Human trafficking is prevalent worldwide, even in more developed countries such as the United States. Around 4 million people are trafficked each year—with 50% of trafficking victims being children—taken for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Areas that have recently suffered a natural disaster are especially vulnerable to human traffickers, and this hidden aftermath caught the attention of Headwaters Relief Organization, a non-profit disaster relief collaboration of volunteers that supports the needs of families and communities after natural or man-made disasters.

“We have encountered trafficking nationally and internationally in our disaster work,” comments Headwaters Relief Organization Founder Rebecca Thomley, PsyD. “Traffickers may take advantage of children and families made vulnerable by these conditions.”

Headwaters provides support for those who have endured human trafficking, but their focus is on providing preventative education to raise awareness of human trafficking as well as the harmful social and cultural practices that can lead to it.

Author Shamim Sarif; photo by Marta L. Rekaa

The organization caught the attention of author, screenwriter, and director Shamim Sarif, whose stories often encompass social justice. Her new novel, The Athena Protocol, is a YA thriller that addresses trafficking as a global issue. In the book, Athena is a top secret, socially conscious, all-female organization that combats injustice against women and children around the world. The protagonist, Jessie, is a young, hot-headed agent embroiled in a daring mission to take down a human trafficking operation in Belgrade.

“Stories can be empowering, giving us characters we identify with and a framework to understand our own lives and humanity,” Sarif says. “I hope to build awareness amongst young adults who read The Athena Protocol and perhaps motivate them to make a difference with this global problem.”

For every book that is purchased through the Amazon and IndieBound links on her author website, Sarif has pledged to donate 100% of her affiliate fees to Headwaters Relief Organization.

“We are keenly aware of the need to educate potential victims, families and community leaders about the possibility of trafficking and to further support those who have experienced trafficking,” says Thomley. “What excites us about partnering with Shamim Sarif is that it promotes our vision for reaching young people who are our future for positive change.”

Both Sarif and Headwaters recognize the impact of storytelling, and I am so excited that this important issue is being brought to the spotlight in the YA community. Human trafficking can be easy to overlook because it often goes unseen, even when it’s happening in our own backyards.

Thomley shared the following safety strategies with the intent to encourage families to talk with their children about this topic. However, this is an important discussion that can be had between friends and siblings as well. Think through the following tips and tactics so you too can have growing awareness in these areas:

  • Monitor those in close contact with your family. “People who approach those in need may not always have good intentions.”
  • Never allow children to travel alone to or from school or activities.
  • Tell them where to go, and who to trust, should they feel uncomfortable or threatened. “Teach children to use a sign or word when they feel uncomfortable, as a cue to let family know they need help.”
  • Parents should routinely check children’s emails and phones. “This is often how children are approached.”


To order The Athena Protocol, publishing October 8, 2019, visit  For a preview, read the 1st chapter here!

To learn more about how Headwaters Relief Organization is trying to prevent human trafficking around the world, visit


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