By Alexis Keyworth, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Housing for victims of human trafficking is sparse. In the United States, we claim to have about 200 safe houses, which may have just a few beds, each. Compared to the number of victims we have, which is somewhere in the hundreds of thousands, this is basically a Band-Aid on a broken bone.
Victims are more vulnerable when they truly believe they have no way of escaping. Throughout their experience while being trafficked, they are probably told about how nobody will believe them if they escape, or that nobody will care, or how there isn’t any where for them to go because their trafficker is going to find them, or their family and somebody will end up paying.
The sad thing is, they’re right - about part of it, anyway. There usually isn’t a great answer as to where the victim can go to receive services and the care they deserve. Going to a homeless shelter could get them killed, without the proper protections and confidentiality in place. If they end up at a women’s shelter, they will be surrounded by people who have experienced different types of abuse then they have. Although domestic violence is similar to human trafficking in some ways, there are also huge differences. Trafficking victims often find solace while surrounded by people who have survived the same horrors, or similar ones, to themselves. Therefore, shelter specific to trafficked victims is very important to their recovery.
As with domestic violence victims, it is quite important that we provide shelters that are protected and not easily identified. They must have strict confidentiality policies and be very careful about concealing the location from the public.
A huge piece that is missing from the conversation is the lack of guidelines and regulations for housing victims of human trafficking. In North Carolina, there is no procedure or policy stating the rules for opening a safe house. All that is required is that you either follow procedures for opening and licensing a home school or a residential child care facility. These licenses do not address the need for counseling, or the danger of being discovered by the trafficker.
Another piece hit me when I started learning about safe housing in North Carolina: every single safe house in the state has a religious background. Although this is by no means a horrible thing, there is a down side. The part that worries me is the stigma the victims may worry about if they were to enter a religious agency. After being forced to sell their bodies 10, 20, 30 times a day for sex, they might not exactly see where religion fits into their lives. Although religion may be a healing tool for some, others may feel out of place.
With regulations, there will be more safe houses opened that do not have religious ties and are more welcoming to non-religious victims. Also, we will be able to better ensure the recovery, safety, happiness, and future success, specifically for victims of trafficking. Therefore, what we really need to talk about is the need for policy at the federal and state levels that addresses this need, as well as a protocol from start-to-finish for human trafficking cases.
Alexis Keyworth is a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.