Chelsea Watkins knew she wanted to make a difference with her life.
After graduating from John Brown University in 2010 with a double major in intercultural studies and Spanish, Watkins took on a six-month internship with The Salvation Army in their human trafficking department.
During what she referred to as a “long semester,” she sought to develop her desire to promote human rights.
Deborah Fikes, who works for both the United Nations and World Evangelical Alliance, recommended the internship to Watkins.
“The description of the internship that made me want to spend my summer at The Salvation Army said that I would be involved in doing research about trafficking and be aiding in the advocacy of anti-trafficking,” Watkins said.
Watkins found the trust she had in the people who recommended the internship to be the biggest factor in her decision to take the opportunity.
Warren Roby, professor of language studies, said Watkins has always been sensitive and aware of her surroundings.
“I’m sure Chelsea’s work in D.C. was raised by her consciousness of her intercultural studies background,” Roby said.
Roby added that The Salvation Army internship would provide good networking for Watkins as she looked into working for other anti-human trafficking programs or going to graduate school.
Watkins spent six months in Washington, D.C. with The Salvation Army. She conducted research on domestic sex trafficking, compiled statistical data, drafted articles for periodicals and did many other tasks.
She said that there was never a “typical” day on the job, since some days the house she lived in would be hosting 20 people, and others none.
Watkins also found herself traveling often for meetings from the Capitol to Arizona, The United Nations and Harvard Law School.
“The people that I was able to meet and network with were unforgettable,” Watkins said.
Watkins interned for both Deborah Fikes and The Salvation Army while in D.C. As an intern, she worked with Fikes on a project for the World Evangelical Alliance and lived at Fikes’ house in D.C. where she hosted influential international leaders.
Watkins’ internship with Fikes allowed her to participate in a presentation on sustainability at the White House, which she says was by far her coolest experience.
“We made a huge map out of recycled clothing called ‘Green the Golden Rule Quilt,’” Watkins said.
“Our goal was to present stewardship of the environment and the increase of sustainable jobs and practices within the U.S. as an inter-faith issue that has effects on the poorest of the poor internationally,” explained Watkins. “Another goal we had was to diminish the perception that many in the Northeast have that evangelical Christians do not think environmental issues are important.”
Watkins knows God worked in her in big ways during her internship. She lived off of money that she had saved up prior to the trip so that she could focus solely on her internship while she was there. She acknowledges that God was faithful and that she had to trust in God’s provision when things were hard.
Watkins also broadened her view on sex trafficking as a whole over the past months.
“I learned a ton about sex trafficking and the connections it has to porn and prostitution,” she said. “The things I learned were devastating and gruesome. I also learned a lot from law enforcement and social workers who are on the front lines of dealing with this issue. This issue is complex and everyone is still trying to figure out how to combat it.”
The best suggestion Watkins heard regarding the issue of human trafficking is people should put more emphasis on the men who buy sex. This addresses the demand side of the problem, instead of only focusing on prevention, education and rescuing those it effects.
“Please don’t misunderstand, I think all we have been doing has been good, but like any issue, where there is demand, people will find supply,” Watkins said.
Watkins took what she learned from her internship and found herself back in Northwest Arkansas working for Walmart Asset Protection.
“I am hoping this job is a foot in the door, and that eventually I will be able to move into an area of corporate accountability, like ethical sourcing, which ensures that no child labor or enslavement is occurring in our factories abroad,” Watkins said. “This would allow me to engage my passion for human rights within the driven corporate context.”