BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A local nonprofit hopes to bring much-needed support to adult victims of sex trafficking.
Faithful Love, which offers services to women ages 18 and older who are survivors of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation, has begun working toward opening the only 30-day crisis residential safe home for adult sex trafficking survivors in Southeast Georgia.
“There is no safe house for adult trafficked women south of Atlanta,” said Judi Riccio, executive director of Faithful Love. “… We really need one in the southeast area.”
Faithful Love has begun its first major fundraising toward a capital campaign to open the center, named Ruth’s Home, and is participating in the fundraising contest Community Thrives, a program hosted through USA Today Network.
Faithful Love needs to raise $3,000 before Oct. 16 to be added to a pool of potential recipients that could receive $20,000.
Women at Ruth’s Home will receive counseling and care at the home. The goal will be to help place women in a long-term program focused on trauma-informed care and recovery.
The plan to pursue opening a home was approved by Faithful Love’s board in April, after which the faith-based nonprofit’s staff began to consider what sort of program model to follow.
Riccio connected with anti-trafficking organizations that operate safe houses in the Atlanta area, including Out of Darkness, a nonprofit that has trained some Faithful Love volunteers who help rescue adult sex trafficking victims in the southeastern region of the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the number of residents safe houses can hold, which added to challenges already presented by having so few crisis homes in Georgia serving sex trafficking survivors.
Faithful Love currently operates a house where sex trafficking victims can come during the day to receive therapy and to participate in a jewelry making program called Faithful Gems, through which they’re paid an hourly wage to create jewelry that is sold in local stores, at craft bazaars and online.
The opening of a 30-day crisis center will expand services available to local women, Riccio said.
Faithful Love plans to follow the model used by Out of Darkness, the only safe house in the state that takes women in 24/7. Ruth’s Home plans to operate with the same hours and to bring in women who call the hotline seeking immediate help.
“These women have escaped their trafficker, and they’ve called and they need a place,” Riccio said. “… We need a place where if a woman calls and we do have a bed available, it’s not three days from now. We can take you in now.”
Women will choose to come to the home, where they will begin the process of healing from the trauma they’ve experienced, Riccio said.
“Another very important piece in this with our women that have been in trafficking is the trauma therapy,” Riccio said. “… There’s so much trauma that happens in sex trafficking … Studies have shown that someone who has been trafficked, that they have the same percentage of PTSD that they’re seeing from war veterans.”
The healing process that many sex trafficking victims go through often begins with a 30-day stay in a residential crisis center, like Ruth’s Home. A woman will then move next into a long-term program that provides more extensive counseling and trauma therapy. Those programs can last up to a year, after which a woman will move into a transitional setting.
During the transition period, women receive job skills training and stay in housing offered by the program.
“She would get a job, pay a small amount of rent,” Riccio said. “They’re working with her on budgeting, and she’s out in the world using all of the tools she’s been learning through her healing process but yet still required to maybe go to a certain amount of group meetings and counseling.”
Transitional programs may last one to two years.
Like in Out of Darkness’s model, Faithful Love plans to incorporate into its budget funding for women who come to Ruth’s Home to go into long-term treatment programs.
“We’ve got several wonderful organizations in the Atlanta area that have great long-term programs — House of Cherith being one of them, Wellspring (Living), and there’s many other ones,” Riccio said. “But it also opens the door for us to be able to use organizations outside of the state of Georgia.”
The total fundraising goal of Faithful Love’s capital campaign has not yet been announced. The nonprofit is working now with a real estate agent to select a property for the safe home.
“Once we know exactly the cost we’re looking at, then we’ll be able to set a specific amount of money,” Riccio said. “And we’re being told by Out of Darkness … that by the time we open up our home, we need to have at least our first’s year budget already in the bank because we don’t want to get the home open and have a house full of women and six months down the road we have to close our door because the money’s not coming in.”
A crisis home in this area will be significantly beneficial to local victims of sex trafficking, many of whom grew up in this area and are apprehensive about leaving even to escape their situation, Riccio said.
Some people may ask why women in the world of sex trafficking do not simply leave, Riccio said, but doing so is no easy feat.
“They’re trapped there,” she said. “The traffickers manipulate them mentally, emotionally, physically. They’re abused. They’re threatened. It is dangerous for them to leave.”
It’s crucial, she said, for the women to have a safe place they can go. The center’s proposed name, Ruth’s Home, aims to convey a sense of hope.
“The name comes from the story in the Bible of Ruth,” Riccio said. “… Ruth had to leave her home and go to a land unknown and to a people that she didn’t know, and she had to have the faith and the trust that she would receive the help she needed.”
The women Faithful Love hopes to help in Ruth’s Home will be making the same leap of faith.
“These women are trying to leave a life and trust us that we will be safe for them and that we will get them the help they need and get them on that journey to healing and wholeness and restoration,” Riccio said. “That’s the thought behind our name.”
Donations can be made on Faithful Love’s Facebook page or online at https://acommunitythrives.mightycause.com/story/763b9g.