23 – Victim Needs Served by the Salvation Army

Ending Human Trafficking Podcast Logo

Understanding the complexity of serving tracking survivors helps us better understand the issue of human trafficking. Sandie interviews Sherri Harris from The Salvation Army to discuss how The Salvation Army works with trafficking victims in Orange County and helps us understand all the resources needed to serve the whole person.

Key Points

  • The Salvation Army’s NETS (Networking of Emergency Trafficking Services) Program provides long-term assistance to foreign born victims of human trafficking.
  • It’s important in the first 30-72 hours to build trust and provide the basic necessities.
  • The NETS Program case load is predominately labor trafficking.
  • Use your gut instinct and look out for patterns when calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline.



Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 23, airing in March 2012. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:28] And I’m Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:30] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, it’s great to be back with you on another episode of the Ending Human Trafficking podcast and our continued efforts to study the issues so we can help others to learn how to best join the effort to end human trafficking.

Sandie [00:00:53] Well, I’m really encouraged with the growing audience of listeners and participants, the community engagement that I’m 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 [00:01:08] Oh, cool.

Sandie [00:01:09] And the words were exactly, “I’ve been devouring the podcasts because I need to present at a university function and we need information.” And so it was very rewarding and we want to have more opportunity to engage with our community. If you have questions, you can email GCWJ@vanguard.edu. If there’s something you’re looking for and you can’t find it, send us a question and we’ll do our best to research that and find good information for you.

Dave [00:01:40] And we do respond to everything. And if your question or comment is helpful for our audience as well we’ll 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 way is most convenient for you and you get to tap into Sandie’s expertise and the expertise here of the center to really help you to study the issues more effectively so you can understand how to best support our efforts in ending human trafficking.

Sandie [00:02:13] And that’s a really good lead in to where we’re going today because our center is more about a community of experts and people that we partner and collaborate with. And one of our partners is the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, and part of our partnership includes the victim services aspect for international foreign victims of human trafficking right in our community. And that service is provided by the Salvation Army and the director of their NETS program, which I’m going to ask her to explain what that means is Sheri Harris. So welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, Sherri.

Sherri [00:02:55] Thanks. Fun to be here.

Sandie [00:02:57] So tell us, what is your job description? What do you do?

Sherri [00:03:02] That’s a really good question and it depends on the day. But I work as the director for the Network of Emergency Trafficking Services. And so in Orange County, basically what that means is if we get a call from law enforcement or a social service agency or a local partner, and they say that they have a victim of human trafficking that’s 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 take care of themselves. And we really consider this a long term process because it takes a while for the foreign born 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. So it’s a community response and we’ve been working really hard to get our partners in place and find the different organizations that we need on our team to help our victims become survivors. So that’s kind of in a briefly what I do, but I, you know, I love working at the Salvation Army because if you look at our history, we’ve been doing this since we started. You know, in 1869, our founder, William Booth, started working in the streets of London helping prostituted women get off the streets and rescue homes. And so ever since we started at the Army, we’ve been looking out for women and men who’ve been victimized in trafficking. And 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’m considered privileged to actually get to do it at the Army because I would do it anywhere. But it’s a actual real joy to do it with a Christian organization that actually has it as part of their mission.

Sandie [00:04:46] 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 in Justice is Lisa Thompson, who is out there in Washington, DC and really is an advocate for ending human trafficking. So, dave, we’ll have to add an interview with her really soon too. So let’s get into this, Sherri. Let’s assume that you just got a call in. It’s 3:00 in the morning and they’ve got three victims from a country where it’s like maybe they’re from Thailand. Do you speak Thai?

Sherri [00:05:24] No, I don’t.

Sandie [00:05:25] So what do you do? You’re supposed to go help them. And you just tell me you’re going to communicate to them their human rights and the resources available. So what do you do?

Sherri [00:05:33] Well, I get nervous and then I start making phone calls really fast. And I basically would do 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 that they might need anywhere 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 realizing that I’m there to help them. I bring that and then I bring a phone number for an international hotline that can help me translate. And I start making phone calls and try to find our partners who volunteer to be translators that speak Thai. And I go and I meet them and I start a relationship. I kind of see what’s happening and assess the situation, and I get that interpreter either on the line or sitting next to us, and we start explaining that we’re here to help, that we understand that they’re scared and that there’s a lot going on in their head. But we’re hoping that we can figure out how to help them and we ask them for their what they’re worried about at that particular moment. And we work really hard to alleviate that fear. Often it’s making sure their family knows that they’re okay or they’re afraid of someone else in the situation. And we we kind of really work really fast at 3:00 in the morning to do the basics, to get them to understand that we’re going to take them to a safe place. We explain 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 and where the food is and all the basic stuff that we would assume everyone knows. We don’t know if these ladies know or not. And we let them sleep for a few hours and then we come back the next day and we get them with an attorney so that they can understand exactly what their rights are in America. We get them, 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’re starting to do is to build trust, because we realize that they have no reason to trust us. They have been told story after story by people who told them that they were there to help and it has been fraudulent. And so we really work hard to keep our promises to make sure that they have some of the little comforts of home, like some food from their country. We usually the second day take them to a grocery store that’s in their community, ethnic community, and let them pick some things that they want. We work really hard if they’re scared to alleviate that fear, however that is. It might be by taking them to a church or a temple, or it might be helping them connect with someone that they know in another state. We really work hard to, just in the first couple of days, 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, we’re responding to this situation. So if law enforcements involved, we realize that the next day they’re probably going to 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’re in a cold office and make sure that, again, that their attorney is there and that they have all that they need to start relaxing a little bit and being part of a system of recovery instead of a system of fear. So that’s what we do in the first 30, 72 hours.

Sandie [00:09:06] So in that first 72 hours, I heard several points where the community can engage in assisting you. We’re not prepared to be the person who goes out at 3:00 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?

Sherri [00:09:33] We get those from churches or from other social service agencies or community agencies 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. And I like to think of it as the beginning. When I give them this nice backpack, I envision them using that backpack through several parts of their journey. So not a cheap $2 one, but a $20 one, where at first they’re putting all their worldly possessions in it within those first couple of months, and then they put their English books in it when they go to English class, and then when they get their first job on the bus, then they’re carrying their lunch in it. And then in the end, when they reunite with their family, they’re giving that bag to their child so that that 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 of jackets. Every little thing that we need, we get from the community.

Sandie [00:10:37] So the calling their family in their country of origin that takes phone cards, right?

Sherri [00:10:44] Yeah. We also provide phone cards for the client right away. And we also do like Target and food cards for them so that they can pick out their own undergarments or their own clothes or the food that they want. And we also get those from the community and some of our community partners hold like a one of both of our friends hold a dance every year for a youth group. And they basically to get into the dance, you have to bring a $5 gift card to target and they gather all those gift cards and put them in nice little $25 packets for us. And that’s what we give to the victims when we 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 their food that they want and they never get a chance to pick out their own clothes. So we consider it a huge gift for them to be able to start developing some own self-care. And we use those those donations from the community to do just that.

Sandie [00:11:44] Well, can you send me a PDF file that I can put on our website with what that 72 hour kit includes, plus the gift card needs, and then we’ll put a link to that on our show notes. So yeah, people can access that. The other exciting part of this podcast is we find out people in other communities listen to it, get ideas and start doing the same thing that we’re doing in Orange County. So this could help somebody in another county.

Sherri [00:12:14] And I’ve actually heard in two other places other than Orange County where there wasn’t a social service provider like me. But the FBI task force is 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 [00:12:48] Okay. We’re going to make that happen. So my next question then is these people that you serve that end up here in Orange County, why did they end up in Orange County?

Sherri [00:13:02] 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’ll 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’re 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’re forced into all types of trafficking situations. So the way they got here is usually 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’re found, come from a lot of different places around the world. I’ve 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 actually, when you look at what trafficking looks like in the foreign born community, it isn’t just sex trafficking and it isn’t just young women. It’s 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 two things in common and only two things, and that’s hopes and dreams. And when they get here, those 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 free them from a life of slavery from Orange County. And some of them come to Orange County for several reasons because maybe it’s not safe in the county or the 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 we have bed space, we often take victims from outside of the county in order to provide care for them here. And another reason is, you know, sometimes they have family in America and the best thing for them to start rebuilding their life is to reunify them with a family member. So if they have a aunt or cousin or a brother that lives in Orange County then we’re going to bring them to Orange County and we’re going to help them get established with that family. So again, we have, you know, those that are identified in Orange County and those that move here for a variety of reasons, whether it’s safety or just we have victim support here or their family reunification. So those are kind of some of the ways in which we end up serving victims in Orange County.

Sandie [00:15:46] So when we’re talking about labor trafficking, the first picture that comes to my mind is somebody working backbreaking 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?

Sherri [00:16:08] Well, good question. Most of the victims that we have identified in Orange County have been victims of domestic servant servitude. So they’ve been brought over from another country in order to work in a home and to be a slave in a home. So that’s where we find most of our domestic or labor victims in Orange County, California. And that can be anywhere from a case that you know very well. Shyima, who was a 9 to 12 year old child who wasn’t going to school and working in the home to our new story that we have out of Orange County is the story of Isabel, who was sold at seven into a domestic work situation in her home country. And then when she was 21, she was brought to America to continue that slavery. And then she finally ran away at 27 or 26. And so she was also a slave in America as a domestic. So that’s the biggest point. But we also have restaurants, women or men that have been forced to pay off a debt in the restaurant. We’ve had them working in massage parlors doing exotic dancing, which might be sex trafficking or labor trafficking. It depends on what was happening. We have people working in, what other cases have we had and oh, home health. So we have a decent number of victims that have been brought over to work in the health care industry, taking care of elderly people or disabled people. And quickly that situation becomes one where they are paying off a debt and they’re forced to work long hours without pay, with threats of deportation and all kinds of stuff. So we actually just had a case this week who the traffickers in a home health case just were pled guilty and they just got sentenced to federal prison, two perpetrators. And those were a big, huge success for our clients because not only did their perpetrators go to jail this week, but they also got their visa and they’re able to stay here legally. And that came in this week as well. So a lot of people helped them through their home health care problem. And the last one, we served a lot of clients that have been involved in restaurant 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 six hour days. Instead of living in an apartment with four people, were living in an apartment with 30 people and were not able to come and go as they please. And were getting charged exorbitant amounts of money to pay off their debt. So those are the kind of labor cases that I’ve worked with and in my program in Orange County. But I would say the ones that we are finding in Orange County are mostly domestic servants. It kind of makes sense if you think about the socio economic status in Orange County.

Sandie [00:19:01] 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?

Sherri [00:19:25] It might be. It might be. There’s probably something going on there that would potentially be a trafficking case. I think one of the things I kind of go off with calling the 888 number is use your gut instinct. Nobody, even me. When I see a potential situation, I don’t know for sure if it’s a trafficking case. That’s not my job to find out. It’s 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 do not, aren’t able to, you know, like two or three living at a time that come and go in a company vehicle or where there’s a driver. Those are definitely issues that you need to be paying attention to. And one of the things to think about when you’re talking about victims of human trafficking in general is that they do not know their victims. And it makes it really hard if you are a neighbor and you actually do ask them questions, they probably aren’t going to say, yes, I’m 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 causes a lot of problems in identifying and rescuing victims.

Sandie [00:20:40] 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. We think, Oh, that might be trafficking. And like you say with your gut, 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. No, she was always there. And that’s led 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.

Sherri [00:21:47] And I do think you’ve 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 that work in a home health care facility that are from another country are trafficking victims. You know, there is some amazing restaurant people that are owners that take care of their people very well. We have to, you know, really look for those patterns because not everyone who’s in those situations that we would think might be exploited are. And 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 the patterns are a critical link because a lot of my clients who have gotten jobs in the same sector where they were trafficked, are actually loving their work now because they found bosses who care about them and who 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 [00:22:45] 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’re into really becoming reintegrated. You mentioned that backpack turns into instead of emergency, 72 hours of stuff, you’re carrying English books.

Sherri [00:23:11] Mm hmm. Yeah. Once we get them through, we consider our clients in a crisis phase for 3 to 8 months. I mean, it doesn’t happen quickly. But what happens is, once we get them stable the first 72 hours then we sit and do an assessment, a long one, and we figure out where their needs are. Do they speak English? Do they have employment documents? Do they have an education? Where is their family? What is their mental health needs? What is their medical needs? What is their immigration needs? What are their social service needs? Their life skill needs? I’ve had clients that have never used money and don’t know how to use money. I have clients that are so terrified of going on a bus because they’re afraid their traffickers are going to find them, that we have to work through a lot of emotions to get them to be independent. So we  do an assessment and then we make a plan. And that plan is anywhere from going to English classes or getting their GED or culinary arts program. It depends on again, some of our clients have college degrees and some have never gone to school at all. So we’re having to do major assessments as we move through the line. One is a you know, we all assume that every trafficked victim needs to go to counseling, and they do. But if you’re from another country, often the stigma of counseling is so great that it takes us a while to work through those issues. And 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, getting them a life skills mentor that we train and use in our task force where someone would come alongside of them and take them on the bus 20 times so they felt comfortable or help them when they’re learning English and have a learning disability or, help them learn how to do a budget or spend money appropriately. We also in California, we have this fantastic law that actually gives our trafficking victims from another country benefits like a refugee. So they get some cash aid and some food stamps and medical pretty quickly after we find them. So we work really hard to get them an attorney and that attorney decides that they’re a trafficking victim, that they meet the federal guidelines and then we take them to social services, and that has been a huge blessing. And as part of that social services, there’s an employment component for job training. And so we try to also access that. And then as they go through the next eight, ten, 12 months that we’re helping them get their T-Visas, because if they’re here on account of their trafficking and they’re willing to help with the prosecution they’re 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 that will help fill them out. And the other amazing thing about this T-Visa is that they can bring, if they’re 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 on getting those documents and getting their children and their family visas. And so in the last six months, we’ve reunited four families that haven’t seen each other in over five 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 that their kids are taken care of. And so if they’re going to do that from another country, that’s fine. But if they can be in the same place and they’re providing that level of care, it’s a huge blessing. So we’ve been watching these families go from not seeing each other for five years to being a family overnight. And it’s amazing to watch and sometimes stressful, but we’re working hard with them. And that’s another way where the community has come in to help us amazingly. When we have a family, we put out a request for household goods. And just two weeks ago, we completely how put beds, chairs, couches, microwaves, kitchen supplies, everything for a family that had not one thing in their apartment. And we completely furnished it. And the next day his family came and never knew that he was with nothing for the five 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 doing the basic assessments and then 1 to 3 years later, we’re reunifying the family.

Sandie [00:27:31] That’s really rewarding. Dave, you’ve got a question?

Dave [00:27:34] Yeah, I was just going to say, Sherri, I’m just so impressed with the level of 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 six or seven years ago in D.C. And it’s just really inspiring, Sherri, how the organization’s made a commitment to really serve the whole person and just the flexibility that you do to ride with people on bus trips and to, like you said, to build trust and reduce fear and really to serve the whole person. And I say that, Sandie, as well, too, as a reminder to all of us and we’ve talked about this on the podcast as well is there are many times very well-meaning people that go out in the world and want to serve victims and help victims. And I think what Sherri’s communicated here today is, one, 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 [00:28:48] Yeah. When you’re saying two or three years before you’re done with this one victim that you’re serving.

Dave [00:28:54] Oh, yeah. And it’s incredible.

Sherri [00:28:56] Yeah, it’s intensive. It’s labor intensive. And they’re not all easy to work with because the trust level is very, very tenuous at first. And they all come with, you know, 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 want to be a participant in our program. And we don’t do everything right, but we sure try hard. And I think, you know, over time, 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 want to say, just as  I work with with this population every day. And my case managers are doing detailed detail work to try to help these victims. But the whole area of soul care is something that’s 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. And so as we’re doing our work, that’s a constant reminder for me, is how can we provide that level of care that reaches their soul? Because that’s where their woundedness is so profound. And I’m not always sure we do that very well at the beginning. It takes a lot of time.

Sandie [00:30:09] That is a really good point, Sherri. 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 who said to me, my soul died. And that is you’ve just really nailed it. And we appreciate so much 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.

Sherri [00:30:45] Sounds fun. Thanks for getting the word out. It is an important topic and the community can play a role.

Dave [00:30:52] And Sherri, 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 for them to either connect with you personally or the Salvation Army organization?

Sherri [00:31:10] Yeah, if you’re 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 www.iast.net website and that will lead you to some opportunities to connect with the Salvation Army. And people will respond to your request for information. And the Army, you know, it has made it a major work, a major policy to work on the issue. And so every county and every state is doing a little bit different. But there usually is something going on where you are.

Dave [00:31:59] Outstanding. Well, thanks so much for your time, Sherri, and thanks for the wonderful work that you do in helping really serve people who are just, you know, in such difficult situations. And for, you know, like I was saying earlier, serving the whole person and really serving their souls, too.

Sandie [00:32:16] Thanks, Sherri. We’ll talk to you again soon.

Dave [00:32:20] And that’s just going to about do it for our time here today, Sandie. And so we’re going to be back again in two weeks for our next episode. And just a reminder, for those who do want to connect with the website that Sherri had mentioned, that’s iast.net. So you can find information there. And Sandie, our next two topics in two weeks?

Sandie [00:32:42] We’re going to be looking at prevention and community engagement, a deeper look.

Dave [00:32:49] So certainly join us then and we look forward to talking with you again in two weeks and continuing our efforts on helping you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Take care, Sandie.

Sandie [00:33:03] Bye.

Scroll to Top