Ever since she and her husband started an organization two and a half years ago to help women escape and recover from sexual exploitation, Britney Higgs said, they have never stopped being amazed at how much help they’ve been given.
“It’s been super faith-building,” she said. “We literally get to witness miracles every day.”
One of them happened late last year, when she and her husband, Sammy Higgs, were in Phoenix for training in “trauma-informed care,” one of many training opportunities they’ve taken advantage of since founding the nonprofit Her Campaign.
They had been wanting to open a safe house for victims of sexual exploitation, and after a long, fruitless search for the right place, they had just found one that fit their needs and budget. Even so, it needed a good security system and some other improvements, for which there was no money at the moment.
Britney Higgs was still in Phoenix when, out of the blue, she got a call from her former photography teacher and mentor at Rocky Mountain College, Dave Shumway, who also has his own photography business.
Shumway told Higgs he had recently switched from Canon to Sony cameras, and had been thinking of selling all his old Canon gear, valued at nearly $32,000. Then he thought of what Higgs and her husband were doing, and he had an idea of how he could help them.
The upshot is an online raffle for the whole package of gear. Her Campaign is selling 500 tickets at $100 apiece, with the winner to be announced on May 10.
As Shumway details it on the Her Campaign raffle page, the package includes multiple camera bodies and lenses, lighting equipment, power packs, carrying cases, tripods, cables “and tons of other random stuff to make it all work well.”
Britney and Sammy Higgs were both commercial filmmakers when they started Her Campaign, and their plan was to make documentary films to raise awareness of the devastating consequences of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
Britney Higgs said the seeds of Her Campaign were planted five years ago, when a friend told her about a mission trip to India and Nepal, where she ministered to women in red-light districts. Higgs said she had heard about sexual exploitation before, but never in such horrifying detail.
“I had no idea,” she said. “My heart broke in a way it hadn’t been broken before.”
She and her husband did a series of filmed profiles called “Her,” telling the stories of women who had made their way out of exploitation. Then, while hiking in Eastern Montana several years ago, Higgs said, she suddenly had a “vision” of what she should do next — open a safe house.
.They ended up selling their house and quitting their jobs to devote themselves full-time to Her Campaign, Higgs said, and on Dec. 1 they opened their first safe house in Billings. It is large enough to house up to four women and now has just one, she said.
Higgs said there are already a lot of resources to help women escape from exploitation and to prosecute their abusers, but not much in the way of housing or continuing care. The depth of trauma they experience is such that they need “one-on-one holistic care,” she said, including counseling, ministry, addiction treatment, and training in basic life skills like healthy eating and good sleep patterns.
Women are usually trafficked in groups, Higgs said, and one way they’re kept in submission is by being encouraged to vie for the attention and “love” of their trafficker, or pimp. So in a safe house, she said, “it’s not always healthy to bring in a lot of girls at one time.”
Their plan is to bring in one woman at a time, for up to six months, and when she is far enough along in recovery to bring in another, and then another. The one woman living in the safe house now is unusual in that she is 57 and “has been through 47 years of intense trauma,” Higgs said.
But she has made a lot of progress, she’s found a job and she wants eventually to be a house mom at Her Campaign’s safe house.
“She’s an incredible woman,” Higgs said. “She has so much in her, and such a loving heart.”
Britney and her husband are also working on another documentary (you can watch the trailer here) , this one about a woman who came out of trafficking 16 years ago and offered to take the filmmakers back to the streets of Atlanta, to track her descent into exploitation.
Higgs said she originally signed up to take Shumway’s photography class at Rocky, where he is an adjunct professor, and that semester he decided to stretch his students a little, and encouraged them to try making films, too, thus launching Higg’s career. Though she stop attending Rocky, she audited every class Shumway taught.
Shumway said he thought of doing a raffle first as a way of keeping his gear together, rather than selling it off piecemeal. And then he thought Higgs and the work she and her husband were doing. “As I made that transition” from Canon to Sony, he said, “I decided to do a little good in the world.”
Higgs said she was overwhelmed by Shumway’s offer and by the generosity of so many people in Billings, including total strangers who’ve sent checks to Her Campaign.
“Our community is awesome,” she said. “They have just rallied around us.”