Although Parker Nevicato has never been sexually exploited, it hasn’t stopped him from fighting for those who have.
His weapon of choice isn’t a megaphone or protest march. Instead Nevicato uses a small shop at Dort Mall as his platform. Inside Parfait Ink, a screen printing and embroidery company his mom operates, the young advocate promotes Keye Apparel. Primarily a t-shirts and sweatshirt line, Keye (pronounced “Ky”) will eventually distribute hats, book bags and other items as part of a larger effort to shed light on sexual abuse.
“I’ve always wanted to open my own business, but I didn’t want to have a business that didn’t have a meaning or a purpose,” says Nevicato. “I wanted to create something that would be here to stay.”
The Keye insignia features the shape of an eye, indicating watchfulness and protection, Nevicato says.
Knowing family and others who’ve suffered from sexual exploitation inspired the Oakland University finance major to launch his company in December. Keye partnered with Voices of Consent, a program that supports survivors of sexual abuse in 25 states by providing them with care packages containing stuffed animals and pampering items. In only six months Keye raised “a few hundred dollars” for Voices of Consent, Nevicato says, by donating just 10 percent from each sale of Keye clothing items.
Largely operated as a one-person shop, Keye recruits high school and college “ambassadors” to wear its clothing and help promote its message as part of a social enterprise effort.
Of particular concern for Nevicato is human trafficking that affects youth across the nation, including Genesee County. Using peers to promote awareness of the crime that can result in kidnapping, sexual exploitation and death has added to young people’s understanding of the problem, he says.
“I really think they’re getting it because not only are our ambassadors involved with what we do, but we have almost 1,000 Instagram followers,” he says.
While human trafficking is estimated to impact between 100,000 and 200,000 youth each year – an illegal enterprise second only to drug sales – Nevicato says the conversation wasn’t penetrating important circles.
“It’s something that’s talked about, but not in a cool, modern way,” he says. “I’m trying to make it a movement that’s modern and youthful.”
It’s believed that one in three runaways is approached by human traffickers within 48 hours of leaving home, says Trooper Steven Kramer, who works out of the Michigan State Police’s Flint post. Kramer and Trooper Amy Balenger have given about 40 human trafficking presentations in Genesee and Shiawassee Counties so far this year.
A widespread misconception is that human trafficking involves youth being forcefully taken from their homes, Kramer says. Instead “ploys” by companies and individuals claiming to represent professional opportunities, like modeling, often lead youth into pipelines from city to city, where they’re forced into sex or slavery, Kramer says.
“What is really happening is we have people tricking our young people, befriending them, acting like a boyfriend or girlfriend, giving them gifts, to the point that the young people sometimes even love them,” he adds.
As in much of the country, Flint and Genesee County residents know less than they should about human trafficking, which is often at the root of sexual assault, drug, or runaway investigations, Kramer says. Parents, who don’t monitor their children’s social media activity or make it their goal to know their sons’ and daughters’ friends, can leave children vulnerable to courtship by traffickers who seduce youth.
“The majority of these kids still come home every day,” he says.
Kramer says efforts like Keye Apparel’s add force to the fight against sexual exploitation and trafficking.
“I could see a lot of value in it because young people are more likely to listen to other young people discussing this, rather than just their parents,” he says. “It’s great to see awareness that these kids are showing. That makes it more real.”
Nevicato says he’s happy to see Keye making a positive impact.
“It’s pretty much been a solo ride for me,” he says. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s something I really enjoy, so that makes it a lot easier.
“It’s an apparel company, but it’s more than that.”
For more information about Keye Apparel please click here.
— Top picture: Keye Apparel uses young faces to brand its company, which donates a percentage of proceeds to support sexual abuse survivors.
— Photos courtesy Parker Nevicato