COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of life for Americans, and this is especially true for those working on the frontlines with victims of human trafficking. On Thursday, August 20, 2020, I visited two Office for Victims of Crime grantees in the Virginia Beach area, Survivor Ventures and Samaritan House, to hear how they are continuing to provide transitional housing services to human trafficking survivors during a pandemic that is stretching resources and presenting challenges to victim outreach and care. During several roundtables and site tours, I met with staff and brave survivors who shared that the pandemic has increased calls for help, compounded victims’ needs, and reshaped the types of assistance victims require. But despite a noticeable uptick in referrals and a greater need for housing services, there were also glimpses of hope.
Human trafficking is a crisis in the United States that cuts across all races, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic classes. Traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities of their intended victims. They deprive individuals of their human rights and dignity for purposes of their own profit. And they entangle victims in a criminal underworld which devastates many aspects of their life in addition to causing profound personal trauma.
Survivor Ventures offered a particularly unique approach to addressing this challenge. It provides economic empowerment by partnering with local businesses to match survivors with employment opportunities that are aligned with their goals and skill set. I toured a job site and met with survivors to hear about their experience with the program. At Samaritan House, I was able to view transitional housing and hear about the tremendous impact that supportive housing can have in the lives of survivors. Housing assistance for rent, utilities, and other expenses or employment placement truly are steps on the path to empowerment and resilience. I’m grateful to the survivors who shared their stories with me.
The Trump Administration and the Department of Justice are committed to combating the crisis of human trafficking. Recently, the Office for Victims of Crime awarded over $35 million to 73 organizations in 34 states through the first-ever federal program dedicated exclusively to providing housing for human trafficking survivors. These grants are securing transitional and short-term housing for trafficking victims and helping survivors find permanent housing and stable employment, not to mention other services vitally important to their safety and recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses extraordinary challenges to human trafficking survivors and those who serve them, but organizations like Survivor Ventures and Samaritan House are rising to meet these challenges with commitment, compassion, and resolve.
Visit our awards listing page to learn more about OVC grantees providing housing assistance to human trafficking survivors.