Understanding the complexity of serving tracking survivors helps us better understand the issue of human trafficking. Sandra Morgan, the Director of the Global Center for Women & Justice and Dave Stachowiak, one of the Center’s board members, interview Sherri Harris from The Salvation Army. Sherri discusses how The Salvation Army works with trafficking victims in Orange County and helps us understand all the resources needed to serve the whole person.
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Dave: You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast, this is episode 23, airing in March 2012. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast, my name is Dave Stachowiak.
Sandie: And I am Sandy Morgan.
Dave: And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandy, it’s great to be back with you on another episode of the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, and our continued efforts to study the issue so we can help others to learn how to best join the effort to join human trafficking.
Sandie: Well I am really encouraged with the growing audience of listeners, the participants, the community engagement that I am experiencing just getting emails and phone calls and last week, Dave, you would have been really encouraged, I got a call from the East Coast.
Dave: Oh, cool.
Sandie: And the words were exactly, “I’ve been devouring the podcasts, because I need to present at a university function, and we need information.” So it was very rewarding and we want to have more opportunity to engage with our community, if you have questions email GCWJ@vanguard.edu, if there is something you are looking for and you can’t find it, send us your question and we will do our best to find that information for you.
Dave: And we do respond to everything, so if your question or comment is helpful for our audience as well, we will even include it here on the show, and you can also reach out to us by phone and that number is (714) 966-6361, so feel free to reach out to us, whichever was is easiest for you, and you get to tap into Sandy’s expertise here at the center to really help you study the issues more effectively so you can understand how to best support our efforts and ending human trafficking.
Sandie: And that’s a really good lead in to where we are going today, because our center is really about a community of experts and people that we partner and collaborate with, and one of our partners is the Orange Country Human Trafficking Task Force and part of our partnership includes the victims services aspect for international and foreign victims of human trafficking, right in our community. That service is provided by the Salvation Army, and the director of their Nets program which I am going to ask her to explain what that means, is Sherry Harris, so welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast, Sherry.
Sherry: Thanks, fun to be here.
Sandie: So, tell us what is your job description, what do you do?
Sherry: That’s a really good question and it depends on the day, but I work as the director of the Network of Emergency Trafficking Services, so in Orange County, basically what that means, is that if we get a call from law enforcement or special services agency or a local partner and they say that they have a victim of human trafficking from another country, we come alongside them, we do an assessment and we will start pretty much taking care of that person until they can start taking care of themselves so we really consider this a long term process cause it takes a long time for the victim to understand their human rights, to get access to all the resources that they need to kind of trust us, for us to figure out what they really need and to begin the journey together, so that’s kind of what we do, and we do that as part of the task force, and we do that as a community response and we have been working really hard to get our partners in place and find the different organizations we need to help the victims become survivors, so that’s kind of briefly what I do, but you know I love working at the Salvation Army because if you look at our history, we’ve been doing this since we’ve started. In 1869, our founder William Booth started in the streets of London helping prostituted women get off the streets and into rescue homes, so ever since we started the army, we’ve been looking out for women and men who have been victims of human trafficking so I love that I get to do it in Orange County because it fits our mission so well to serve without discrimination and I consider it a privilege to do it at the Army, I would consider it a privilege to do anywhere but its an actual real joy to do it with an actual Christian Organization that actually has it as part of their mission.
Sandie: And I appreciate that as well and one of our other really good friends from the Salvation Army that has spoken at conferences at Vanguard’s Global Center for Women and Justice is Lisa Thompson who is out there is Washington DC and who really is an advocate for ending human trafficking, so Dave we will have to add an interview with her really soon too, so lets get into this Sherry, lets assume that you got a call and its 3 o’clock in the morning and they’ve got three victims from a country where its like maybe, they are from Thailand, do you speak Thai?
Sherry: No, I don’t.
Sandie: So, what do you do? You’re supposed to help them, and you just told me you are going to go communicate to them their human rights and their resources available, so what do you do?
Sherry: Well, I start making phone calls really fast. I basically start with doing one of two things, I would head to the police station or wherever the victims were, and I would bring a survivor kit, which has 72 hours worth of things they might need from anything from a toothbrush to water to a journal, and clothes, I would get that in the back and it’s a wonderful tool to help them start recognizing that I am there to help them. I would bring that and I would bring a phone number for an international hotline that can help you translate, and I would start making phone calls to find our partners who volunteer to be translators who speak Thai, and I go and I meet them and I start a relationship, I kind of see what’s happening and I assess the situation and I get that interpreter either on the line or sitting next to us and I start explaining that we are here to help, that we understand that they are scared and that there’s a lot going on in their head but we are hoping we can figure out how to help them and we ask them for what they are worried about at that particular moment and we work really hard to alleviate their fear. Often, its making sure their family know they are okay, or they are afraid of someone else in the situation and we kind of work really fast at 3 o’clock in the morning to really do the basics, to get them to understand that we are going to take them to a safe place, explain to them what’s going to happen at that safe place and we actually are on the phone to the shelter arranging for us to bring that client over there at that particular moment so what we do is we get her set up with the basics, we teach her how to flush the toilet, where the food is and all of the basic stuff that we assume everyone knows, we don’t know if these ladies know or not. Then we let them sleep for a few hours, then we come back the next day and we get them with an attorney so they can understand exactly what their rights are in America, if they have medical needs we get them to a doctor, a lot of times they have dental needs, we take care of that, and again one of the things we are trying to do is build trust because we realize that they have no reason to trust us. They have been told story after story by people who were there to help and it has been fraudulent, so we work really hard to keep our promises, to make sure that they have some of the little comforts from home like some food from their country, we usually the second day take them to a grocery store that is in their ethnic community and let them pick some things that they want. We work really hard if they’re scared to really alleviate that fear however that is. It may be by taking them to a church or a temple or it might be helping them connect with someone they know in another state. We really work hard to just in the first couple of days, to start building trust, alleviate fears and provide the basic necessities and that’s kind of what we do in the first 72 hours and again, were responding to the situation, so if law enforcement is involved, we realize that the next day they may be needing to speak to law enforcement so we make sure they understand what that looks like and we kind of alleviate those fears and we go with them, and we have water and food and a warm jacket for them when they are in a cold office and make sure, again that their attorney is there and that they have all that they need to start relaxing a little bit and being part of the system of recovery instead of a system of fear, so that’s what we do in the first 72 hours.
Sandie: So, in that first 72 hours, I heard several points where the community can engage in assisting you. Were not the person who can go out with you at 3 o’clock in the morning, and volunteers aren’t usually equipped to provide direct services to an emergency victim, but that 72-hour kit, where do you get all that stuff?
Sherry: We get those form churches or from other social service agencies or communities that want to help, so we give them a list of what is our biggest need and they bring us complete survivor kits which is a nice backpack, which is a nice beginning. When I give them this backpack, I envision using this backpack through several parts of their journey, so not a cheap 2 dollar one, but a 20 dollar one, where at first they are putting all of their worldly possessions in it in the first couple of months, then they are putting their English books in it when they go to English class, then when they get their first job on the bus they are carrying their lunch in it, and then in the end when they reunite with their family, they are giving that bag to their child so their child can go to school. So I look at it as a first of so many opportunities in their life and it’s a big deal for me to have a nice bag that they can carry with them forever so we get community donations to do that and shoes, socks, the whole thing, jackets, every little thing we need we get from the community.
Sandie: So the calling their family in their country of origin, that takes phone cards right?
Sherry: Yes, we also provide phone cards for the client right away and we also do Target and food cards so they can pick out their own undergarments or their own clothes and the foods that they want and we also get those from the community and some of our community partners hold a dance every year for a youth group, and basically to get into the dance you have to bring a 5 $ gift card to Target, and they gather all of those gift cards, and put them in nice little 25$ packets for us and that’s what we give to the victims when they first get them so that they can start making some choices for their own because if you think about it, many of my clients have never ever chosen the food that they want and they never get a chance to pick out their own clothes, so we consider it a huge gift to them to be able to start developing their own self care, and we get those donations from the community to do just that.
Sandie: Well, can you send me a PDF file that I can put on our website? What that 72-hour kit includes plus the gift card needs and then we will put a link to that on our show notes so people can access that?
Sherry: Yeah, we can do that.
Sandie: The other part of this podcast is that we find out people in other communities listen to it and get ideas and start doing the same thing that we are doing in Orange County, so this could help someone in another County.
Sherry: And I actually heard in two other places other than Orange County where there wasn’t a social service provider like me, but the FBI taskforce was working on innocence lost and working against child exploitation, they have actually had churches give them the survivor kits and the food cards and the Target cards and the FBI agents have actually been the ones delivering those because there wasn’t a social service provider in the area that did it, so I think that’s a great idea no matter where you are in the country.
Sandie: Okay, were going to make that happen. So my next question is these people that you serve that end up here in Orange County, why did they end up in Orange County?
Sherry: That’s a good question, well first of all most of my clients are moms and dads, and if you think about a mom and dad, they will do just about anything to take care of their family, so if that means that they have to take a risky job in America that promises all kinds of amazing things, they are going to do it, and so as my moms and dads come up here and then reality changes and what they were promised did not happen and they are forced into all kinds of trafficking situations, so the way they got here is because they had a dream of taking care of their family and when they got here that dream was crushed. So, the victims that we actually serve once they are found come from a lot of different parts of the world, I have personally served 13 nations and my caseload is actually 80% labor trafficking and 20% sex trafficking because a lot of trafficking in America is actually labor and my caseload is actually 67% women and 33% men, so I actually, when you look at what trafficking looks like in foreign community, it isn’t just sex trafficking, it isn’t just young women… its moms, dads, men, women, young, old, from all different parts of the world. Some come here with legal documents, some come here that are undocumented, but they all have 2 things in common and that is only 2 things and that is hopes and dreams. And when they get here, their hopes and dreams are crushed and when I get to work with them, that’s when we start rebuilding those hopes and dreams for them and the way they come into the county are two different ways, some we have identified in Orange County, so we actually freed them from a life of slavery from Orange County, and some of them come to Orange County for several reasons because maybe its not safe in the county or state that they were living before, their traffickers are nearby and we need to move them so that they can be safe and because Orange County has a really good system of care in place and has bed space, we often take victims from outside of the county in order to provide for them here and another reason is, sometimes they have family in America and the best thing for them to start rebuilding their life is to reunify them with those family members so if they have an aunt or a cousin or a brother that lives in Orange County, then we are going to bring them to Orange County and we are going to help them get established with that family so again, we have those who are identified in Orange County and those that move here for a variety or reasons whether its safety or just we have victim support here or their family reunification so those are kind of some of the ways we end up serving victims here in Orange County.
Sandie: So, when we are talking about labor trafficking, the first picture that comes to my mind is someone working back-breaking hours in a field picking strawberries or cotton or something, and we don’t have any of those fields in Orange County, so what kind of labor trafficking can somebody be at risk for here in Orange County?
Sherry: Well, good question. Most of the victims that we have identified here in Orange County have been victims of domestic servitude, so they have been brought over from another country in order to work in the home and to be a slave in the home so that where we find most of our labor victims in Orange County, California and that can be anywhere from a case that you know very well, Shyima who was a 9-12 year old child who wasn’t going to school and who was working in the home, to our new story we have out of Orange County is a story if Isabelle who was sold at 7 into a domestic work situation in her home country and when she was 21 she was brought to America to continue that slavery, then she finally ran away at 27 or 26, so she was also a slave in America as a domestic, so that’s the biggest point, but we also have restaurant, women and men who have been forced to pay of their debt in a restaurant, we’ve had them working in massage parlors doing exotic dancing which could be sex trafficking or labor trafficking, it depends on what is happening, we have people working in home health, so we have a decent number of victims who have been brought over to work in the healthcare industry, taking care of elderly people or disabled people and quickly that because a situation where they are forced to pay off a debt or forced to work long hours without pay, with threats of deportation and all kinds of stuff and we actually just had a case this week who, the traffickers in a health home care case just plead guilty and they just got sentenced to federal prison, two perpetrators and that’s a huge big success story for our clients because not only did our perpetrators go to jail this week, but they also got their visa and they are also allowed to stay here legally and that came in this week as well. So, a lot of people help them through their home health care problem. And the last one we have helped a lot of clients in is restaurants and country club work where they were brought over on a legal contract to work in a country club and then instead of working 8 hours a day, were working 16 hour days and instead of living in an apartment with 4 people were living in an apartment with 30 people and were not able to come and go as we please and were getting charging exorbitant amounts of money in order for them to pay off their debt, so those are the kind of labor cases I have worked with in my program in Orange County but I tell you the one we are mostly finding in Orange County is mostly domestic service, it kind of goes along with the economic and social status of Orange County.
Sandie: So one of the things that can help community members identify labor trafficking is seeing unusual living circumstances, and so when you talk about victims that are living 30 in an apartment, that would be, if you see an apartment that has so many residents, that might be a reason to call the (888) 3737-888 number, right?
Sherry: It might be, it might be. There’s probably something going on there that would potentially become a trafficking case, I think one of the things I go off of when calling the 888 number is use your gut instinct. Even me, when I see a potential situation, I don’t know if it’s a trafficking case, that’s not my job to find out, its my job to get a gut feeling that something’s wrong and to call and ask for help, so yes, having a lot of people in an apartment that are from the same ethnicity that are coming and going together that aren’t just 2 or 3 leaving at a time, but leaving in a company vehicle or there is a driver those are definitely issues you need to be paying attention to and one of the things to think about when you are talking about victims of human trafficking in general is that they don’t know they are victims and it makes it really hard if you are a neighbor and you actually do ask them questions, they aren’t going to say ‘yes, I am a victim of human trafficking please help me./ they do not understand their role in this whole legal situation we have in America and that definitely causes a lot of problems when identifying and rescuing a victim.
Sandie: I was in a conversation with a law enforcement officer recently and he clarified for me a little bit of when to report. Sometimes we see a unique circumstance without any context and we think ‘oh, that might be trafficking’ and like you said, go with your gut and call it in. but sometimes it becomes a cumulative awareness because you see a pattern and particularly in the instances of restaurants and elder care programs, I know of one case where a neighbor was talking to a residential care facility worker and in passing just jokingly said, ‘wow, it doesn’t look like you ever get a day off.’ And she became very nervous and ran inside. Well, there was a pattern developing and she was always there and that’s lead to an investigation, so there are patterns that we begin to see, and if we go to the same restaurant all the time and the same person is working morning shift, afternoon shift, evening shift, and maybe even sleeping there, those are patterns that need to be reported for investigation.
Sherry: And I do think you made a good point on that, the patterns are important because not all people that work in a restaurant that don’t speak English are trafficking victims and not all people who work in home health care facility that are from another country are trafficking victims. There are some amazing restaurant people, owners that take care of their people very well. We have to really look for those patterns because not everyone who is in those situations that might think are being exploited are. I think that’s one of the fears that people in the community have is that everyone’s going to report everything and I do think that patterns are the critical link, because a lot of my clients who have gotten those jobs in the same sector where they were trafficked are actually loving their work now because they found bosses who care about them and pay them fairly and who allow them time off, and that’s what we want to see happening in our society is proper care of our workers.
Sandie: So, we’ve looked at who the victims are, and why they come here, what happens to them once they’ve been served by your program, they’ve gotten through the emergency part, now they are into really becoming reintegrated, you mentioned that that backpack turns into an emergency 72 hours of stuff, you are carrying English books.
Sherry: Once we get them through, we consider our client’s crisis stage 3 to 8 months, it doesn’t happen quickly, but once we get them stable the first 72 hours, then we sit and do an assessment, a long one, and we figure out what their needs are: Do they speak English, do they have employment documents, do they have an education, where is their family, do they have mental health care needs, what is their medical needs, what is their immigration needs, what is their social service needs, their life skill needs, I have had clients who have never used money and don’t know how to use money and I have clients who are so terrified of going on a bus because they are so afraid their trafficker is going to find them, we have to work them through a lot of emotions to get them to be independent. So we do an assessment and we make up a plan, and that plan is anywhere from going to English classes or getting their GED or culinary arts program, again it depends, some of our clients have had college degrees and some have never gone to school at all, so we are having to do major assessments as we got through the line. You know, we all assume that every trafficking victim needs to go through counseling, and they do, but if you are from another country then the stigma is so great that it takes us a while to work through those issues, so we have to find ways to provide emotional support outside of a therapeutic process so that might be getting them into a sports program or a volunteer program or getting them a life skills mentor that we train and use, where someone will come alongside and take them on the bus a couple times until they feel comfortable or help them when they are learning English and have a learning disability, or you know, help them learn how to do a budget or spend money appropriately or we also in counseling we have this fantastic law that actually gives our trafficking victims from another country benefits like a refugee, so they get some food stamps, some medical pretty quickly after we find them so we work really hard to get them an attorney and if they attorney decides they are a trafficking victim and they meet the federal guidelines, then we take them to social services and that has been a huge blessing and as part of social services there has been an employment component for job training so we try to also access that, and then as they go through the next 8, 10, 12 months that we are helping them get their T visas, there are visas for, because if they are here on account of their trafficking and they are willing to help with the prosecution they are able to apply for a visa to stay here and we work really hard to get them our partner lawyers to get them pro bono attorneys to help them fill one out, and the other amazing thing about this T visa is that they can bring, if they are a mom or dad they can bring their spouse and their children here to America to live with them and so we work really hard in getting them those documents and getting their children and their family their visas and so in the last 6 months, we’ve reunited 4 families that haven’t seen each other in over 5 years and that has been a huge blessing for us because if you think about it, a mom and a dad, all they want to do is make sure their kids are taken care of, so if they’re going to do that from another country, that’s fine, but if they are doing it in the same place and they are providing that level or care, it’s a huge blessing, so we’ve been watching these families go for not seeing each other for 5 years to being a family overnight and its amazing to watch, were working hard with them. That’s another way that the community has come in to help us amazingly, when we have a family, we put in a request for household goods and just 2 weeks ago we completely put couches, beds, chairs, microwaves, kitchen supplies, everything for a family that had not one thing in their apartment, and we completely furnished it and then the next day the family came and never knew, it was nothing for the 5 years that he was in trafficking so again, the family is so thankful to our partners who have come alongside and helped us so again, we start out with an assessment and 1, 2, 3 years later were reunifying the family.
Sandie: That’s really rewarding. Dave, you got a question?
Dave: Yeah, I was just going to say, Sherry, I am just so impressed with the level or service that the Army gives to clients and I know I was very naive about the Salvation Army’s role in serving victims of human trafficking until we met with Lisa Thompson 6 or 7 years ago in DC and its just really inspiring, Sherry, how your organization has made a commitment to really serve the whole person, and just the flexibility that you do to ride with people on bus trips, and build trust and reduce fear, and really to serve to whole person and I say that, Sandy, as well too, as a reminder to all of us, we’ve talked about this on the podcast as well, there are many times there are very well meaning people out in the world who want to serve victims and help victims and I think what Sherry has communicated today is one, what a great example of how this can be done very well but also a very important reminder of how complex and important doing all of this is to serve victims and what a wonderful job they do but also an important reminder that it is not an easy thing to do.
Sandie: Yeah, when you are saying 2 or 3 years before you are done with this one victim that you are serving…
Dave: Yeah, it’s incredible.
Sherry: Yeah, it’s intensive, its labor intensive and they are not all easy to work with because the trust level is very, very tenuous at first and they all come with varying levels of trauma and varying levels of fear produced on them and so some of our clients are lovely and amazing and others really don’t want to be a part of the process and it takes a lot of time for us to get them to be where they need to be as a participant in our program and we don’t do everything right but we sure try hard and I think, overtime, our victims are all being successful in their own way but it hasn’t been an easy thing and one of the other things I wanted to say just as I am working with this population every day and our case managers are doing detail, detail work to try to help these victims but, the whole area Soul Care has been very much on my mind, we can provide for food and clothes and shelter but it’s the soul that we have to reach. So as we are doing our work that is a constant reminder for me is how can we provide that level of care that reaches their soul? Because that’s where their wounded-ness is so profound and I’m not sure we always do that very well at the beginning, it takes a lot of time.
Sandie: That is a really good point, Sherry, and that will drive another program, so we will begin to work on scheduling something on soul care and victims of human trafficking. I still remember my first conversation volunteering, working in the Doctors of the World Shelter in Athens, Greece, and the victim had said to me, “My soul died.” And that is, you just really nailed it. And we appreciate so much of your time this morning, this has been great, I feel like we’ve just brushed the surface though and we’ll have to have you come back.
Sherry: Sounds fun, no and thanks for getting the word out, it is an important topic and the community can play a role.
Dave: And Sherry, just before we finish up here, for those who do want to provide resources or time or talent to the efforts of the Salvation Army, what would be the best way to either connect with you personally or the Salvation Army organization.
Sherry: If you are in Orange County, we do all of our volunteer work through the task force, so you would go actually through the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force website and you would get to us. If you are outside of Orange County, I think the best way to start is actually with the www.iast.net website and that would connect you with the Salvation Army and people will respond to your request for information and Army has made it a major work, a major policy to work on the issue so every county in every state is doing a little bit different but there usually is something going on where you are.
Dave: Outstanding, well thank you so much for your time, Sherry and thanks for the wonderful work that you do in helping really serve people who are in such difficult situations and like I said before, really serving the whole person and serving their souls too.
Sandie: Thanks, Sherry. We’ll talk to you again soon.
Dave: And that’s just going to about do it for our time here today, Sandy, so we are going to be back again in 2 weeks for our next episode and just a reminder for those who want to connect with the website that Sherry mentioned, that’s iast.net so you can find information there, and Sandy our next topic in 2 weeks?
Sandie: were going to be looking at prevention and community engagement, a deeper look.
Dave: So certainly, join us then and we look forward to talking with you again in 2 weeks and continuing our efforts in helping you to be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Take care, Sandy.