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  • Anna Hightshue

Mimi Nikkel: Hope When Nobody is There

"Because Chattanooga is located on a main interstate that connects with both the east coast and midwest, we have an extremely high intensity of sex trafficking activity in our city,” says Chattanooga's Mimi Nikkel, founder of Loves Arm.

Mimi Nikkel is sitting in her black mesh rolling chair in her bright white room with sunshine pictures hung up behind her. Her radiant smile beaming, and gentle eyes makes anyone comfortable. While she is such an amazing person she has dealt with sex trafficking as a little girl. She opened up a non-profit organization in Chattanooga called Loves Arm to give women an opportunity to get out of their destructive current lives.

Mimi wants her story to be known, and to show to other victims that you can heal and make a life of your own. Mimi came from a broken home. Her parents divorced when Mimi was 4. Her dad was an alcoholic, and her mom struggled with drug addiction and mental illness. Mimi says, “Drinking was an everyday occurrence in our home. I remember drinking little cherry liquor when my parents were having cocktail parties.”

Mimi was sexually assaulted at the age of 9 to her best friend’s older brother. At 9 and ½ Mimi was raped by the boy in a treehouse. She says, “As time went on he took pornographic pictures of me and sold me and set me up with dates with the boys in my neighborhood.” After she was raped and assaulted, she started drinking heavenly to cope. Her alcohol addiction started at the age of 10. At the age of 12 Mimi ran away with an 18 year old boy. They hitchhiked from Birmingham to Atlanta. In Atlanta she was sold by two men. She says, “I Ended up in an apartment and was sold by them while doing drugs, and that was my introduction to my drug addiction.” She began her drug addiction at the age of 12. She says, “If there was a boy around I had sex with them.” She went to a public school while this was happening. Mimi’s behavior and personality started to change due to the trauma. She began to act out. In 9th grade, Mimi had two options. She could either go to juvenile court or boarding school. She chose boarding school. She went to an all girls boarding school called, Saint Episcopal. She says, “It was really good to be removed from my home environment” During all of this she was struggling with drug addiction. She lived in addiction from 10 to 43 years old. Mimi’s past fuels her passion for her job and organization today.

As the founder of Loves Arm, Mimi’s day to day life in the office starts off with administrative, and data management work to phone calls, and handwritten thank you cards. Next comes meetings, writing grants and working with the volunteers. After all the work is done, she leaves her office in her midnight blue 2011 Toyota Highlander which she calls her “praise mobile.” When getting home she is greeted by her husband and her 10lb Italian grey Hua Hua dog named Jake.

The first step that Loves Arm does to help women is Mimi and her staff go out to designated areas and find women currently involved in sex trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. They hand out bags with supplies that are helpful for the women. The bags are filled with covid items such as masks, basic hygiene items, condoms, food, drinks, clothing, and resources like brochures for outreaches they can contact if they want to try and get help. They never push the women. They want it to be their choice if they want to change and get out of the lives they are in. After they give bags they have a prayer circle and ask how they can pray for them.

They never push the women. They want it to be their choice if they want to change and get out of the lives they are in.

If these women do choose to pursue another life, Loves Arms will support them. For example, Loves Arm staff are helping a woman right now that lives in their housing unit. The woman is getting counseling, treatment, and medication. She also gets 1 on 1 check-ins. She gets weekly groceries. She has transportation if she needs to go anywhere. She is learning to budget what she has. She now knows that she has worth and she is loved. She is applying for her GED as well as trying to find employment. She is also finding a church to get plugged into. Mimi’s team creates a plan for each woman, and pursues their goals, dreams, and desires.

According to the law, Mimi says, “sex trafficking is defined by force fraud or coercion, and it is someone using force fraud or coersion to buy and sell another human being for the sake of sexuality in order to promote their own person gain or profit from that.” Research from Loves Arm shows, “Over 95% women in prostitution/sex trafficking were sexually abused as children” and “75% of predators are in the home- family members or partners of family members.” Mimi Nikkel states that sex education and learning about your body needs to start in the home, and is the only way sex trafficking could be resolved. Parents need to be educating their children at a young age about their body. You have to love and care for your body and know that “no” is not a bad word.

Over 95% women in prostitution/sex trafficking were sexually abused as children, and 75% of predators are in the home--family members or partners of family members.

There are four major areas of sex trafficking: escort services, massage parlors, streets, motels and hotels. Chattanooga is located on a main interstate that connects with both the east coast and the midwest coast. Mimi helped publish the document, “Reframing Prostitution in Light of Sexual Trauma, Exploitation and Trafficking” for the Mayor’s Council for Women. The report states, “over 10,000 transport trucks pass through the I-75 and I-24 interstate system of Chattanooga, TN each day. One of the worst parts about human trafficking in the trucking industry is that in many cases, truckers are involved." Mimi and other organizations refer another way in which women get caught up in sex trafficking as the “Loverboy Tactic.” The report states, “A “Loverboy” is someone who seduces someone and forces them into prostitution or other illegal work. “It is a form of grooming and abuse. Loverboys form romantic relationships with their victims but this relationship quickly turns into an emotionally and psychologically abusive one. Loverboys use blackmail and violence to intimidate their victims into compliance.”

Mimi Nikkel shows that anything you put your heart to is possible. She shows that your past doesn’t define who you are. She wants everyone to know that every single person on this Earth has value and is loved.

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