Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern slavery (labor and/or sexual) that occurs in every state, including Pennsylvania.
Emma (not her real name; details changed for anonymity) continued walking toward town in a chilly, windswept rain. At 14 years old, she can’t drive yet and she was saving what little cash she had to take a bus into the city. Her backpack felt too light as she dodged sheepishly into a coffee shop to dry off and get warm among unfamiliar faces before continuing to the bus stop.
The older gentleman wearing a thick turtleneck sweater and designer glasses nodded and smiled kindly as Emma sat next to him. He reminded her of a teacher she had in school. She shivered as she remembered her mother’s new boyfriend leering at her and being inappropriate. “Can I buy you a cup of hot chocolate?” the kind stranger asked and broke through her dark memory.
Unfortunately, Emma is on her way to become the latest in a growing number of human trafficking statistics in Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Chester County.
“Most people tend to think that human trafficking is a problem in faraway lands, with violent kidnappings in developing-world environments,” explains Carol Metzker, consultant for the Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking Program. “They don’t realize that the problem exists right in our own backyard.”
Victims quickly lose dignity and become emotionally and many times physically dependent upon their traffickers. They lose the basic right of choice and eventually find themselves in a seemingly unending cycle of violence and desperation.
But there is help for these victims to recover and meld back into society while becoming empowered as survivors. It takes a village, and with the supportive partnership with the Chester County Food Bank, the Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking victim services is a first stop in the battery of programs ready to take on this painful challenge.
Case Management services include working with the victim to be located a safe, undisclosed place—where he or she can receive clothing and services, and stay out of the grasp of traffickers. If the victim has children, they, too, can be provided for at this point.
The Food Bank helps by providing “grab-and-go bags” for the victims and their families. These reusable bags provide nonperishables like peanut butter, crackers, microwavable items and more to sustain the victim as the search for a job or housing can begin.
The Salvation Army’s New Day Women’s Drop In Center is a “drop-in” facility in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood that assists street walk-ins, including women from Chester County, by providing a temporary location for safe rest, a shower and basic necessities. Open during the day and some evenings, it provides a way for women to get in contact with social workers and various safety nets that will hopefully help direct them to further steps in becoming a survivor.
The Food Bank provides portable “street-smart” waterproof reusable food bags with basics such as water, granola bars and crackers for sustenance.
The Salvation Army’s New Day New Home will be opening this month at an undisclosed location and will be an operating residence for women from 18 to 24 years of age who were trafficked as minors and are “aging out” of child protective services.
The Chester County Food Bank is again instrumental in coordinating the leaders of a local Girl Scout group out of Coatesville to run a drive to gather food to stock the cabinets and pantry for New Day New Home. Basic living items like flour, salt, sugar, coffee, tea and canned and packaged goods will be in place before eight women take residence. Many of the food items requested are fair trade when possible.
“We are so grateful for our partnership with the Chester County Food Bank for the past three years,” notes Metzker, “and look forward to a continued satisfying relationship.”
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The Chester County Food Bank is nonprofit and the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 partner agencies in Chester County, Pa. Through our network of food cupboards, hot meal sites, shelters and other social service organizations, we distribute over 2.5 million pounds to our neighbors with limited or uncertain access to adequate food. We also take a steadfast approach to provide food and build support in the neediest communities, while raising awareness and engagement among our community. Visit our Nutrition Education page to learn about how our programs are making inroads in the fight against hunger. We are located at 650 Pennsylvania Dr., Exton, Pa. 19341.
Photos: Carol Metzker