Safe Harbor was a leader in trauma-informed services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Counselors were particularly adept at helping clients understand and break the trauma-bond formed with their abuser. Against this background, Richmond was in crisis with a surge in human trafficking activity. Safe Harbor had the unique tools to help these survivors too.
First, in 2012, through a partnership with Henrico Victim Witness, support groups were created for survivors of sex trafficking. This work was later expanded to include individual counseling. But to further meet the need in the community, Safe Harbor sought funding for a dedicated shelter for female adult trafficking survivors in 2017. This shelter became the centerpiece of the first comprehensive trafficking recovery program in Central Virginia.
There was more work to be done. Child trafficking is the buying and selling of kids under the age of 18 for the purpose of exploitation by force, fraud, or coercion. This tragic exploitation was happening right here in Richmond. Safe Harbor hired Alexandria “Ali” Wall, LPC, to head up our trafficking program. She possessed special expertise in working with minors forced into sexual and labor trafficking. Wall came to Safe Harbor from the Virginia Office of the Attorney General as a Case Manager for Minor Victims of Sex Trafficking.
Ali has helped Safe Harbor expand its services to assist these young survivors. In her role, Ali identifies immediate needs (medical and other basic needs), secures long-term therapeutic services so clients understand the victimization they have experienced, attends court hearings, and provides socialization activities and outings to help them re-engage with the public in a safe and healthy way. As Director of Human Trafficking Services, Ali also oversees case management and therapeutic programming for adults in our human trafficking recovery program. In 2022, we served 45 survivors (22 adult sex trafficking, 4 adult labor trafficking, 15 minor sex trafficking and 4 minor labor trafficking).
The scale of the trafficking problem here in the US and specifically in Virginia is huge. Virginia ranked 9th in the nation for active human trafficking cases. It is a crisis that has only deepened due to COVID-19. As the U.S. State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report points out, the instability and lack of access to critical services caused by the pandemic have made more people vulnerable to exploitation. Traffickers have capitalized on that instability, adjusting their business models to the ‘new normal.’ Also, COVID made identifying minor victims of human trafficking even more difficult as kids were at home for virtual school.
And the risk for minors is staggering. According to Polaris (www.polarisproject.org), one in seven children reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children become victims of sex trafficking. Eighty eight percent of these survivors come out of the foster care system. Females are particularly vulnerable; two out of three child victims are girls.
As Safe Harbor works to rebuild the lives of these children, we learn their stories. Sometimes they are sold by a family member or an acquaintance, often lured by false promises of education and a “better” life. Instead, these children experience a world of terror, violence, and ill-treatment. They are forced to leave school, risk their lives, and are deprived of what every child deserves—a future.
We are looking for partners to support our pioneering trafficking program which has time and time again responded to the needs of our community. As we build on our efforts with minors, we need your help.
You can make a difference in their lives with a donation of a Visa gift card. The program uses outings to the movies, trips to the local ice cream shop, and “girl’s day” activities (like mani-pedis) to help these clients re-engage with society, improve their socialization, and let them experience some of the simple joys of childhood that they have been deprived.
Visa gift cards allow Ali and her staff to tailor activities to each young client regardless of their location in the state. To purchase a visa gift card, click here https://usa.visa.com/ pay-with-visa/. Gift cards can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Safe Harbor, PO Box 17996, Richmond, VA 23226.
Trafficking tried to steal the lives of these children; your gift can make a difference in a program that we hope will transform their lives.