problem becoming bigger or are we just noticing it more now?
Both, although it seems the problem is growing at a faster rate than people’s awareness of the issue. There are an estimated 27 million people living in slavery around the world today. Human trafficking is estimated to be a $28 billion-a-year criminal industry, second only to drug trafficking. It’s so hard to wrap my mind and heart around that, although I see the reality of this daily in my work.
It takes a special person to do this job. How do you not take this home with you?
This job does follow me home most days. My clients call and text me frequently: at night, on weekends and especially on holidays. That actually reminds me that in so many cases, I am the only person my clients really know and trust. So, actually, it’s an honor in that way. So often this job does not feel like a job to me. I feel privileged to do this work. That said, I try to determine what’s an emergency and what’s not and really enjoy my time not working as much as I can.
What are some things you love to do outside your job?
Crafting, seeing life through the eyes of my three young children, trying new recipes and getting lost in a good book.
What is the biggest life lesson you have ever learned?
Small things done with great love can change the world.
Who is your mentor?
I have been lucky to have several people in different seasons of my life who have taught me about faith, friendship, parenting, advocacy and so many other things. My lovely mother, Wendy Robinson, and my dear friend, Shannon Boyd, have been with me for most of those seasons.
What is best advice you have received in business?
Find something that I love and find a way to make a living doing it.
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
Have a flower shop. And deliver flowers to people.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am bilingual in English and Spanish, but I didn’t start learning Spanish until college. When I first enrolled in Spanish 101, I actually walked out of class the very first day and dropped it because I was so overwhelmed by the teacher and students speaking Spanish. Two years later, I enrolled again and stayed. Then I took Spanish 102, studied abroad and now have a bilingual job, and we are raising bilingual children. I sure am glad I re-enrolled in Spanish 101! The lesson, I suppose, is go ahead and do what scares you. It could change the course of your life!
What is your favorite place to go eat?
I love Bootleg Bar-B-Q in Fern Creek.
Where do you like to shop?
I like to purchase gifts that have a deeper purpose … online, in shops and at in-home parties: gifts that are Fair Trade or made by survivors.
What is a treat or a luxury you do for yourself?
I love having fresh flowers in the house, either from one of our gardens or flowers that I purchase. Flowers just seem to bring the sun inside with them.
What is your weakness?
Just one?!?! I rush my children a lot, saying, “Come on! We’ve got to go! We’re going to be late!” I know I need to slow down, especially with them, but that’s really hard sometimes.
What is your favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Walking across the Big Four Bridge.
What are you reading right now?
Love Does by Bob Goff.
What are three of your favorite things right now?
Twinkle lights in the darkness, seeing people do kind acts of service for others and coffee … always coffee. (Did I mention we have three children under 6?)
If you suspect human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. For more information about human trafficking, including ways you can help, visit Rescue and Restore’s website at rescueandrestoreky.org.
Thank you to Marissa for being an advocate for these victims and for raising our awareness of human trafficking.
And much gratitude to our FACES photographer, Adele Reding, who always captures the beauty — both inside and out — of all of our FACES of Louisville. Visit Adele online at adeleredingphotography.com.
Want to read about more inspiring women in the community? Click here to check out more FACES.