Philly’s Ellyn Jo Waller to be honored for anti-human trafficking ministry

Since 2005, Ellyn Jo Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia has been working to help those caught up in human trafficking. (Courtesy of Ellyn Jo Waller)

Since 2005, Ellyn Jo Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia has been working to help those caught up in human trafficking. (Courtesy of Ellyn Jo Waller)

A Philadelphia woman who began an anti-human trafficking ministry at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church will be honored tonight in Washington.

The tribute to Ellyn Jo Waller will be part of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s Black History Month celebration and symposium. Waller, who has an Ed.D. and is wife of Enon Pastor Alyn Waller, founded the She’s My Sister ministry in 2011. At the time, her daughters Elynn Morgan Johnson and Erica Lynn Waller were 13 and 14, the average age that young women get pulled into human trafficking, she said.

“I couldn’t imagine the pain of mothers who had children who were affected by this horrific crime against humanity,” Waller said. She began the work so people would know human trafficking has a presence locally, it’s not just something happening far away from Philadelphia.

She says the ministry has a three-pronged approach: advocacy, awareness and outreach.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“We have visited Senator Casey’s office in D.C. We’ve visited Senator Toomey’s office. We have lobbied at the Capitol. I’ve had conversations with persons connected in the governor’s office around the issue, too. And so, we’re really pushing for ways in which to get people to realize this is real and it impacts all of us,” she said.

Even before starting her own ministry, Waller worked with Covenant House and the Salvation Army to support trafficking survivors. She joined the Philadelphia Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition in 2009.

“We partner directly with the Greater Philadelphia Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking program. And by doing that, we have weekly volunteering down at the New Day center in Kensington, which, you know, is an area that’s ravaged by trafficking and the opioid crisis and addiction and poverty,” she explained.

Waller also hopes that through her advocacy she can help change the narrative about survivors and those who voluntary enter human sex trafficking groups because they feel they have no other option.

“The thing that I try to help people understand is, because of the ways in which persons of color are experiencing greater levels of poverty and trauma, these are factors that can make people vulnerable. Persons of color are disproportionately represented as victims of human trafficking,” she said.

According to the FBI, 40 percent of victims of sex trafficking are African Americans, with that number can be even larger in the major metropolitan areas.

A Philly Voice article states that a study conducted in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Phoenix found that 14 percent of homeless youth identified themselves as victims of sex trafficking. Among these sex trafficking victims, 33 percent identified as LGBTQ.

“What I would hope is that as the discussions happen [during the symposium in D.C.], and the panel happens, people will be more aware [of human sex trafficking issues]. I think lots of times people, particularly when they think about the issue, they think about the sensationalized Hollywood version of the issue,” Waller said.

Waller is one of three Pennsylvania women to be honored at the event in Washington: Kathi Elliott of Pittsburgh and Rosemary Browne of Harrisburg.

“[They] are leaders who exemplify the incredible work that is being done in Pennsylvania to support children and families. They have dedicated their lives to providing young Pennsylvanians with the opportunity to learn and grow in their communities and I am honored to have them join me in Washington to celebrate their accomplishments and discuss the work that we can continue to do together,” said Sen. Casey.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal