Q & A

Michelle Hannan

Michelle Hannan is the director of The Salvation Army’s Anti–Human Trafficking (AHT) Program in Central Ohio and the director of social services for the SWONEKY Division. She also leads the Army’s Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition.

How did you get into the field of anti–human trafficking? I first connected with The Salvation Army in Central Ohio as an intern in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Ohio State University. My interest in social work stemmed from my passion for women’s issues, especially sexual assault prevention and response, and social justice. Through a field placement with The Salvation Army, I developed a great appreciation for the Army’s history and mission. I was especially drawn to the Army’s focus on social justice and serving those in the greatest need. After graduating from the MSW program, an opportunity arose to join The Salvation Army’s social services department, where I served for 10 years as the associate director of social services and then the director of social services.

In 2007, advocates in Central Ohio began to mobilize around the issue of human trafficking and I was eager to be part of this movement. Because of The Salvation Army’s history and reputation in the anti–trafficking movement, we were able to offer support to the newly–formed Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition. Soon after its founding, the other coalition members asked The Salvation Army to lead the coalition. I was delighted to fulfill this role.

As our community developed its response protocols, I had the opportunity to build The Salvation Army’s AHT program. Over time, as the services expanded, my role shifted to focus on anti–trafficking. Today, the AHT program staffs the community’s 24–hour HT hotline; provides emergency response and comprehensive case management for survivors; conducts weekly street outreach; operates the Well, a drop in center for trafficked women; and facilitates trauma and addiction therapy groups for incarcerated survivors.

In 2012, I had the privilege of taking on the additional role of divisional director of social services for the SWONEKY Division. One of the first opportunities in this new role was launching Cincinnati’s Anti–Human Trafficking Program, which offers services similar to Central Ohio, but is customized for the community.

How does your spiritual life impact what you do in the fight against human trafficking? I share The Salvation Army’s conviction that all people are equal in the eyes of God. My own spiritual journey is closely tied to my passion for social justice. In the fight against human trafficking, I seek to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God” (Micah 6:8).

What gets you out of bed in the morning to fight this issue and be involved? What is your motivation? I am motivated by the joy of working with SWONEKY’s outstanding team of AHT advocates, and seeing survivors stabilize, thrive, and grow after exiting trafficking. Ohio has a uniquely collaborative approach to anti–trafficking work, and it is very fulfilling to work with collaborative partners throughout the state to build Ohio’s capacity to respond to human trafficking.

Tell us about the unique challenges Ohio faces in human trafficking. It seems like you have a lot of outreaches, from Toledo to Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati. Ohio has embraced the HT coalition model as a strategy for combating human trafficking. Today, there are over 20 coalitions throughout the state, including two that are led by The Salvation Army (Cincinnati and Central Ohio). While this model has helped to grow AHT services throughout Ohio, there are still many areas with no coordinated service response. I am hopeful that The Salvation Army can help to fill these gaps statewide. Like many other states, shelter and housing services for survivors are scarce in Ohio. In the SWONEKY Division, no HT specific shelter services exist in any community. As the primary emergency response provider in both Central Ohio and Cincinnati, the lack of shelter creates great challenges for our teams as we work to help survivors find safe lodging outside of the trafficking situation. We are fortunate that The Salvation Army in Cleveland operates a shelter for HT survivors, but these resources are limited in other communities.

A second challenge is the intersection between the opioid epidemic and sex trafficking in Ohio. Survivors wanting to leave the life are often trapped by addiction; a problem compounded by the lack of accessible detox and treatment services.

Lastly, foreign–born survivors are facing increasing challenges to gaining access to legal immigration remedies. Many of them are afraid to come forward and report trafficking due to a fear of deportation. It’s a problem compounded by recent policy changes for people seeking a “T Visa” (visa for trafficking victims). We are working hard to build trust and provide support for these vulnerable survivors.

What are some of the anti–human trafficking initiatives going on in your part of Ohio that excite you? One area is the expansion of the Well, our drop–in center for women who have been trafficked into the sex industry. Launched in 2010, the Well moved to the East Main Corps in 2012. Since then, the Well has served as a place of peace and restoration for over 260 survivors, through relationships that model the love of Christ. 

We are working to expand the Well to the Hilltop Corps on the West Side of Columbus to bring these critically needed services to an area where street–level sex trafficking has spiked dramatically. Fueled by the heroin epidemic, the West Side is the epicenter of this growing crisis in Columbus. We look forward to reaching a very vulnerable population that is unable to travel to the East Main Corps to the original Well location. Through this expansion, services will remain at East Main while growing to meet the needs of women on the West Side.

Another exciting development is the potential launch of a collaborative shelter for trafficked women in Columbus. Through a partnership with several like–minded organizations, we hope to open a 15–bed, 90–day shelter in the near future. The shelter facility would be owned and operated by a collaborative partner, and The Salvation Army would provide referrals to the shelter and onsite case management.

How do you define success in this ministry? We focus on helping survivors create greater stability in their lives in a range of life dimensions, including transportation, housing, mental health, employment, substance abuse impairment, safety, access to mental health, addiction and legal services, criminal justice system involvement, education, physical health, life skills, and family/community support. We track survivor stability on a monthly basis using a stability assessment tool adapted by The Salvation Army for use with trafficking survivors. We strive to help 75 percent of survivors who stay with our program for at least six months. We do this by helping them obtain and/or maintain stability in nine of the 14 life areas. This tool has helped us to recognize the impact our program is having in their lives.

How does it feel when you do succeed in rescuing someone by getting them off the streets and out of a trafficking situation? We believe that we don’t actually “rescue” survivors, but instead we create a framework of support and services that allows them to use their own strength and resiliency to exit trafficking and thrive. We believe that autonomy, choice, and self–determination are crucial to recovery. We work to empower survivors throughout the healing process. 

It is incredibly rewarding to see survivors grow and thrive. We have the great privilege of walking alongside and supporting them as they secure their own housing and employment, regain custody of children, and begin making a difference in their community.

What goals do you have for the future? I would like to see a cultural change in our community that results in the end—or at least in a great reduction—of the purchasing of sex that fuels sex trafficking.

Interview by Robert Mitchell