Nobody ever said that waiting isn't really hard. But recently, it's become even harder.
The evidence is indisputable that there is simply not enough safe housing for individuals who have been enslaved and trafficked for sex. If you read reports from experts like Polaris Project or Prostitution Research & Education, or even Attorney General State Reports on the problem of human trafficking in the United States, one consistent assessment is that there is an extreme lack of placement options for victims as they are recovered. And while there is much discussion among service providers over which type of housing options are best, from a family model to long term shelter models (with many varying models in between), it is safe to say that there is no singular model that is a perfect fit for every girl or boy; man or woman. Each case is unique and therefore multiple options are needed. Redeeming Love has chosen to focus on long term housing as our unique niche in filling the housing resource gap.
Recently, this reality for lack of housing really hit home. And the waiting to open our home became even more difficult.
A local pastor had called, hoping that our home was ready and open. A young girl who was being trafficked in our local community had called this pastor and needed a safe place to stay. We'll refer to her as "Tasha". She wanted to get away from her trafficker. By the time this pastor had called me, they had already called nearly 40 various shelters over the span of a day and a half with no luck. A day and a half. With no place long term for Tasha to go. Does that sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me?
And here's the thing...if a girl wants to get away from her trafficker, but she is unwilling to report him, then there is really nothing law enforcement can do to intervene and keep him away from her once she tries to flee him. This was the case with Tasha. So, during that day and a half of searching for a shelter, her trafficker continued to call her, manipulate and threaten her. And with each passing minute, any bit of courage Tasha had when she first managed to get away from him slowly began to be replaced with fear and doubt. Doubt about whether she should really leave him and fears about whether she could really survive without him. Or, whether it would be worth it.
I felt so helpless. So frustrated and angry that with all of our efforts to open a home, we still did not have a place ready for Tasha to go. Eventually, they were able to find her placement within a drug rehab center. Even though Tasha did not have a drug addiction, this was the best available option.
This story ends like so many. Victim gets identified/rescued/tries to get away. Law enforcement or service providers begin feverishly trying to find a place for her to go long term. There is not enough room. Time passes. And often times, in that waiting process somewhere along the way, she changes her mind. She becomes more afraid of the unknown than the known. And the very real fear of retaliation against her or anyone she cares about sets in. And, as in this case with Tasha, she changes her mind at the last minute and goes back to her trafficker. Yes. You read that right. Tasha went back to her trafficker.
I wonder how the outcome might have been different for Tasha had she been able to be placed in a long term safe home right away? If, by not having to be in limbo for almost 2 days, but rather right away she was cut off from her trafficker, then her chances for continuing on her path toward freedom might have been greatly improved?
I know it would have.
Even now as you read this, there are girls waiting in limbo. Either in Juvenile Hall, or jail, or a short term emergency shelter somewhere. The clock has started ticking and their short time to stay there will run out.
Where will they go?
*if you would like to know how you can help girls like Tasha find safe, long term housing so this does not continue to happen...