“I had a male friend who was like a Romeo pimp,” says Joni Wilkinson, a lifelong Eugenean who has worked in her dad’s insurance business since her Sheldon High School years. “He was manipulating me to get to my daughter. When he was pulled over and arrested on the way to my house, I found out he was a sex offender, wanted in three states.”
Wilkinson began researching sex offenders who use social media for grooming, trauma bonding and mind control to traffick teens. “I started sharing on social media,” she says. “I had survivors from all over the U.S. emailing me.”
Five years ago, she started One’s Purpose, an organization and website devoted to bringing awareness of human trafficking and providing assistance to survivors. “I contacted schools,” she continues. “Churchill High School let me come in and share. My daughter was going to Churchill.”
These efforts introduced her to Rhonda Riddle, a Eugene native with personal experience of being trafficked. “I was kidnapped from the downtown bus station when I was 14,” Riddle relates, “and taken into sex trafficking until I escaped at age 22. I was trafficked in every state but Alaska and Hawaii. They train girls to make friends with high school students on their lunch break at DQ and McDonald’s so that we can introduce them to our pimps.”
After her escape, Riddle spent 21 years in near total isolation, afraid to go anywhere alone. She recently found a therapist who specializes in EMDR (rapid eye movement) therapy, a Vietnam vet who has helped her to heal. “And with that, I met Joni,” she says. “I was blown away by her dedication. I helped her turn One’s Purpose into a nonprofit in May of 2021. Our biggest goal is to raise enough money for a safe house rehabilitation program.”
From 6:30 to 8:30 pm Friday, Jan. 28, the Junior League of Eugene, in partnership with One’s Purpose, will hold its third annual Abolish Human Trafficking Event at the Valley River Inn. “We have nine survivors speaking at this event,” Wilkinson says, “and we’ll provide basic training on how to recognize the grooming process.” Admission is free, but please register at the Junior League website, JLEugene.org, or watch online through Facebook Live. Find One’s Purpose at OnesPurpose.com.