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Andrew D. Dawson realizes age and social status are irrelevant when it comes to sexual exploitation. Children, even if they are bright and from a good home, are vulnerable to being lured into diabolical schemes via the internet.
Since 2014, Dawson and his wife, Ashleigh, who have two daughters — 11-year-old Sydney and 8-year-old Chloe — have been working full time to battle sex trafficking. Starting in 2016, the Dawsons spent 3½ years in Las Vegas, where Andrew joined forces with F.R.E.E. International, a rescue organization that works with law enforcement to recover child trafficking victims.
Dawson, a U.S. missionary with Intercultural Ministries, wears many hats in his effort to fight trafficking. One is as a presenter with Say Something school assemblies that help trafficked students find help. The hourlong presentation to middle school and high school students features speakers — including survivors — talking about sex trafficking in an age-appropriate manner.
The Say Something event helps students recognize the recruiting tactics traffickers use. In 2019, Dawson spoke to 100,000 students across the nation. Say Something is a program directed by U.S. missionary Jody E. Dyess.
“Some kids don’t realize they have been trafficked until they hear the presentation,” says Dawson, 38. “Then they recognize this is what has happened to them.” As a result of the events, Dawson has made 167 mandatory reports of sexual exploitation, with 19 cases prosecuted.
Dawson’s father, Doug, pastored multiple rural Pentecostal churches across the U.S. Andrew first became aware of sex trafficking while a youth pastor at New Life Assembly of God in Lewistown, Montana.
“I saw that it’s not just an issue in metropolitan areas or red-light districts around the world,” Dawson says. “Sexual predators are contacting girls in rural America online, luring them to run away from home and ultimately to be trafficked. Pastors need to be aware of the tactics predators use on kids.”
Sex abuse and trafficking haven’t disappeared during COVID-19; in fact, Dawson says they have become more difficult to detect because children aren’t attending classes in person as much. A schoolteacher often is the one to notice something amiss with a child.
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in traffickers using the internet,” Dawson says. “They are connecting through online ads, video games, social media, and even online educational tools.”
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic curtailing in-school appearances, Andrew and Ashleigh launched Seven Against Slavery, an initiative that helps fund rescue operations, missing kid searches, and training.
Dawson says he has encountered many teenagers and young adults who want to do something about trafficking, but feel stymied because they have limited finances. Seven Against Seven has proved especially popular with high school and college students who contribute $7 monthly to the cause. Donations recently paid for an automobile for a trafficking survivor in Missouri.
In 2018, Dawson devised yet another method to aid trafficking victims. He teamed with his brother Caleb to launch Due North Coffee Roasters. The e-commerce company funnels 100 percent of its profits to help survivors with needs such as clothing and temporary housing.
IN THE LION’S DEN
While living in Las Vegas, Dawson discovered 100,000 females — most of them immigrants — trafficked annually in the massage parlors in “Sin City,” with no one ministering to them. They typically service 30 clients a day, staying in Las Vegas for six weeks before being shuttled elsewhere. Over a dozen women asked for help out of their bondage after Dawson spoke to them.
In an intrepid move, Dawson started a database and began visiting with women in illegal Las Vegas brothels during times when pimps left. He distributed hundreds of hygiene kits that include lip balm, loofahs, toothpaste, and shaving cream. On more than one occasion, Dawson had a massage parlor owner follow him after he left the premises. He drove a circuitous route home to stay undetected.
Dawson has hosted missions teams from Assemblies of God schools that participate in such outreaches. Teams from Trinity Bible College & Graduate School as well as Southwestern Assemblies of God University are scheduled to participate in 2021.
“They receive training and are made aware of how to do strategic training that can be implemented in their own city,” says Dawson, who recently moved to Colorado, although his endeavors are still part of the F.R.E.E. International team. “We must educate young people called to missions on how to effectively work in a field where they must look a pimp in the eye. We’ve got to cross the threshold from just raising awareness to actually helping people do the work they’ve been called to do as missionaries.”
U.S. missionary Michael R. Bartel, who founded F.R.E.E. International in 2007 with his wife, Denise, says Dawson has helped the organization connect particularly with congregations that want to collaborate with the ministry.
“Andrew understands the church world and he navigates church culture well,” says Bartel, 51. “He is able to get people involved as he coordinates huge mission teams into Las Vegas.”
Bartel also is grateful that Dawson has fearlessly attempted to address previously unmet needs, such as ministering on a regular basis to the women at illegal brothels rather than just offering one-time assistance.
“He has brought consistency into areas that matter,” Bartel says.