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How Ohio Advocates Have Stepped Up Efforts to Help Sex Trafficking Survivors – Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio 2021-01-14 06:00:00 –

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The COVID-19 pandemic has already exacerbated the desperate situation as survivors of sexual trafficking struggle to achieve their goals. Financing programs to support them have shifted to more urgent and critical financing. For example, to accommodate and feed the homeless. Losing financial and food security only puts these already suffering women at the greater risk of being trafficked again to make money just to survive.

Renny Jones, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Renny Jones Empowerment Center (RJEC) in Cleveland, is a trafficking recovery center established in 2002 to help female survivors of sexual trafficking since spring. It is definitely increasing. “We have seen an increasing number of women and a growing need for support in all street outreach locations,” she said. “Many women lost their minimum wage jobs or saved time, which definitely affected the population we serve.”

Although it is difficult to track accurate statistics on trafficking victims due to the underground nature of crime, in 2019 Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office announced a total of 305 sexual trafficking in the state. Identified potential victims. Pandemics and subsequent quarantine escalate trafficking activities, according to the Polaris Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending modern-day slavery and trafficking, which has been running a national trafficking hotline since 2007. Connected.

Full 2020 statistics are not yet available from Polaris, but the number of critical trafficking cases handled by the trafficking hotline was more than 40% in April compared to the previous month in response to shelter-in-place orders. Has increased. Crisis cases are defined as cases where assistance such as shelter, transportation, or law enforcement involvement is required within 24 hours.

Fortunately, Jones’ Center continues to provide women with face masks, hand sanitizers, personal hygiene products, clothing, food, and other essentials throughout the year. They do this in both RJEC and Project Red Cord Nights Out street outreach activities to some areas of Cleveland. Women who have been forced into prostitution by traffickers are the most prominent and active there.

Until the end of September, RJEC provided comprehensive support and recovery services to 216 clients. At the Street Outreach event, over 850 trademark bags with personal care items, snacks and other gifts and contact information, over 350 hot meals prepared by volunteer groups and the Salvation Army, and over 400 face masks 100 Was distributed. Made by volunteers of them.

In December, Jones received a $ 10,000 grant from a donor who wanted to remain anonymous, strengthening its ability to offer all of these items. They suspend neighborhood street outreach programs from January to April during the winter, but RJEC is a trafficking or recovering woman who knows them and is aware of their characteristic vans. Do a drive-by-drop-off in your neighborhood.

In July 2020, RJEC added programming to the huge Spring Hill Granted Housing Complex in Akron. It served more than 100 women and set up an indoor outreach table during the winter months. In addition to distributing PPE, food and other essentials, monthly workshops allow RJEC trauma counselors and support groups to provide the same services they provide to the center’s clients.

“Most women have experienced sexual assault and are very vulnerable to being victims of trafficking, so there is an opportunity to provide trafficking prevention and awareness to the women who participate in it. “Jones explained.

The Jordan Community Residential Center in Cleveland offers recovery housing and trauma-based care and counseling services, and staff are very pleased that the pandemic is stressing about 20 female trafficking victims. I am conscious of. Women usually live there for 6-8 months, and in some cases longer, until they are ready to return to a safe and healthy lifestyle.

Residents work with individual therapists as well as therapists at the counseling centers that offer online trauma counseling with which Jordan is affiliated. Women also have access to support groups and mental support programs.

“The hardest part is not being able to meet or visit children,” said Tenisha Gant Watson, CEO of Jordan, who founded the organization 16 years ago. “We now need to be very careful about giving a one-day or weekend pass, because when we are in one place, everyone is safe, so family and friends Leaving everyone away to visit raises concerns about exposure and quarantine. ”

To deal with the additional layers of trauma, isolation and stress from pandemics and shelters, Jordan will be able to buy computers for everyone and at least make zoom online visits with children. Did. The center also added activities such as making face masks to maintain women’s engagement, Gantwatson said.

Since the first stay-at-home order in March, Akron’s RAHAB ministries have adapted its support program. Solution providers for trafficking female survivors have rapidly expanded their street outreach activities in Akron and Canton from one to five days a week. Since then, they have distributed about 11,000 meals. Outreach also provides important relationships.

“Obviously, people feel very isolated at this time,” said Kelli Cary, vice president of programming at RAHAB. “Therefore, we were able to not only provide these meals to the women and children we serve, but also extend the scope to serve those who are currently particularly vulnerable to unemployment, food insecurity and isolation. . ”

RAHAB is funded primarily by donations from churches and communities, and also distributes personal hygiene items and other important items such as toys, puzzles and board games to attract and buy children. We are helping parents who are stuck in a non-house.

“The main reason we go out is to give people hope, maybe just smiles and prayers,” Cary added. “Many people are looking for such connections and relationships.”

RAHAB offers both face-to-face and online sessions as it increases school holidays and is particularly vulnerable to predators in front of computer screens that traffickers may contact and care for. We are continuing the minor mentoring program. As of October 1, the mentoring program is servicing 42 minors. (Introductions are made through Summit County Courts or community members and organizations.) Their adult safehouse served 16 women and the youth safehouse protected 11 girls.

In September, RAHAB launched temporary housing, a new initiative for women ready to “graduate” from a safe home for adults. RAHAB provided an anonymous donor and a car paid from the apartment to one of the first participants to live in a safe home during the pandemic, allowing them to return to the community.

“Not only were we able to meet those needs, but after her graduation we were able to provide long-term case management and mentorship,” Cary said. “Our hope is that this ongoing support will reduce her vulnerabilities as she returns to her daily life.”

In addition, RAHAB operates one drop-in center in Akron, servicing 263 people this year. In October, they opened two new drop-in centers in Stark County, servicing 35 women in the first month. Because many other safe places are closed due to pandemics or have limited time, drop-in centers are an important safe place for women to visit day and night, depending on the time of the facility. Provide a place. The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center recently announced plans to open a drop-in center in the first quarter of 2021.

The stop-off center also plays an important role for female survivors of trafficking who may be in a bad situation but still unable to commit to long-term solutions, said Jomel, director of the Victim Service of the Trafficking Initiative. · Aird explains – Crime Victim Service Dave Yost Office, Attorney General of Ohio, Columbus. Columbus also has several drop-in centers offering safe spaces, showers, clothing, hot meals, face masks, personal care items and more. These include the Sanctuary Nights and the recently opened Hope Resource Center in the problematic Hilltop district.

“These facilities give women access to valuable resources and the rest they urgently need,” she said. “There they can start building trust with someone, and when they’re ready, they can connect with the community and take the next step towards a safe and healthy life. . ”

The story is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, which consists of more than 20 Northeast Ohio news outlets, including Eye on Ohio, which covers the entire state.

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