Finding a Way Out
Combating human trafficking
The official Salvation Army statement on human trafficking:
The Salvation Army is deeply committed to the modern–day fight against human trafficking (for sexual and labor purposes) and forms of commercial sexual exploitation innately linked to sexual trafficking. The Salvation Army firmly believes that the abuse and exploitation of human beings through any form of human trafficking is an offense against humankind and against God. This belief, combined with our mission to meet human needs in His name without discrimination, motivates us to work vigilantly for the prevention of human trafficking and for the restoration of survivors. Human trafficking is contrary to the principles of freedom and dignity. The exploitation of human beings dehumanizes the individuals who are trafficked, rewards the inhumanity of the traffickers, and weakens the moral and social fabric of society at large. The Salvation Army is opposed to the corrupt abuse of power against other human beings that is inherent in trafficking for personal economic gain. We therefore have the responsibility, both individually and collectively, to work for the liberation of those who have been enslaved in this manner, and to establish the legal and social mechanisms by which human trafficking can be stopped.
Men are victims too
If you think human trafficking is just about women, think again.
Jamie Manirakiza, director of anti–trafficking and social services for The Salvation Army in Philadelphia, said she and her staff have seen men victims, too.
“We have male survivors who have gone through the program,” she says. “I would say it’s a small percentage as far as sex trafficking, but that’s not because males are not being victimized, it’s because it’s more challenging to reach that population.”
Manirakiza said 80 percent of the men were victims of labor trafficking, where someone is forced to work. The Salvation Army is the lead non–profit on an anti–human trafficking grant, which works with agencies with outreach to migrant workers.
“We have seen a number of male survivors through the agencies we partner with,” she said.
The Salvation Army’s New Day anti-human trafficking program in Philadelphia also provided case management when the Department of Homeland Security shattered an international male sex trafficking ring there a few years ago.
Erin Meyer, the anti–human trafficking program manager for The Salvation Army in Cincinnati, learned the intricacies of the cause working on the National Human Trafficking Hotline in Washington, D.C.
In Cincinnati, she has seen victims, including both men and women, as young as 8 and as old as 65.
“Exploitation knows no gender, age, or race,” she said. “Commercial sex is everywhere. People purchasing sex is anywhere you go.”
Meyer, the coalition manager for the group End Slavery Cincinnati, said domestic servitude is a problem in some of the city’s restaurants and factories and also in the hiring of nannies and housekeepers. The rural areas around Cincinnati feature people trafficked in the agricultural business.
“We see all that here in Cincinnati on a regular basis, both men and women,” she said.
There are plenty of human trafficking victims who show up at two locations of “The Well” in Cincinnati, but The Salvation Army is getting even more with an outreach to local hotels.
Meyer said the monthly outreach is run in conjunction with Emergency Disaster Services (EDS), which provides a canteen from the Center Hill Corps.
“We are going to some of the hotels that are more transient where people are living there,” Meyer said. “Some of them are struggling with addiction and homelessness. We know commercial sex is happening there.”
Meyer said staffers knock on the hotel room doors or alert people through the canteen’s public address system.
“We provide them with food, spiritual support, and ministry,” Meyer said. “Most of the time we’re not seen as a threat. The approach is we’re here and if you want support or need someone to call, we’re here. We’re just seen as a resource that’s out in the community.”
Meyer and her seven–member staff also distribute information about two support groups that meet weekly at the Cincinnati Citadel Corps and the Cincinnati West Side Corps. Both corps also offer drop–in centers called “The Well” where women can receive food and material assistance.
The support groups are led by Sarah Medina, a clinical specialist. She had received spiritual backup from Major Holly Daniels at Cincinnati Citadel and Major Patty Richwine at Cincinnati West Side.
“It allows the girls to talk about their experiences,” Medina said. “They also meet other girls and talk about it as a group as well.”
Medina said the support group at the West Side Corps is more broad and includes some women who are not only trafficked but also suffer from domestic violence and sexual assault.
Medina said many of the women are seeking spiritual help. The curriculum used is Celebrate Recovery, which is based on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.
“We want them all to know that they are loved and a child of God,” Medina said.
Meyer and her staff sometimes walk the rough Price Hill neighborhood around the West Side Corps before the group meetings to pass out snacks, hygiene items, and information. It’s a well–known “track” for commercial sex solicitation.
“We also go out weekly at night to different areas and provide outreach cards,” Meyer said. “A lot of these individuals do find spirituality a big part of their recovery and survival through these experiences.
“We do get a lot of requests for prayer and spiritual support while we’re on outreach at night.”
Finding her calling
Sarah Medina, a former intern at National Headquarters (NHQ), is now working on the anti–human trafficking staff at SWONEKY’s Divisional Headquarters in Cincinnati.
She also is a solder at the Cincinnati Citadel Corps and loves to take the Gospel to the streets.
“We’re all children of God and we all deserve to be loved and treated with respect,” she said.
When Addiction plays a part
Iliana and Osvaldo Rivera are soldiers at the Boston Central Hispanic Corps. Through their career as drug counselors, they’ve seen how addiction has contributed to human trafficking.
ILIANA: “Sometimes, the addiction is what drives the women to get caught up in trafficking. Other times, it’s what makes them stay in it. It’s what many pimps use to control the women they traffic. Their trauma and PTSD is severe. As they feed their addiction, they become slaves to their pimps. The women are beaten, mistreated, and made to do horrific sex acts for their ‘johns.’
“Another thing I noticed is that many women are not foreign or immigrants from overseas, but American, with resources and families who live nearby. Trafficking happens to women born right here.
“In one of the first cases I worked on, a young mother came to me saying she was ready to leave her pimp and return to her family. But her young daughter was staying in apartments with other trafficked women, and the mother was afraid to pick her daughter up.
“I went with the mother to the apartments where the women babysat her daughter. We took the girl and as many of her possessions as we could carry.
“But just as we were leaving, the mother’s pimp arrived in his car. I recognized him from many recovery meetings I had organized in the community.
“His license plate read ‘COMFORT,’ the name he used at the meetings. The mother told me that she had met Comfort at a recovery meeting.
“I know he recognized me from the meetings too, but he did not try to stop us from leaving. I was so angry to realize this person was picking up women who were looking for help with their addiction. But at the same time, I was happy to help this woman leave the life.”
OSVALDO: “With the men I counsel, I try to stress the importance of the father figure. Many of these men have left their families. Others want to return to them, but their addiction keeps them from doing so. When the father of the household is absent, it leaves the door open for everything negative to walk in. That includes addiction and, in some cases, trafficking.
“I know this because I’ve heard testimonies from men who have been pimps.
“One man I met through recovery addiction programs was raised in a brothel where his grandmother was the ‘madam.’ There was no male role model in his life. As a boy, all he saw was prostitution—happening in the same rooms where he grew up.
“As he got older, he developed a drug addiction. Whenever he needed money, he went back to that lifestyle. He called it his ‘downfall.’ The need to use drugs made him also traffic women. It was the only lifestyle he knew. He would find women, rent an apartment, set it up to get ‘johns’ in there, and make his money. When he no longer needed the room, he was gone before the police or anyone could find out what he was doing.
“This man had done horrible things and was deeply involved in trafficking. But since birth, he has been a victim of human trafficking too.”
Robert Mitchell and Hugo Bravo contributed to this report.