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Getting women off the streets

“Human trafficking exists in every state and nearly every city here in the United States,”

Do you think that small U.S. cities such as Cincinnati and Portland, Maine, are directly in the path of human sex trafficking? If you said yes, you’re right.

“Human trafficking exists in every state and nearly every city here in the United States,” writes Nita Belles author of In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States.

“Look hard enough and you’ll even find [trafficking] in our nation’s small towns and countryside,” wrote Belles, who worked with The Salvation Army in New Jersey to rescue victims trafficked during the weeks preceding the recent Super Bowl.

Army officials in Cincinnati and Portland have set up “drop-in” centers where women can find an alternative to the streets and enjoy genuine support and acceptance.

Major Patricia LaBossiere, director of women’s ministries for the Northern New England Division, says the Portland Corps, which has been doing a street outreach ministry for the past year, recently opened a weekly drop–in center for women who have been or are currently being trafficked.

“It is a place where they find a warm welcome, coffee, and conversation,” she says.

Activities are offered, such as crafts, cooking and life–skills classes.

“When we’re out on the street meeting women, we just try to greet them, give them a little gift, and tell them that God loves them,” LaBossiere says. “We also ask if they want us to pray for them.”

The Salvation Army in Portland works well with a local anti–trafficking coalition and tries to connect the women to social services and other forms of help, LaBossiere says.

Michelle Hannan, director of professional and community services for The Salvation Army of Central Ohio, said a drop–in center recently opened at the Cincinnati Citadel Corps.

The center is usually open the day after Salvation Army staffers conduct street outreach. They give each woman a gift bag that includes food and personal items.

“Hopefully, week after week, we’ll build relationships that will help women find a way out of the sex trafficking,” Hannan says.

LaBossiere said a major problem in combating human trafficking is the lack of safe, transitional housing.

Major Faith Miller, program secretary in the SWONEKY Division, says Salvation Army staffers sometimes go with police on “busts.” The human trafficking victims are then given temporary hotel accommodations. Miller says she is working on a better solution.

“One of our visions is to have a residential treatment center that The Salvation Army operates,” Miller says. “It’s in the works.”

Hannan says she is driven to help the victims of human trafficking by her “concern for social justice” and that she is thrilled to be doing it for the Army.

“The Salvation Army is willing to go into those places where other people won’t go and to build relationships and to bring light into those areas,” she says. “That’s been a real driving force for me.”

by Robert Mitchell

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