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Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST), Fighting Human Trafficking, and Starting a Nonprofit :: with Amanda Hightower and Brent Turner

In this episode of Ventures we dive into the horrors of human trafficking within the sex trade, specifically in and around the greater Seattle area. We look at one group’s efforts (REST - Real Escape from the Sex Trade) to combat the problem by providing a suite of services, working closely with law enforcement, and ensuring all people being trafficked understand they are worthy of love.

We also dive deep into how REST got started, and how the relationship between the executive director and board chair is an important story to learn from for any for-profit or nonprofit founder team.

You can watch this episode below or listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

My guests are Amanda Hightower (REST Executive Director) and Brent Turner (REST Board Chair) and we dive into a wide variety of topics detailed below:

2:50 - Amanda initial intro

3:14 - Brent initial intro

3:56 - Amanda background, journey before and intro REST

6:58 - Late night outreach? What is it? Who was Amanda doing it with?

8:42 - Timing of outreach events throughout the day and night

9:29 - What is the interaction experience like with women and men Amanda was reaching out to on the street?

11:38 - What compelled Amanda personally to enter into the work of helping people leave the sex trade?

14:13 - Brent’s background, professional history, management journey as a business operator,

18:28 - What was/is it about being a business operator that is appealing to Brent?

21:15 - How did Brent’s journey intersect with Amanda’s? What compelled Brent to get into the work of fighting human trafficking?

27:33 - Amanda describing how she wasn’t sure she had what it took to be a non-profit executive director, but Brent’s encouragement was a game-changer.

28:20 - Will commenting about his admiration for both Amanda as an ED and Brent as a board chair.

29:25 - After the meeting at the pizza restaurant, where did the story go from there? Amanda continues, describing the formation of the heart and vision/mission behind REST.

35:49 - Will commenting about how Amanda and the team were remarkable in their ability to listen to the needs of human beings and do what it takes to help them.

36:21 - What was the landscape of the space and services in the Seattle area in the late 2000s? How many people were being bought/sold for sex regularly?

37:59 - Has the problem in the Seattle area grown, decreased, or stayed the same in the last ten years?

39:15 - How has REST worked with law enforcement during the last ten years?

40:10 - Brent describing first how the language of trafficking has changed in the wake of recent notable events, and much more attention has been brought to the “demand” side. There are somewhere around 20k buyers in the greater Seattle area alone. Wrapping his head around these numbers compelled him even more to jump in and help fight against the multitude of problems related to this.

43:55 - Law enforcement working with REST to have a place to take victims rather than to the jails, which helps convict traffickers because their victims can be found to testify.

47:17 - Will shares about the two stories that impacted him about REST. One about the ability for law enforcement to have a place to take victims, and the other about how young teenagers in american malls are seduced and enslaved by traffickers.

49:35 - Where is REST today? What services are available?

57:15 - What kind of impact is REST seeing? What kind of numbers does REST track?

1:00:47 - Almost 200 people leaving the life for more than 1yr via REST services is amazing (!), what do the numbers look like for people leaving for shorter stints / coming in and out of the life? Is it possible to track that effectively?  

1:04:35 - How is REST planning to scale and/or help other organizations spin up to help fight against sex trafficking?

1:07:18 - What would you say to people watching/listening who are thinking about spinning up an organization to fight sex trafficking?

1:09:10 - What advice does Brent have to those in positions to help support future executive directors of nonprofits in this space?

1:11:21 - Amanda describing her operational niche/strength of program development, and learning process as an executive director.

1:11:49 - Brent continuing with advice for future board chairs.

1:17:13 - What advice does Brent have for people considering whether to form a nonprofit or for-profit to get after social impact?

1:20:03 - Amanda, what has been helpful about Brent’s involvement with REST? What do the actions of a good board chair look like?  (Amanda first follows up on her thoughts on the for-profit vs. nonprofit experience, especially regarding how to process advice from business folks….creating and tending to company culture being a big one).

1:23:55 - Will’s side comment about being impressed with Amanda’s ability to continually come back to the vision/mission of REST - especially the important refrain of “everyone deserves to be loved” - and how that clearly infuses decision-making across the whole organization.

1:24:53 - Amanda continues with thoughts on the “what makes a helpful board chair?” topic.

1:30:39 - Will’s “thank you” to Brent on behalf of the REST community

1:31:32 - What kinds of things has Brent done - or do board chairs do - that is not helpful?

1:33:42 - Brent comments about his experience growing into the role as a board chair of REST and seeking advice from a mentor.

1:37:20 - What are the future plans for REST?

1:42:34 - Brent comments about how it’s both great and sometimes scary that an executive team - outside of board input - can grow into a large degree of autonomy and execution.

1:43:32 - Amanda comments about how the REST board empowers and works with the leadership team, but doesn’t direct the strategic plan.

1:44:41 - How can people get involved with REST? Where can people find out more about REST, Amanda, and Brent?