Breaking the Silence: Amanda Blackwood Sheds Light on the Dark Reality of Trafficking

Show Notes

In this thought-provoking episode of the Faithfully Engaged podcast, Amanda Blackwood, a survivor of human trafficking, sheds light on the dark reality of abuse and its long-lasting effects.   Listen as Amanda shares her journey of survival and resilience, from escaping her abuser to navigating the challenging path towards healing.  

Gain insight into the importance of therapy and art healing and learn how Amanda’s autobiography and paintings have become vehicles for helping others. Join us as we explore the stages of trauma, the power of acceptance, and the transformation of pain into empowerment and healing. 

 Amanda Blackwood is a survivor, artist, author, public speaker, and trauma recovery mentor based in Denver, Colorado. With a strong faith as her foundation, Amanda has overcome the traumas of human trafficking and abuse, using her experiences to empower and support others.  

Her journey of resilience and healing has led her to become a voice for survivors and an advocate for their rights. Through her various roles, Amanda strives to leave a lasting impact on the lives of others, offering hope, inspiration, and actionable steps for change.

Her story is a testament to the power of faith, resilience, and the ability to find purpose in adversity. 

Amanda’s Links  

Website: https://growthfromdarkness.com/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/detailedpieces 

X: https://twitter.com/detailedpieces 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaBlackwoodSurvivor   

Praying the Bible: https://amzn.to/3Qt7tbi  

North Arrow Coffee Support Babies and Great Coffee!: https://northarrowcoffee.co/MvL3lH   

Podmatch: Want to be a podcast guest?  Have your podcast and want to find guests?  Use podmatch!  https://www.joinpodmatch.com/faithfullyengaged  

Faithfully Engaged Links  

Newsletter: https://faithfullyengaged.com/engageculture

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Twitter:  https://twitter.com/faithfulengaged 

Merch: https://faithfullyengaged.com/faithfullyengagedmerch

Transcript

00:00:10 – Johnny Sanders
Well, everybody, welcome back to another episode of Faithfully Engaged. Now, today’s discussion, we’re going to talk about some seemingly very difficult topics, such as human trafficking and abuse and some pretty difficult topics. But I’m betting most of you that have either watched a podcast or watched a video, listened to anything, read a book, you probably didn’t walk away from those discussions very uplifting or happy. You probably felt pretty down, pretty depressed. My guest Amanda today has a wonderful term for that called trauma vomiting, which I think is a fabulous term, which these are difficult topics, but you don’t walk away feeling very good. And Amanda tries to change that. She wants to leave people feeling more active and feel like they can do something instead of just being down and depressed. So that being said, Amanda, it’s great to have you on. Why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?

00:01:14 – Amanda Blackwood
So I live here in Denver, Colorado, with my husband and our six cats. I’m a brand new grandmammy, so I’m super excited about that. And my son’s daughter is about to have a child this December, so I’ll be a grandmother twice by the end of the year. And as you pointed out, I’m a survivor of human trafficking. I’m also a professional artist. I am an author. I am a public speaker. I’m a trauma recovery mentor. And there’s a lot of different hats that I wear, but probably my most favorite hat that I wear is I’m a believer.

00:01:45 – Johnny Sanders
Yeah. And I love that you mentioned that, of kind of wearing those different hats. And let’s just kind of speak of that to start off with being a believer. I know we were pretty excited to connect with each other, having a lot in common with our faith, especially going through all of these difficult things that you’ve gone through and the different processes you do to talk about them. I know that can wear way heavy on you. What does the role of being a believer, being a Christian, how does that play into all of that?

00:02:25 – Amanda Blackwood
So I started out really struggling a lot when I was a kid. We were not a church going family. We did say prayer, but only over the dinner table and only when we were at home, never when we were out in public, anywhere. I wanted to know more about that. I wanted to know who is it that we’re talking to? Why are we praying? So I started running away from home to go to church when I was probably about eight, nine years old, and I’d get in a lot of trouble for it. I would be severely punished for going to church. It was a couple of miles from the house, and they didn’t want me going because they didn’t want me going to nondenominational church. They said they were Methodist, and they didn’t want me getting confused or getting the wrong messages. So I grew up really being told that church was a bad place in a weird way, and yet I was still a believer. The pastor that I had back then when I was running away from home, was really supportive, very open to trying to explain things to me. He understood that I didn’t want to go off to the kids groups. I wanted to sit there with the adults because I wanted to learn with the adults. And he was open to all of that as long as I was quiet and good. And there was never a day that I wasn’t because I so desperately wanted to be there. God was calling me very early on. If I didn’t have that kind of a foundation, I don’t know that I would have survived everything that I went through, and I nearly didn’t anyway. And one of the trauma reactions that a lot of people go through is actually a cris of faith. And there were some times in my life where I really struggled with, if God is real, then why is this happening to me? But it took a long time to figure it out. I finally figured out exactly why all of that was happening to me. It’s because of where I am now and the things I’m able to do, and because I’m able to help other people.

00:04:22 – Johnny Sanders
Yeah, those are some really great words. I’m actually reading a book right now that I had heard for a long time is a great book, but just hadn’t ever done it. And, goodness, this is a great curse that I have had since becoming a podcast host, that things just blank on me. It’s the existence of God, I believe is what it is. It’s by Tim Keller, and it walks through one of the first chapters, is why does a good God allow suffering? And that’s kind of what you were having to deal with in an extremely real way at a very young age. Why do I have to go through this? And we don’t always get that answer, especially there in the moment. But how wonderful and how sweet of a story it is for you that now you’re in this world, that you are now that you can help others because of the bad stuff you went through. That is a wonderful testimony.

00:05:29 – Amanda Blackwood
It’s definitely the story of my life. It took a long time to get here, but it was worth the journey.

00:05:34 – Johnny Sanders
Yes. So with that being said, feel free to share whatever you either feel comfortable with or what you want to get into, but kind of walk us through your story a little bit. What were some of these pitfalls that we had to go through in life?

00:05:54 – Amanda Blackwood
So with most survivors of human trafficking, we usually grow up in rather abusive households. It kind of sets us up to be more easily manipulated. So the first time that I remember being molested, I was only four years old. It happened again when I was twelve, by a stranger in a pool, again when I was 13, by an uncle, by marriage, again at 1516. At 17, I was raped by somebody I thought was my best friend. And when I was treated basically my entire life, as far as I could remember as a sex object, it set me up to believe that that’s what I was, that’s what my life was going to be, and that’s all it was ever going to be. I was conditioned to learn the roller coaster of emotions, which can be very addicting to some people. You are drawn to circumstances like this where you’re constantly going through these roller coaster emotions nonstop, and the people who love you, if they don’t hurt you, that means they don’t love you, so you’re seeking this out constantly. I ended up in a lot of very abusive relationships. When I was 18 years old, I moved in with a man who was more than twice my age, and this man was the first person to traffick me. I didn’t realize that it was trafficking for many, many years afterwards, but he had loaned me out basically as a party favor to a budy of his for a birthday weekend in Las Vegas. We were living in Arizona at the time, so we had to hop a flight and we got to Arizona and I was locked up in a small hotel room for 52 hours with basically I was allowed to get room service once a day, but the hotel had been paid off to make sure that nobody asked any questions. They dropped off the room service and left before I was able to retrieve it. I did not have my driver’s license or my identification with me. The man who had me with him did, and if I’d left the hotel room, I wouldn’t have been able to get back in because I didn’t have a room key. I would not have been able to return to Arizona. I wouldn’t have had identification to be able to go report what’s happening to a police officer. I would have been homeless on the streets of Las Vegas. In my mind, that was far worse than enduring the 52 hours of repeated assaults. I had already been through so many years of this exact same thing. Surely I could get through another 52 hours of it and just get back and leave. That became the easier route and became the route of least resistance. So I put up with it, got back to Arizona, and almost as soon as I got back, I packed up what I could carry and I left. And I was homeless for a little while. I bounced around and slept on people’s couches and recliners and occasionally would find myself without a roof over my head and would sleep on park benches. And I was looked down on a lot for this. People would tell me, go get a job. I had a job. I was working at a 711. But that didn’t mean that I could afford my own place. I also didn’t have a driver’s license at that time, so I didn’t have a car. I would have probably been sleeping in my car, otherwise it would have been safer. Eventually, I found my way out of there. I left Arizona completely and got down to Florida. There was Arkansas in the middle there somewhere, but that’s a long story, not for today. And I got down to Florida, and I was going to stay with my dad’s mother. She and I had already made the arrangements. I was going to go and stay with her while I got my knee surgery done. I had injured myself working on a horse farm. When I got there, it was about 1030 at night when I called them from the Daytona Beach bus station to let them know, I’m here, I’m ready for you to come and pick me up. Her husband, my dad’s stepfather, answered the phone and said, we’re not coming to pick you up. You’re on your own. Good luck. And they hung up. I found out many years later that it was because my parents had called them and told them that I was on the run from my troubles again. And if they took me in, they would never speak to me again. They would never speak to her again. So they left me on the streets in Daytona Beach with $5 to my name. And at this point, none of them knew that I had already been homeless. And it was one of my greatest fears, was to be homeless again. All they knew was that I was constantly moving. I had moved eight times in the state of Arizona. It was hard to keep track of me. They didn’t know where I was. They knew that I was constantly on the run from some kind of trouble. I started running away from home when I was 15. There was always something that I was running from, and they wanted me to stop running. They thought that this was the way to make me stop running. Instead, I had a young couple come find me at the bus station at about 11:00 at night. So I’d been crying for about a half hour at that point. And they told me, we’re sorry to hear about everything that you’re going through, and we have a place, we can give you a place to stay until you can get on your feet. He was 22 and she was 15, but looked 18. And they brought me back to their house. And what they really meant was that they were going to give me a place to stay until they could find the highest bidder. And they sold me, like, a bag of potato chips to some guy named Esteban. And from there I was locked up in a small room with no food, no water, and no bathroom facilities for 23 and a half hours, nearly 24 hours back in the there was this really great TV show that was on that I absolutely loved called MacGyver. A man could fix anything with paperclip and a rubber band. I even had for a long time. I had a shirt that said, what would MacGyver do? And when I was locked up in that room, that was all I could think of. What would MacGyver do? What would Richard Dean Anderson as MacGyver do? And I MacGyvered my way out of this room through some incredible miracle, I got out. I was taking off down the street, running away, and I saw a police officer and I went and I tried to flag down the police officer. It was a female officer. And when I tried to tell her what had happened, it all came out at once, basically trauma, vomiting, right at this cop. And she did not believe me. She didn’t believe anything I was saying, but she did see this man who had been chasing after me do an illegal Uturn behind me. So she went after him for that and I left again. I was homeless and living on park benches and doing whatever I could to get by. I started working 24 hours a day, so I was working as a four one one operator assistance. It was 1999, this was still in Daytona Beach, so I was doing that from 08:00 A.m. To 04:00 p.m.. I’d get off at work at four and walk over to Sears across the street and work from 430 to 1030, get off work at Sears at 1030 and deliver pizzas in a college town using somebody else’s car that I borrowed until about 02:00 in the morning. And at 02:00 in the morning I would go back to the house of somebody who worked nights and keep an eye on their two year old little boy while they were working. And then I would get up in the morning at 08:00 and do it all again. I was working 24 hours a day and finally had a roof over my head where I didn’t have to give myself away to be able to feel safe. This family with the little boy decided that they were going to move to Colorado and they asked me if I wanted to go with them, so I absolutely agreed. They were going to stop by a place in Ohio to go visit an uncle and we got up to Ohio and they basically told me that I would not be continuing the journey with them and they were done with me. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I had tried so hard to be the best person I could possibly be and be the best influence to take care of the kid and to not complain about anything. I did everything right, I thought. And they dumped me off on the side of the road in Ohio and I had to call an abusive ex of mine from Arkansas to be able to get me out of there so I wouldn’t be homeless in yet another strange state. I couldn’t handle this much more. I needed to get out of there, so I escaped. This abusive ex in Arkansas eventually found my way out to California, where my greatest ambition was to be the assistant to somebody important. Instead, I ended up on Alias and Will and Grace and I modeled for Harley Davidson. And I had these crazy adventures. I had so much fun playing around in Hollywood. And in 2004, when I was on Alias and Will and Grace, and I started doing all these crazy things and was acting and modeling, and I had no idea my life was going to be going in that direction. And I also tried internet dating, so this was becoming a big thing in 2004. There was a website back then called Hot or not where you’d vote on whether or not you thought somebody was hot. I thought it was really shallow, but I was still on it, and that was because I had grown up as this sex object, and now all of a sudden I’m modeling and people are putting me on their TV shows and stuff. I wanted to know, how does the general public see me? It wasn’t because I was wanting to be shallow and rate other people, because I needed to be rated. I needed people to provide that sense of value to me. I was so lost and so broken that I was looking for that validation from wherever I could get it, except where I needed it from the most. While I was on the website, I met a man who lived out of the country, and we really hit it off. We knew right off that since he lived so far away, he had a solid, stable job. I had a solid, stable career that was blossoming. We knew that we were only going to be pen pals, but we were great pen pals. We’d write back and forth pretty much every day. Eventually, when Skype became a really common thing, by 2006, I believe he was eating breakfast when I was eating dinner, and we would share a meal together over Skype. We got to know each other and still communicated, and within seven years, I kind of left Hollywood. I started off working as a mall cop and within five months became a director of public safety and security for six different properties in La. County and finally had a career. I was really doing well. I had my own place. I had my own car. Of course I had a driver’s license. By then, I had everything that I had really wanted except a stable relationship. I had gone out to see this man where he lived in Scotland, and he had come out to see me where I lived out in California, and it took us seven years, but we finally decided that we were in love. And he asked me to get a fiance visa and move over to Scotland to be with him. I mean, the land of kings and queens and castles, this is what every child who grows up watching Disney movies ever dreams of, right? I was going to be Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. I was going to come from this tragic background and land in the world of make believe. I couldn’t wait. And it took him seven years to get me there and it took him seven days to start trafficking me. I was 31 years old. It was it was devastating. The first week I was there was great. I was treated like royalty. I got to go places and do things. Of course, it was January in Scotland, so the snow was frighteningly thick and immense. The snowflakes that landed on the window of the plane when my plane landed, were the size of the palm of my hand. They were massive, just, oh, my gosh, it was freezing. And I moved there from California, where I was living on the beach.

00:18:39 – Johnny Sanders
That’s quite the culture.

00:18:42 – Amanda Blackwood
Oh, the weather was a culture shock and I figured that there would be some differences because I’m living in the UK, but at least they still speak English, right? They’re Scottish. They don’t speak English. I could understand a little bit of what they were saying, but, oh, my gosh, it got to me so much that within a couple of weeks, I was watching every episode of Law And Order, SVU and Air Crash Investigations, just to hear the American accent. I was so homesick, it was ridiculous. So when the abuse began with him, it started gradual at first, and it escalated quickly. Eventually, it was five, six, seven days a week. I was basically forced to entertain guests in his home. I was given a little bit of privileges with being able to get out. During the days when he was at work, I was given a cell phone. It was an older flip phone that he could track. I was monitored with that phone. He would get a hold of it every night to see what messages were sent or received. The only phone numbers that I had were his and his sister’s. And if I ever said anything in a text message to his sister about something that he had done or something that was going on, or even hinted or alluded to not being happy, I was punished severely. So some of the punishments would be things that would consist of basically torture. So I’m a survivor of sport torture. I was waterboarded. I had sleep deprivation. The longest I ever went without sleep, I believe, was eight and a half days. But it’s hard to keep track at that point, a food deprivation. So I was starved. I started to have a sensitivity to certain food items and I didn’t understand what that was. Later on, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, so those food items that would cause me to vomit were the food items that he fed me more often. He said that was because the skinnier I stayed, the more he could charge. I wanted out. So after the views first started, he had already taken my passport and my driver’s license, my debit card, all that stuff, and he said it was for safekeeping. He literally put it in a safe so that he could keep an eye on it and I couldn’t have access to it. And he said that was in case anything ever happened. And we’ll get into his background here in just a moment, but when you find out what his job was, it makes perfect sense that I would trust him with this kind of stuff. So one night, when he had had way too much to drink, he was a heavy, heavy drinker. He’d had way too many whiskeys, and I kept giving him more. And I talked to him that evening before he went to sleep, and I said, you know, if I have my passport and my debit card, I could go down to the bank sometime this week and go draw out all the money that I have in my bank account and give it to you so that we can spend it. And he fell for it. What I did instead was the very next morning, I got up and grabbed my computer, and I tried to purchase the first flight out that I could afford. The very first flight out was $12,000. There was no way I could afford that. All I had was a little bit over $2,000 in my bank. So I did what I could and searched around and tried to find the cheapest flight out. And the cheapest flight out that I could find, that I could actually afford was going to be five days from that day. So I’d have to continue going through this abuse for the next five days. But after five days, it goes back to that original 52 hours. The first time I was trafficked. If I can get through this, if I can get through these days, these hours, then I’m home free, I’m good, and I can get out. But during that five days, I was so severely abused that I end up with a kidney infection that was so bad. I was in the hospital, and I missed the flight. And that ticket cost everything I had, except for $11. So I had nothing left. It was a non refundable flight. I lost it all. And then, of course, he found out, and I was subjected to some really nasty, harsh punishments because of that. Eventually, I kind of started to lose hope. And one day I decided that this was going to be my last day. This was going to be my last cigarette. And at the time I was a smoker, I have not been a smoker now for a great many years, thankfully. But I grabbed a cigarette and I headed for the door. And there was a church down the street right on the main road that was built in the was gorgeous. And I went down there, and I sat in the graveyard of this church, little tiny graveyard. And there was a headstone in there that was dated 1776, which is America’s independence from UK rule, from English rule. And I took that as kind of a sign, and I sat down next to the grave, and I put my back against my spine was on the side of the grave, and I talked to whoever it was. The years had so deteriorated the stone of this headstone that you couldn’t even see the name anymore. It didn’t exist. It was just the year. And whoever that was that was under me was my best friend that day because they listened to everything. And I prayed, somebody please come find me. Send somebody to come find me. And nobody came. And I finally got up after about an hour of sitting there in the cold, wet grass. And I went and sat on the porch and tried the doors first. The doors were locked. I sat on the porch of the church, and I watched as the traffic passed and people walked by. And I prayed really hard, just sobbing, please, God, somebody please send somebody to come find me. Ask me what’s wrong. And nobody came. So I finally got up and I headed to the train station. I was going to commit suicide by train. I got all the way to the train station and stepped out onto the platform, and I had that one last cigarette with me still. And I lit that cigarette, and a man walked out onto the platform, and he asked me for a light. And I handed him my little book of matches, and I told him, oh, you can keep these. I don’t need them anymore. And I wanted him to ask why, because if he asked me why, I would have told him, I’m going to kill myself. I hurt. I can’t live like this anymore. But he didn’t ask. He said, I am quitting too. Handed me back my batches. And that was that. That was the end of the conversation. And I was just flabbergasted that nobody this entire day, nobody cared. Nobody wanted to get involved. When I cried, my eyes turned bright red. It was obvious that I had been crying. Nobody cared. And then a little boy about four years old walked out onto the platform, and he took his father’s hand, and the little boy looked at me. And when he looked at me, he didn’t just look at me. He didn’t just see some crazy lady with red eyes smoking a cigarette. He saw a human being. He saw me. And I knew that that was the person that God sent I knew that I had to stop what I was thinking. I could not do to this child what had been done to me so many times, over and over again. I could not take his innocence away from him by killing myself and allowing this child to see this. And it took me about 20 seconds to realize that I had thrown down the cigarette and was running. And I wasn’t running toward the train. I was running back toward my prison. And I was happy about it because I was thanking God for miracles not yet received, because I knew that if he was going to keep me alive in the darkest moment that I’d ever had in my life, that there had to be more out there. My life meant more than that. And I was not going to just die in some incident in Scotland. I was going to get out of there. I was going to find a way. I just needed to give myself a little more time. Within a couple of months, I had completely hatched and carried out one of the greatest acting jobs of my life. Thanks to Hollywood, I had gotten a little bit of that training, and thanks to all of the abuse that I had gone through for all those years, I had learned enough about psychology and from listening to different crime dramas and stuff and watching Law and Order SVU, I had learned so much about psychology that I knew what Stockholm syndrome was. We now call it trauma bonding. I hate that it’s been rebranded, but I’m still going to refer to it as Stockholm Syndrome because I’m old school and just old. But I learned enough about it to know what it was and how it worked. And I started over the next few weeks, leaving these little breadcrumbs, making him believe that I had completely done a 180 and no longer wanted to get away from him, but would do anything for him. And I loved him desperately. And all I wanted was whatever he wanted. I just wanted to make him happy. And at the end of a couple of months, I approached him and we sat down one night, I had made a dinner and we were sitting down and talking about things. And I told him, I said, you know, I came over here on a fiance visa, and the day that we told them originally that you and I were going to get married has come and gone. Now, if we overstay my visa, then I could get deported back to the States, and according to UK law, I would never be allowed back in the UK under any circumstances, and I’d never see you again. Plus, with you being a police officer, you could lose your job. So here’s what I propose. If you sent me back to California, I could live there for the next six months and get another visa and come and live out here. For another six months. And if we set this up right, I could come back in time for Christmas. And wouldn’t it be great? It would be our first Christmas together. And he was so convinced because of all these little breadcrumbs that I had dropped along the way, that this was absolutely the case, that within 2 hours I had a round trip flight.

00:30:06 – Johnny Sanders
Wow.

00:30:07 – Amanda Blackwood
It would have landed me back in Scotland on December eigth of that same year. It was insane trying to get out of there. I had watched every episode of Air Crash Investigations because I missed the American accent going to that plane. I was more scared of staying than I was of flying. And that’s saying something. After all that, two years later, I became a flight attendant.

00:30:33 – Johnny Sanders
Wow.

00:30:38 – Amanda Blackwood
But the attacks didn’t stop. It didn’t end there just because I got away. And a lot of people have this preconceived notion that just because you escape a domestic violence situation or because you get out of trafficking and you build your own life outside of that, that means that that’s the end of it and you’ve moved on. He came looking for me. He nearly found me. He was banging on the neighbor’s door. He had my address off by a single number. I moved repeatedly over and over and over and over again, as I had been basically my entire life. At this point in my life right now, I have moved 43 times. I hope I’m done. I’m tired of packing my bags, man. But eventually, in 2016, I packed up all my bags and my cats. I had acquired some cats and I moved out to Colorado. And when I got out here, I was thinking, I’ve been living in hiding for several years now. Surely things are better. Things are quiet now. I can have a life now. And I found out in 2019 that he made me famous on a pornography website. And he linked all of the social media accounts that he could find for me to this and gave every bit of personal information he could find on me so people could actually find me and locate me. The most humiliating moment I think I ever came across was when I was in a grocery store doing just my basic shopping and somebody recognized me from the pornography site from a rape video. It wasn’t for being on Alias or Will and Grace or modeling for Harley Davidson or any of these super cool things that I did. And this guy had the gall to ask me for an autograph. I didn’t know how to handle this. So I reached out to two different anti trafficking organizations. One immediately set me up with a legal firm in New York City that’s going that was going to start reaching out to these pornography websites and giving them the threat of legal action that they needed to pull this stuff down right away. And they went to work, man. Every single time something popped up, they would immediately reach out and have it pulled down. But every time one went down, two more went up somewhere else. It was overwhelming. So I also reached out to another anti trafficking organization that paired me up with a therapist. Now, the first therapist, I swear to you, I traumatized this woman so much with my trauma vomiting that she has left the industry and will never be a therapist again. But the second one they paired me up with, she was amazing. And I kind of cut to the chase with her anyway, because I learned from my first mistakes. I told her, I said, Number one, don’t come at me with medications because I don’t want a Band Aid. I want to get to the root of this and dig it out. And number two, don’t walk in eggshells. I’m tired of people treating me like I’m a broken thing or that I’m so fragile, because if I was going to break, I would have broken already, and I’m still here, so let’s get through this. A year and a half later, we were nearing the end of our therapy, and she said, I don’t know that there’s much more that I can do to help you. You’ve done so much, and you’ve worked so hard on this. What are you going to do next? Because I know that you’re not done yet. I said, you know, I think I’m ready to write my book finally. And in the month of December of 2020, I wrote my entire book. And when she reached out to me again in January, she said, how’s it going? It’s like well, it’s done. She said, I can’t believe you’re done already. This is amazing. Now what are you going to do? And I said, I don’t know. She said, well, have you considered art? Well, I used to do art. I used to do drawings and stuff for a while, and I got really burned out on it. She says, what about painting? I said, Well, I did some finger painting when I was a kid, but it all came out looking like a multicolored snowman. So I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just not a painter. She said, I’m going to send somebody over with some canvases and brushes and paints, and I want you to just try it. Doesn’t matter what it looks like. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, because one of the major trauma reactions that people have is a need for control. And what we all have to recognize is that we only control about 10% of everything in our lives. But when we can take that 10% and turn it into something that we can see and feel and touch and have absolute control over, we can actually start to retrain our brains to have these healthier reactions. Your book was hugely helpful in this because you had control over what words you were putting down, but art is going to be the same thing. So I promised her that I would try it. Within three months, I sold my first painting. I sold it to the anti trafficking organization that actually paired me up with a therapist. They made prints of it and sold the prints to be able to help offer therapy to other survivors of human trafficking. Within five months, I had sold my artwork internationally. I had sold one piece to a home for human trafficking survivors in Chicago, Illinois. I have a print of it behind me in my studio. And the painting is called Carry Your Own Baggage, because we all have to carry our own baggage through life until we find a safe place to set it down. And the only and best place to set it down is at our Lord’s feet. If we give it to Him, he knows what to do with it. Nobody else on this earth knows what to do with it. We don’t know what to do with it. We don’t even know what’s in the baggage. Sometimes he does, and he can absolutely take control of that and to help us to let it go. And the essay, the painting, that stuff ended up in this home for survivors in Chicago about the same time that my autobiography was published, which was on my ten year anniversary of Freedom from Trafficking. And that came out June of 2021. And Chicago Tribune wrote an article about me. And in July of 2021 was when I met the man that’s now my husband. And if I hadn’t done all of that work and gone through everything and had the therapy and learned how to fight back and discovered the lion in my lungs, I wouldn’t have the relationship that I’ve got now. I wouldn’t have married a man who’s one of the audio engineers for our church. I wouldn’t have even 10% of everything that I’ve got now. And then the man that trafficked me because I learned how to speak up, he’s now more scared of me than I’ve ever been of him.

00:37:50 – Johnny Sanders
Wow. Yeah. First off, incredible, incredible story. And one in which, again, the emphasis on all the bad stuff that happened. Yes, that happened. I know that’s a big part of your therapy treatment. I’m sure of putting that out there. Like, yes, this happened. It was bad. I did not enjoy it and coming to grips with that. But we don’t stay there. We don’t stay in what bad happened and then just end there. We continue on. And I love the fact one of your perseverance is just through the roof. I think that’s something anybody can learn from. And quick little side note here. My wife is as the recording of this. She is eight months pregnant and is super sick. It’s been miserable. This is our third child, and each one has just been worse as far as the pregnancy goes. Sick all nine months. And it’s been terrible, just to put it frankly there, but she perseveres and her midwife actually, if there’s another patient, she’ll use my wife as an example, and they’re complaining about something and she’ll say, now listen here, I’ve got this patient and she’s got it way worse than you do. And that perseverance is something that we all can get better at. And again, using my wife as this example, when that baby comes out, it’s the most beautiful thing is her illness is gone and she would love that baby no matter what, if there was sickness or not. But it almost adds to that. I suffered nine months with you, and you are beautiful. It just adds that enjoyment there. And I think that’s what I love about your story there is, yeah, all that stuff was awful. We wouldn’t wish that on anybody. But look at what you have and look at that perseverance. Look at that story. And this is kind of this next question I have for you. Through your book, through your art, through telling your story, how have you been able to transition from this is like, I’m traumatized, I’m living in this trauma to now, I’m helping other people. How has that process been being able to shift, to kind of be more of that mentor, more of that teacher type of role?

00:40:43 – Amanda Blackwood
A lot of that came from doing the research myself and learning about Stockholm syndrome, but learning about the other trauma responses and stuff, too. So when I wrote my autobiography, probably the biggest thing for me was that in the process of writing that book, I learned how to put all of that bad stuff down on the pages and walk away from it. I was literally giving it a physical body that was separate from my physical body. And when you do that with something and you walk out of the room and you leave it behind you, you’re learning to let go of it little by little. Every single thing that I could remember and write down, I was purging from my system. Now, when I started really learning about the stages of trauma, which mirror the stages of grief, I learned of the reason that they mirror the stages of grief is because with trauma, we are altered. Our mental thinking, our capabilities, the way we act to different things, all of that has completely changed because of being traumatized. We have to grieve for the person that we were going to be, for the life that we had planned, for the life that we had expected for ourselves. When you grow up in a life of trauma, you have to grieve for the child that never got to be. I had a lot of grieving to go through to be able to get from one end of the trauma to the other. So with the five stages of trauma, five stages of grief, you go through denial first. This didn’t happen, then you go through anger, bargaining, depression. And when you finally get to the acceptance phase, that doesn’t mean that you’ve accepted it and life is hunky dory and you’re good to go. It means that you’re finally ready to start doing the hard work. You have to be willing to do the hard work to be able to get through to the other side. And that’s what I approached with that therapist. I had already gone through all five of those stages of grief and had been going through them for years. And what I needed from her was the help to get over the hurdles that I was facing with everything beyond the acceptance. How do I do this? How do I jump over this? How do I learn to live with this? How do I change the way I’m thinking with this? I have personally amassed a list of over 60 different trauma reactions that people can have. I’ve had most of them myself. A lot of these tie into PTSD, and a lot of these can become PTSD if they’re not dealt with. So there’s a lot of long term consequences to not fighting back against your trauma reactions and retraining your brain to have healthier reactions. When I learned about all of this stuff, I started to realize, I know enough of this to be able to teach this to other people. And I’ve already been through the hard parts. I don’t figured it out the hard way. So if I can help anybody to skip having to do this the hard way, it’s still going to be hard. But I’m going to cut out all of the crap that you don’t need and give you the stuff that you actually do need. I can actually help people. My plan wasn’t to become a trauma recovery mentor until I found that this was something that I had already been doing for quite a while with several people. Other trafficking survivors, other trauma survivors, domestic violence survivors. All kinds of people were coming to me and saying, how do you do this? How do you overcome this? How do you fight back against this? So I finally started to build my own curriculum. This is how you do this. I can help you, and we can go through it together. And that was about the time that I realized that everything that I’d been through, that was where the little boy was telling me to go. That’s what God was telling me to do, was I needed to help others to get through their hard times too. I’ve got a voice. I have the ability to express myself in writing and in painting and on stages. And if I can do this, if people are willing to listen, if people are willing to pay attention, they can learn how to do it too.

00:45:20 – Johnny Sanders
You have a very unique place in the kind of anti trafficking type of movement. You’ve lived it, you breathed it, and those experiences do matter. I can try to speak for somebody, and I can do the best job I can. I can’t speak with the same weight you do. It’s impossible for me to I’ve not lived the same things that you have. Now, that being said, I would imagine those people that are listening to this, most of which have not experienced anything near the degree that you personally had, but they hear some of these trafficking stories and they want to be involved. They want to help in some way, shape, or form. What is your advice for those that don’t have the same experiences but still want to help? What can they do?

00:46:16 – Amanda Blackwood
I would say look into organizations in your area or internationally, but vet the organizations if you do decide to work with them. Find out what the money is being spent on. There are organizations out there that will absolutely share the story of a human trafficking survivor in order to gain more money through ways of donations. And the survivor whose story they took doesn’t receive any compensation at all. This is a further exploitation of the victim. Then you have to make sure that you know where the money is being spent. If there’s somebody who is running an anti trafficking organization who had previously, let’s say, a government job and is living in a $6 million house that, you know, government money wouldn’t have been able to pay for, you have to ask where that money came from. But there are a lot of organizations out there that are survivor led. And it’s important to understand that when we say survivor led, these organizations might not have been founded by a survivor of human trafficking. Many of them are. But they have survivors of trafficking who are in a position now to be able to help mentor the others to get from the place of being a victim to being a survivor to thriving. There’s one in Colorado Springs called Compass 31. It is a fantastic organization that does a lot for the survivors. There’s one in Denver here called Beautiful Feet Wellness. She does yoga classes and retreats for survivors of trafficking. There’s, of course, a light. Those are the people that lined me up with the Pro Bono Legal Services. If you’re looking for an organization to get involved with, these smaller organizations need a lot of help. And they’re doing the boots on the ground work. They’re working so hard for the rehabilitation and for helping those who need it most. It’s so important to make sure that you know where the money is going. And if you look at the Compass 31 website, they actually have the seal of transparency. They will absolutely share where every single penny goes, every single year that they’re in business. That’s important to recognize, and it’s important to partner with organizations like that that need it most.

00:48:32 – Johnny Sanders
I think that’s key and really in anything that you give money to. But especially these hot topic type of things like that. And I would share this even aside from a specific cause like that, like human trafficking, and even into just Christian based type of organizations as well, even different type of churches. I think what you’re saying is really important in general with any type of giving. Giving is a fantastic thing to do. I think, especially as a Christian. That is something that we are very much called to do. But we’re also called to be good stewards. And a place could look real clean, look real nice. They have a good looking website and then just clicking donate. Maybe it’s good. Maybe. But I think doing your homework like you’re saying is really important. And that sounds like a really key tenet of a good organization is. Are they transparent? Because if they’re not, there’s probably a reason behind that. There unfortunately are a lot of nonprofits and organizations that have some shady underbellies that do bad things.

00:49:49 – Amanda Blackwood
Absolutely. I’ve run into several of them, and it’s scary when you run into those too. They’re absolutely taking advantage of everybody out there. They’re victimizing everybody. Not just the victims of trafficking, not just the parishioners. They’re taking advantage of anybody willing to listen to their sob story.

00:50:11 – Johnny Sanders
With that when you’re talking about boots on the ground, just those local organizations. Are there other kind of quick tips to different questions to ask? Like, should I look at the financial sheets? Are there parts on the websites that we need to be looking for? What are some of those practical steps of those local organizations people can do to kind of vet them out a little bit better?

00:50:41 – Amanda Blackwood
Definitely look at the financials that is key and paramount in 90% of everything that we’re doing with the anti trafficking stuff. But also, if you are looking at their website, if you’re paying attention to what it is that they’re doing, if there is one group that has more notoriety than any other, you have to ask yourself, why are they spending money on advertising? How deep are their pockets and where is that money going? There’s one recently that had a movie made about them. And you have to understand what human trafficking looks like too, to make sure that they’re not exploiting what the media is portraying as human trafficking, because that is so separate from what it actually is. So the Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or sex acts from another person. You notice there’s no mention of transportation. So human smuggling is a separate issue from true human trafficking, and there’s no mention of money. So prostitution does not equal human trafficking. Human trafficking does not equal prostitution. 95% of women in prostitution are being trafficked. Somebody else is making the money, and they are forced frauded or coerced into doing labor sex acts. But there are literally millions of people being trafficked every single day, and prostitution only takes up a small part of that. We talk about human trafficking here in the US. And nine times out of ten, what people are thinking is automatically sex trafficking. That is what happened to me. But that only makes up 14% of trafficking worldwide. The majority of trafficking, like, something like 80% of trafficking worldwide is labor trafficking. We’re talking child soldiers in Africa. We’re talking migrant workers here in the US. These are people that are being forced frauded or coerced into working labor, and they’re not receiving the benefit of their work. So another thing that we really have to watch out for is the people that are touting the kidnap scenario. We think that kidnapping only happens to children being kidnapped off the streets by greasy looking dudes in windowless vans. The kidnap vans. We all watch for the kidnap vans. Let’s get real. Especially growing up in the way I did. You learn about stranger danger. Well, the biggest danger doesn’t come from strangers. 85% of all people trafficked are trafficked by people they know and trust and love who have a sense of authority over their lives. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, boyfriends, girlfriends. In my case, it was a boyfriend, then it was landlords, and then it was a fiance. With all of that, my case, all three of the times that I was trafficked are far more typical than what anybody could ever possibly imagine. But that’s not what the media talks about. That’s not what some of these anti trafficking organizations are talking about. So when they start talking about the kidnapping scenarios, you have to ask, what’s their motive here? Because that’s such a small percentage of the actual cases. When they start talking about Save Our Children, that became a political hashtag a couple of years ago. It is not a political issue. It doesn’t matter what side of politics you lie on. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white or Asian or Mexican or Hispanic. It doesn’t matter. Human trafficking can affect anyone and everyone. It doesn’t even matter how old you are. The last time I was trafficked, I was 31 years old. The whole save our children thing. The youngest person here in Colorado that was saved from trafficking was only three months old. The oldest was 70.

00:54:36 – Johnny Sanders
Wow. Yeah.

00:54:40 – Amanda Blackwood
We have to recognize that it is not what the media portrays it as. And if you run across these anti trafficking organizations that claim that they’re doing the hard work and they only have a focus on kidnap victims or people under the age of 18, ask yourself why?

00:55:00 – Johnny Sanders
That’s a really good point. And unfortunately, we do live in a kind of a clickbait type of culture. What’s the big story that could really get you riled up? And nonprofits and things like that can do the very same thing. And I think you saying asking those questions, why especially, and I think this is another piece that I would imagine you would agree with, is just arming yourself with knowledge in general. Now, I know that sex trafficking is a piece of it, but it’s not even close to the whole puzzle. It’s a minority of it. 70 year old being trafficked. That is not that narrative of that little child being kidnapped. So arming yourself with that knowledge allows you to ask those questions of why are they propping that up and that curiosity continue going on that will kind of lead you down a path of asking good questions and maybe being able to narrow down ways that you can actually help. And the good news is, as you had mentioned, even in your own local community, there are organizations actually doing that. You just have to do your homework.

00:56:22 – Amanda Blackwood
Absolutely. And it’s worth doing the homework. And if you don’t have money to be able to offer to these organizations, you can offer your time, you can offer your resources. There’s so many different ways to help. If you don’t know how to help, call the organizations and say, hey, I’m broke, I don’t have any money. How can I help you? They will give you something.

00:56:42 – Johnny Sanders
Yeah, that’s good because I’ll give you an example. This wasn’t with a trafficking organization, but my wife, a couple of years ago, she volunteered at a local crisis pregnancy center. And she wasn’t giving a dime of her money, but she was able to organize things there. In the closet, they had some clothes and diapers and things like that. And she was able to do that again financially. She didn’t give a penny there. But she helped pretty drastically for that organization. And yeah, trafficking organizations, any other place like that, they’ll find something for you to do for sure. I’m imagining there are a million ways that you could help even if it’s not given a dime.

00:57:31 – Amanda Blackwood
Absolutely. And that’s the way it is with basically any real charity that you want to get involved with. If they can’t find something for you to do, they probably don’t need your money either.

00:57:41 – Johnny Sanders
Yeah, that’s a really good way to phrase that. Last thing I kind of wanted to get into with you, especially armed with this knowledge that it’s not going to just be a stranger. In fact, it more than likely wouldn’t be a stranger. It’s not just a young girl that will be sexually trafficked. What are ways that for individuals listening to this and maybe individuals that have loved ones that they’re wanted to arm with protection, how can people be protected themselves to not even get into trafficking to begin with?

00:58:21 – Amanda Blackwood
One of the biggest keys is to avoid manipulative behaviors in other people. Watch for these things and see them for the red flags that they are and run. Nine times out of ten, when somebody is trafficked, it’s by somebody that has the power to manipulate. The whole kidnapping scenario is so rare because if you were to snatch somebody off the street, what’s the first thing that person is going to do? They’re going to fight. They’re going to fight for their life, depends on it. Because as far as they know, their life does depend on it. The average lifespan of somebody in trafficking is only seven years. At the end of that, usually they’re dead. Less than 2% of all victims actually survive. It is imperative that we stop people from getting involved with people who have these manipulative behaviors. They will absolutely prey on somebody. They look for somebody that has something missing from their life, and they promise that to them in order to get their trust and to start building this relationship and eventually exploit them, use it against them, they will threaten them. You’ll start to see behavioral changes in people. If somebody is going through something like that, it might just be domestic violence, and it could be something as nefarious as human trafficking, but all of it needs to be taken seriously. One of the greatest things that we can do for our fellow man is to take a moment to step back and do what that little boyfriend did for me that day. He didn’t have to say the words, but he said them with his eyes. Are you okay? What can I do to help? Are you okay?

01:00:08 – Johnny Sanders
That is something incredibly important on the individual side, that there’s some type of psychological term to this. I’m kind of blanking on it, but essentially it’s just trusting your gut. There’s a red flag there. The way that they looked at me, the way that they’re kind of coming across, maybe I’m able to pinpoint exactly what it is, but maybe I’m not. But listening to that, we don’t want to just shove that down and act like it’s nothing, because it very well could be. And also listening to the loved ones around us, not that they’re right about everything, but if everybody else is around us picking up on something, and I’m not, something’s off, and we need to listen to those cues there. And then also on the other side, I do have a good psychological, sociological term for this, and that’s the bystander effect. And that’s unfortunately incredibly common, where if there is an emergency that happens, somebody’s down on the pavement there, and there’s a lot of people around, we tend to have the viewpoint that, well, somebody else will get to it. Yeah, there’s 100 other people. They’ll get to it. I don’t need to call 911. And then people just die alone out on the street sometimes. And you need to take that onus. Not just in an emergency situation like that. Although, yes, don’t wait for someone to call 911. You go do it. But just like that little boy, somebody that just looks like they’re distraught, you don’t even necessarily have to say a word. But that little boy communicated. So much to you. Just with his eyes. That cashier at Walmart that looks like they’re having a rough day. Hey, I hope you have a good day, ma’am. Thanks for your help. Those little things, asking questions, checking in on a loved one that you haven’t talked to in a while, you have no idea how much that can mean to somebody. And that’s something that we’re trying to engage our kids with, not just with trafficking, but especially with sexual abuse things just in general, because we know that with sexual abuse, like with trafficking, it’s generally with people that they know. And we’re trying to not scare our kids, but also just say, like, hey, we’re going to check in with you. If somebody ever does touch you in a bad place, like, you can talk to Mommy and Daddy, but Mommy and Daddy are also going to pick up on your cues. If you’re really off, we’re going to ask you what’s wrong? And that’s because we love them, and we want to make sure that they’re okay. And you need to be doing the same thing with your loved ones around you. If something’s off, they’re not talking, and they’re usually Mr. Or Mrs. Chatterbox. Something’s off, and maybe it’s something minor. Maybe their dog died and they need to talk about it. But maybe something really big is going on. So don’t be afraid to ask those questions. Just asking what’s going on. You look upset. Minor things, and they may really open up to you. So don’t miss that. Don’t miss the other people around you. And as we both believe, as being believers, god put that little boy there in your life 100%. He put him there. And God is putting you there right now to speak to other trafficking women and men and other people that have been involved in these difficult situations. But listeners, god’s placing you in your life for a reason, too. Maybe it’s to talk more into your kids. Maybe it’s to be involved with somebody in your community. I don’t know. But don’t miss those moments every day. You can make an impact to somebody that’s around you.

01:04:17 – Amanda Blackwood
Absolutely. Remember to love your neighbors.

01:04:19 – Johnny Sanders
Yes, 100%. That is reason why that is a very strong command in Scripture. And those neighbors are not just the people that live right next door to you. They’re all throughout your community.

01:04:35 – Amanda Blackwood
Yeah, check in with people. I love the way you put that. It would have made a world of difference that day if one person had asked me, Are you okay? I may have actually been able to get some help. I had to go back and get through everything for a couple more months after that. It could have changed if somebody had asked, Are you okay? And looking back, the reason I believe that didn’t happen was to instill that value in me now that I know the power of asking, Are you okay? And I do check in on my friends. And every now and then I just get this weird feeling something’s not right with this person over here. And I’ll check in with them, and usually it’s because there’s something pretty serious going on. And God has put it on my heart to check in on them because he knows that I’m going to understand what they’re going through.

01:05:34 – Johnny Sanders
Yeah, there’s times that we undervalue the role that we serve now as Christians. We certainly believe that we’re not a workspace religion. It’s based on God’s grace on us. It’s nothing that we did, but how joyous that is to be involved and to be involved in somebody’s life, to ask if you’re okay and they tell us something’s wrong is going on, that is a joy to be a part of that. And we need to view that as a joy that we get to be involved in somebody’s life that way, instead of just, oh, well, I need to give them their space. I don’t want to be involved in their junk. I’ve got enough going on in my life. That’s just not the way that we’re supposed to live.

01:06:29 – Amanda Blackwood
Right.

01:06:32 – Johnny Sanders
Well, I’m imagining people listening to this have heard your story, probably want to get in touch with you, maybe know more about the things you’re currently doing, know about your book. So give the audience all the links and things like that of how they can read your book and get to know more about you.

01:06:53 – Amanda Blackwood
Well, I just published my 13th book on June 1, so all of my books you can find on Barnes and Noble. If you want a Kindle version, you can find that on Amazon too. But the paperback versions are Barnes and Noble exclusives. You can find links to all of them through my website, growthfromdarkness.com. You can also find a link there to reach out to me on Facebook, which is Amanda Blackwood. I’m very active on Facebook and I love chatting with people openly there about anything and everything. I’ve had a health journey recently I’m very open about, and I talk to people about this all the time about just because we see everybody else’s highlight reels doesn’t mean that we can’t be transparent in our own lives and show people the real side of life. I also have an Etsy page if people are interested in getting prints of my artwork. I have an exclusive one man art show coming up in the month of August, so I’m holding back on a lot of the original artworks. But starting in September, a lot of this stuff is going to be offered on Etsy, anything that doesn’t sell at this art show. So definitely watch for that too.

01:08:03 – Johnny Sanders
Awesome. Well, I’ll have all of that linked down in the show notes. It’s been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much, Amanda, for sharing your story with us and also giving us some tangible ways that we can all be involved in anti trafficking movements.

01:08:20 – Amanda Blackwood
Absolutely. And thank you for listening. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to use my voice and to help other people to find ways to get involved.

01:08:28 – Johnny Sanders
Absolutely. And thank you again to everybody that tuned in for this latest episode. And I hope you all have a wonderful week and we’ll see you again sooner. Close.