You would be hard-pressed to find a woman more driven than Melissa Dotson. Dotson, a JFK-based Flight Attendant, lives to fly and loves to help others. When she’s not delivering excellent service here at Endeavor Air, she is leveraging her love of flying to deliver compassion around the world.
This story follows Melissa on a recent trip to Accra, Ghana. The content is difficult to see and hear, but it’s an important story that Melissa wanted her colleagues to know about. According to Equality Now, a non-profit that focuses on gender equality and global exploitation of women, more than 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into sexual servitude or forced labor; 60 percent of identified trafficking survivors were victims of sexual exploitation. Melissa Dotson is determined to do something about it.
On a dimly lit, bustling city block in downtown Accra, Ghana, Melissa Dotson is literally saving lives. It’s dusk, the streets are hot, and the women of Accra’s night are making their way from the shadows into view, many against their will. The dangerous and seedy underworld of the sex traffic industry pulls young African women in, and rarely offers them a way out. Dotson has made it her life’s mission to put herself in the mix, delivering a message of hope for young women who feel trapped and alone.
“These streets are dangerous, but when I say ‘dangerous’, it’s not what we think ‘dangerous’ is,” Dotson said. “It’s surely worse. All it takes is a text message from a pimp or abductor, and I’d be taken out.”
Guarded closely by her brother-in-law, a police detective, and her husband, Paul, an intelligence officer tasked with protecting the president of Ghana, the three are working undercover to offer assistance to young women who may not know another way.
On this night, Melissa is drawn to a young woman who goes by the name “Janice,” and with her phone in hand, records her conversations.
Janice tells Melissa she came to Ghana from Nigeria to pursue a career as a hairdresser. The shop owner she works for had other plans. Janice has been thrust into prostitution to make ends meet, and in the audio recording, you can hear the fear and trepidation in discussing her situation.
Melissa tells her she want to help, and that the efforts of her self-funded non-profit organization – Heaven Flight – has led the two to meet. The conversation spans many topics, including her belief that faith caused their paths to cross, and that Melissa’s business outreach can help Janice out of the dark life she leads.
“I’m doing this alone, but there are people willing to help you,” Melissa can be heard telling Janice. “I’m not doing this to help me, it’s to help you. We want to help you.”
After some hesitation, Janice agrees to take Melissa’s contact information and tells her she will be in touch. The emotional response is raw and real, the audio leads you to believe the transaction will open the door for life-changing – and life-saving – collaboration between Janice and Melissa. But just as quickly as the two met, the conversation ends and the two go their separate ways.
Later in the evening, Melissa approaches another young woman – Regina – who is standing outside a noisy nightclub. In a cell phone video, you can see Regina is dressed to impress. Regina tells Melissa the decision she makes to work in the world of prostitution is hers alone; however, according to Equality Now, many in the sex trade world are isolated, intimidated, and live under constant mental and physical threat.
“Are you wanting something more from your life?” Melissa asks Regina.
“Yes, I want to stop this,” the young woman admits.
Melissa tells Regina that her organization can help her achieve her dream of establishing a small business selling provisions to her local community, while creating a pathway to personal and financial independence. The two talk on camera for more than five minutes before Melissa concludes the conversation.
“Thank you for talking with me,” she tells Regina. “You are going to help other women, because in prostitution itself, there’s a way out. Don’t ever feel that there’s not a way out.”
Melissa Dotson feels called to lead this charge through her faith, and it’s her role with Endeavor Air that allows her the flexibility to change lives. With her global travel benefits at Endeavor, she is able to travel back to Ghana several times a year. Each trip brings new opportunities to empower the young women she meets in Ghana. After each conversation, she leaves behind a simple message: “I believe God brought us together, there is a reason we met.”
The battle against sex trafficking is a global fight. Thanks to women like Melissa Dobson, the battlefield is shrinking and the message is being delivered, one conversation at a time.