Since 2014 we have served over 30,000 meals to homeless individuals and families in need. During that time I have met many women struggling with addictions and homelessness. One day while serving a woman came to me, grabbed my hand and said with sincere desperation in her voice, ” I WANT OFF THE STREETS!” This was a few years ago when we had just launched the vision to provide housing for homeless women, Tabitha’s House – Ponce Village Homeless Women Housing.
Over the years I have observed a number of women who had partnered with men, (referred to as their “boyfriend”) who appeared to be very domineering, so much so, these women were very cautious in talking with me, and would only do so if their partners were not around.
Since the recent opening of our home for adult women, in efforts to Rescue them from Homelessness, which is often associated with alcoholism, substance use, domestic violence and human trafficking, I have had the opportunity to reach out to these women offering them a safe, Fresh Start; a Life of Renewed Hope.
Recently while talking with one of my homeless friends, I began to notice that her immediate environment had changed, each time I’d see her she was surrounded by a number of men, almost as if they were standing guard. When I would approach her, I would introduce myself to them as Pastor Nina, and that I was there to talk with my friend. Each time I have done this, they seemingly would drop their guard.
In my conversations with her, I knew in my heart that something was different about her, something just wasn’t quite right: One, she almost never had anyone around her, very few could even approach her, and recently has been surrounded by these men. She even began asking for money, of which she had never done before. She admitted that her “boyfriend” was an addict, she even showed me a pretty “ring” that he had given her, but that he had kicked her out. She was in anguish.
I am very intuitive, very alert about everything and everyone I am around, from strangers walking in a mall or even an airport, to attending special events and family gatherings. I’m always watching and listening; very observant of my surroundings. In the scriptures, Jesus says the Spirit of God will “speak” to you, and “show” you things to come. And when one is sensitive to the Voice of God, the Spirit of Truth, He can alert you of situations and circumstances. A knowing if you will. That’s what began to happen with me. I recently asked the Lord for wisdom, “How can I help my friend? Show me what to do,” and that evening He led me, with just a thought, “Look up trafficking in Adult women.” And as I did, I began to learn more than what I ever thought was possible.
In our home for age out foster girls, we raise awareness of youth who are victims of homelessness and trafficking. But I honestly never thought that Adult women were also included in the statistics. Needless to say, the information I found was staggering!
The following is an excerpt from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, titled: The Victims:
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States. The victims of this crime in the U.S. are men and women, adults and children, and foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. As defined by U.S. law, victims of human trafficking can be divided into three populations:
- Children under the age of 18 induced into commercial sex
- Adults (age 18 or over) induced into commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion
- Children and adults induced to perform labor or services through force, fraud, or coercion
Human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs, and rural areas in all 50 states, and in Washington, D.C. They are made to work or provide commercial sex against their will in legal and legitimate business settings as well as underground markets. Some victims are hidden behind locked doors in brothels and factories. In other cases, victims are in plain view and may interact with community members, but the widespread lack of awareness and understanding of trafficking leads to low levels of victim identification by the people who most often encounter them.
There is no single profile for trafficking victims; trafficking occurs to adults and minors in rural, suburban, or urban communities across the country. Victims of human trafficking have diverse socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented. Traffickers target victims using tailored methods of recruitment and control they find to be effective in compelling that individual into forced labor or commercial sex.
While human trafficking spans all demographics, there are some circumstances or vulnerabilities that lead to a higher susceptibility to victimization and human trafficking. While not inclusive of all vulnerabilities, the following highlights a few risk factors for victims of human trafficking.
Runaway and homeless youth are vulnerable to trafficking. A study in Chicago found that 56 percent of prostituted women were initially runaway youth and similar numbers have been identified for male populations. Runaway and homeless youth lack a strong supportive network and runaway to unfamiliar environments are particularly at risk of trafficking. Runaway youth are often approached by traffickers at transportation hubs, shelters or other public spaces. These traffickers pretend to be a boyfriend or significant other, using feigned affection and manipulation to elicit commercial sex or services from the victim.
The US Department of Human Health and Services, Administration of Children and Families, provides-FACT SHEET: IDENTIFYING VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING:
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which victims are subjected to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex, debt bondage, or involuntary labor. Victims of human trafficking can be young children, teenagers, men and women. They can be U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) or foreign nationals, and they can be found in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Minors (under the age of 18) who are induced to perform commercial sex acts are victims of trafficking, regardless of whether their traffickers used force, fraud, or coercion.
A victim could be a man who does not speak English who is suspiciously injured “on the job” and shows signs of old bruising. A victim could be an abused woman who doesn’t know what city she is in when brought to the emergency room, and who is accompanied by a controlling companion who insists on speaking for her. A victim could be a fearful individual who quietly slips in and out of a local church on Sunday morning, or a child who lives in the neighborhood, yet doesn’t go to school or play outside.
General Clues to Help Identify Victims of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking may occur in the following situations:
- Prostitution and escort services;
- Pornography, stripping, or exotic dancing;
- Massage parlors;
- Sexual services publicized on the Internet or in newspapers;
- Agricultural or ranch work;
- Factory work or sweatshops;
- Businesses like hotels, nail salons or home-cleaning services;
- Domestic labor (cleaning, childcare, eldercare, etc. within a home);
- Restaurants, bars, or cantinas; or
- Begging, street peddling, or door-to-door sales.
Victims of human trafficking may exhibit any of the following:
- Evidence of being controlled either physically or psychologically;
- Inability to leave home or place of work;
- Inability to speak for oneself or share one’s own information;
- Information is provided by someone accompanying the individual;
- Loss of control of one’s own identification documents (ID or passport);
- Have few or no personal possessions;
- Owe a large debt that the individual is unable to pay off; or
- Loss of sense of time or space, not knowing where they are or what city or state they are in.
Mindset of a Trafficking Victim
A human trafficking victim may develop a mindset of fear, distrust, denial, and conflicting loyalties. Foreign victims of trafficking are often fearful of being deported or jailed and, therefore, they may distrust authority figures, particularly law enforcement and government officials. Similarly, traffickers may convince sex trafficking victims who are U.S. citizens or LPRs that, if they report their traffickers to the police, the police will jail the victim for prostitution while the traffickers, pimps, or johns will go free. Many victims of both sex and labor trafficking fear that if they escape their servitude and initiate investigations against their trafficker, the trafficker and his/her associates will harm the victims, the victims’ family members, or other.
Psychological and Behavioral Clues
Being able to recognize the psychological and emotional consequences of human trafficking can also be helpful in identifying victims. Victims often:
- Develop general feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, self-blame, and humiliation;
- Suffer from shock and denial, or display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, panic attacks, anxiety, and depression;
- Suffer from sleep or eating disorders;
- Become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol as a way to cope with or “escape” their situation, or as a method of control used by their traffickers;
- Become emotionally numb, detached, and disassociated from the physical and psychological trauma and display “flat affect”; or
- Experience “trauma bonding” with the trafficker, positively identifying with the trafficker and believing that, despite repeated abuse, the trafficker is a loving boyfriend, spouse, or parent.
At intake, 93.7% of the women we serve report being homeless, 61.3% report a mental health diagnosis, 98.2% need substance abuse treatment, 41.3% report having a medical diagnosis, and over half of the women we serve report being prescribed medications. In addition, many victims do not report having mental health or health issues at intake due to stigma, fear of rejection, or fear of receiving medical care.
The women range in age from 18 to 57 years old, with 35 as the average age.
With this new found information, I have made it, or better said, the Lord has inspired me to make it my mission to do All that I can in reaching out to these women, providing them with the necessary help and resources, including the HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE phone number: 1-(888) 373-7888
If you are in danger, call 911!
If you or someone you know is in need of Safe Housing, contact Pastor Nina Tidwell, Director of Tabitha’s House of Ponce Village Homeless Women Housing – Rescuing Women from Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking, at 386-308-1533, or email Pastor Nina at, [email protected]
The LORD replies, “I have seen violence done to the helpless, and I have heard the groans of the poor. Now I will rise up to rescue them, as they have longed for me to do.” Psalm 12:5