Before this program I did not know that resources existed for women like us… – Nikki 

Women like us. When I heard Nikki say those words I was reminded why we created Real Talk. Our team developed the ten-week, trauma informed program in 2017 after recognizing how many women and children are overlooked. People in the criminal justice and child welfare systems are high-risk populations for trafficking, yet they are the most unidentified. Lured with the promise of employment, shelter and affection, they are particularly susceptible to coercion, abuse and face the risk of victimization by traffickers. We decided it was time to create a space for these women where they could finally speak.

This month we partnered with Harris County Sheriff’s office and a minor’s residential facility to start conversations, create safety, and provide the space these women need to share their complex stories. By the end of 10 weeks we received a total of 35 disclosures of human trafficking, both sex and labor. The numbers are shocking, and their stories are worse. Each week we heard more accounts of broken relationships, abuse, assault; the list was unending. These women experienced trafficking but their trauma started long ago.

I like the fact that you guys really care about our situation. I’m 19 years old and didn’t think anyone cared. – Nastassia

When you think about supporting survivors of trafficking, you might think about providing housing, job skills training, clothing, and counseling. These are all important. These are the basic necessities we have to be willing to provide. But what about supporting the mind? Trauma trains our bodies to live in a constant state of fight or flight. Long before trafficking occurs we see that those trafficked experience severe forms of trauma, which acts as a catalyst for their exploitation. These women need a friend, a support system, a safe place.

As we arrived at the facilities each week, we focused on two goals: Creating a safe community to share and support one another and helping them create a plan for whatever comes after they leave. These girls come from the streets, homes with no support system, histories of criminal records, and pimps waiting for them to return. We saw them learn to depend on one another. We witnessed collaboration and creativity as they helped each other plan to find a place to stay and connect with long- term support systems in our community. We saw their hope return as they realized that yes, resources exist for women like us.

Throughout this program I was able to share things that I never shared with anyone. This group reminded me, I have so much to live for. – LaShonda

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