Dianna Bautista: hairdresser, blogger, and human rights advocate. There aren’t many people who would give up their own lives to improve the lives of women half a world away, but that’s exactly what she did. In 2014, she sold everything she owned—house, car, and possessions—and moved to Southeast Asia, heeding the call to serve victims of sex trafficking. She now calls the jewel-tone country of Thailand home. By way of Cambodia, Dianna is a permanent resident of Pattaya, a coastal city infamous for child sex trafficking and sex tourism.
The move wasn’t easy. Dianna admits she ignored God’s call on her life for too long. “I feel like God was annoyed with me for a while,” she says, laughing. For years Dianna traveled between her home in California and developing nations, planting beauty school programs and teaching women how to cut hair in Brazil, Kenya, Uganda, and Mexico. It wasn’t until a good friend put things into perspective that she decided to make the leap.
“He said to me, ‘You don’t have to go, but if you don’t, then someone else will and that person will reap the blessings instead of you because you were too afraid.’”
Even though the divine assignment was one she’d never anticipated receiving, Dianna accepted her new life as a permanent resident of Southeast Asia. Today she lives in Pattaya, Thailand—the unofficial world capitol of child sex trafficking and sex tourism. Extravagant resorts built on breathtaking beaches attract tourists from all over the world. Yet an uglier, more popular attraction awaits visitors on the streets of the city.
Nightclubs, bars, and brothels thrive on selling children and women into sex trafficking. Often, impoverished parents sell their children into the industry out of desperation. The juxtaposition of Pattaya’s natural beauty with the corruption of its nightlife holds the city captive from progressing, in the same way it holds its people captive from knowing truth and justice.Less than 1% of all sex trafficking victims get rescued, let alone receive a trial to face their perpetrator.
Dianna visits Pattaya’s brothels frequently, building relationships with sex workers and meeting their owners. The cultural importance of respect in Thailand is not lost on Pattaya’s growing sex industry. Customers are ordered to take off their shoes and wash their hands before going upstairs. The workers, dressed scandalously to attract customers, bow humbly to Dianna when she enters their place of business. They greet her with a formal Thai hello—“Sawadee ka.”
Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country, and there are only a handful of organizations in Pattaya working to rescue and restore the emotionally and physically broken victims of human trafficking. One of the few local organizations is Thrive Rescue, which recently launched The Justice School to equip and teach young people how to effectively combat human trafficking. The school empowers its students to use their God-given talents to fight for justice and bring light to the darkness of Pattaya.
In addition to running The Justice School, Thrive Rescue’s staff provides physical, psychological, and spiritual care for survivors rescued from the sex trade. Restoration happens in the nurturing environment of Thrive’s safe homes, which extend love and compassion to victims. Thrive’s program restores dignity and instills survivors with new worth that extends beyond their bodies.
Dianna, a beloved staff member of The Justice School, used her hairdressing gifts to create her own vocational program called Shear Love. The program is an initiative of Thrive Rescue. Its mission is simple: give women workplace skills by teaching them to cut hair. Its spiritual impact is monumental.
Through the relational outreach of students at the Justice School to victims in Pattaya, Dianna has enrolled many young women into Shear Love’s beauty school program. By giving them new opportunities and skills, she empowers victims to embrace their true value and support their families financially when they leave the brothels. Sometimes, the program even prevents families from selling their young daughters into the industry.
“Sunisa is a young girl who was about to be sold by her family,” Dianna says. “They needed her to work.” But before she became a victim, Sunisa was rescued by the Shear Love program.
It’s stories like Sunisa’s that are changing the treatment of women and children in Pattaya and the greater nation of Thailand. They are stories of great victory and profound hope. They are stories of love’s power to redefine the values of our world. These are the stories that keep Dianna and the Thrive Rescue team moving forward, befriending new victims and their families every day. We hope that you’ll join us in praying for and supporting Thrive Rescue, The Justice School, and Shear Love. Keep coming back for more updates on the life-changing work they’re doing in Pattaya, Thailand.
To support Dianna in her fundraising efforts for Shear Love International, visit shearloveinternational.org.
By Noelle Medina