2018-03-29 / News

No funds available

Maine’s only program for human trafficking victims lacks money
By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A few years ago, a group from St. Andre Home in Biddeford went to a conference about human trafficking that was put on by a foundation called “Not Here Justice In Action Network.” The conference shed light on human trafficking and brought awareness to communities that may believe that human trafficking doesn’t occur where they live. The group left the conference inspired, and began to look for funding for Hope Rising, which would become Maine’s first residential home for survivors of human trafficking.

Funding, however, was not as easy to find as they hoped. There are grants for programs such as Hope Rising, but all the human trafficking programs are after the same grants, and competition is tight. Hope Rising was eventually awarded start up money from the NextGen Foundation.

The International Labour Organization has estimated that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking in the world, leaving no corner of the world untouched, not even here in Maine. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource center hotline, over 240 calls were received from the state between 2007 and 2015.

Hope Rising has a safe house in an undisclosed location in Maine that provides an immersive approach to rehabilitating and caring for the victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

A pamphlet from Hope Rising states, “We provide a whole person approach for each survivor, providing individual and group counseling sessions, life skills groups, case management and integrated substance abuse and mental health counseling.”

“People just see it as prostitution, but it’s different. These men groom these girls. They find them, they make them feel important and loved, and then the girls are trapped,” said Sr. Terry Gauvin, executive director of St. Andre Home out of Biddeford, the parent organization of Hope Rising.

The women who come through Hope Rising have been traumatized by their experiences. Some were plied with drugs, some blackmailed and others sold by boyfriends or family members.

“This is modern day slavery. They have been beaten. Their jaws have been broken. The first thing we do when they come to us is get them to take care of their health,” Gauvin said. “(A local hospital) provides health care to the women pro-bono.”

Hope Rising lays out its treatment plan into steps, with the women earning privileges as they complete the steps. There are three phases to the treatment: safety, expressions and transitions. Some examples for the “safety” portion of treatment include meeting with a primary care physician and a dentist, completing an educational assessment, opening a savings account and starting a treatment program for their recovery. For the “expressions” portion, steps include completing a sample resume and applying for jobs, enrolling for classes and developing a list of triggers and work on coping mechanisms. The “transitions” portion of the program works on acclimating the women back into the world, securing housing and employment, identifying substance abuse resources and having a relapse prevention plan in place. It typically takes nine to 12 months to complete the steps of the program. Hope Rising also implements a peercounseling program, with survivors now acting as leaders to show those in treatment there is hope.

Hope Rising can accommodate five women, usually between the ages of 24 and 39, in its safe home, but they have received referrals for minors as well. So far the organization has provided residential treatment to 25 women and in-person outreach services to 30 survivors since 2015.

“The women all have to deal with the shame. They have to have support to find the will to speak,” Gauvin said. “We make decisions together, we reunited them with their families and with their children. We help them work through their trauma.”

The problem Hope Rising faces is securing funding to keep the program going.

“Investors don’t want to invest in us because they think we don’t make enough of an impact because we only take five women at a time,” Gauvin said. “But what defines results? We may only take five at a time, but what about the women who have their GED now, or a job? Or the ones who are sober now?”

Hope Rising’s day-to-day costs are funded by a mix of grants and donations from both good Samaritans, companies, and from the Good Shepherd Sisters’ SCIM foundation. According to the fundraising packet for Hope Rising, $250,000 would help launch an outpatient services program, which would help Hope Rising reach more women and be able to provide more services to victims; $75,000 funds one woman for an entire year; and $10,000 funds life skills classes on subjects such as healthy relationships, household management and parenting.

Local churches and groups hold fundraisers for both St. Andre Home and Hope Rising, with events such as a “Shelter Shower,” where people can donate sheets, towels, pillows and other household goods. Good Shepherd Parish hosted a “Christmas Coffee” in 2016 where the price of admission was a $25 gift card to stores that included Target, Walmart or Hannaford.

In a study by the FBI, human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry, and according to the International Labor Organization, generates $99 billion from commercial sexual exploitation every year. The average age of a slave in the sex trade in the United States is between the ages of 12 and 14 years old, and globally the average cost of a slave is $90. 71 percent of trafficking victims are women and girls.

“It’s a profitable industry for them, because their ‘goods,’ these women, have ‘resell value.’ They can be resold,” Gauvin said.

Modern technology also plays a part in the climb of sexual exploitation of young girls, with cell phones and social media making it easier for men to “catfish” these woman, or pretend to be someone they aren’t.

“Everything is secretive now. It used to be that trafficking took place on the streets, now everything is taking place on their phones, so it’s harder to keep track of what is going on with these girls,” Gauvin said. “It’s important to talk about it. One woman once told me, no one says ‘when I grow up I want to sell my body.’ This isn’t a choice for them…we’re giving them the support they need to come back from it.”

To donate clothing or household items, please drop off with Sr. Terry Gauvin at St. Andre Home on Prospect Street in Biddeford, or make a tax-deductible monetary donation at hoperisingme.org/donate.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

FMI

Learn more about Hope Rising, the state’s first residential treatment program for survivors of human trafficking, by visiting www.hoperisingme.org.

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