By Jasmine Willis
ATLANTA – Every year millions of women, men and children fall victim to human trafficking worldwide, and due to fear of their captors, language barriers, or fear of law enforcement this has remained one of the most hidden and darkest crimes.
A local woman is looking to shine light on human trafficking survivors who need a place to rebuild after the trauma of being forced into a commercial sex act. The highest cases of human trafficking reported in the United States remains in California. However, this criminal act exists right in your backyard.
Human traffickers target vulnerable people by preying on their situations. They target and recruit victims by appearing to be a friend or potential romantic partner. According to Department of Homeland Security, It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.
Jessica Levinson, of Atlanta has worked on creating a safe place for survivors of Human Trafficking called Leah’s Place. This residential safe house will remain secure for the survivors ages 13 to 19 years old. In September, Levinson plans on eqiping several others with the leadership requirements to help others provide a shelter called Leah’s Place
“Our first Healing Journey groups that are forming this September will be for leadership members of Leah's Place. This will prepare us to provide this program to survivors in the future. Experiencing this program ourselves first will equip us with the tools we need to lead others to healing,” she said.
“We are in phase two of our research for the safe house. We still have a lot of work to do to the nonprofit project. This kind of safe house is definitely needed. Human trafficking is a grey area that not a lot of people know about. We are unique because no one else is doing what we are doing in the county,” Levinson said. “There is more evidence out there now about human trafficking and what it does to our society. There are studies done now from
Loyola University on the health and outcome of survivors. Survivors have a whole range of human emotions to deal with once they get out, and we need to help them work on their lives beyond victimization. They have survived something significant. We call them survivors instead of victims to give them some dignity as human beings.”
Levinson said she wants to be a hub for change in the community. She wants to be a green light to serve and heal others through intense Bible Studies, animal therapy, and creating a safe place to go.
Levinson is a survivor of human trafficking and felt called to help others who are impacted by the suffering.
“I am hoping to help others in a small groups format and classes. I know it breathed new life into me after I got out. There were people who reached out to help me and were a huge impact on my life. We need leadership. I am blessed to have been part of the program and have the leadership training,” she said. “We know our beginnings are humble. We appreciate any help we can get from others. We already have Derek Wadsworth of Dansville Foursquare Church willing to help us have men’s classes at the community center. We have a good friend of mine, Dawn Waldeis in Naples who is willing to open up her home for women’s classes.”
Levinson said her healing came from Family Life Network in Bath. She wants to get them involved with the program.
“I first found clinical help with some excellent leaders at Family Life Network. Gary Short and his wife, Barb of Family Life pretended to be my parents at my wedding for the day,” she said. “We do need more male leaders. I need something to offer the male community that is going through surviving this too. We want them to become stronger men and fathers. Robert Harder and Derek Wadsworth are willing to help, and they are both wonderful.”
Levinson said human trafficking impacts the entire society.
“Human trafficking a destructive force on a human life. People who survive have a negative force on everyone around them. That negative force comes from everything that person suffered,” she said. “Once it is finished Leah’s Place will be our human trafficking survivor outreach safe house. We will never disclose the address to the public for the safety of our survivors. We want to make a better life for our survivors.”
Potter’s Hands is currently helping survivors of human trafficking. It has paved the way in this area for helping adult survivors. They are licensed to serve adults who are not pregnant.
“The study shows that so many women come out of this thing pregnant or have kids. No one wants to talk about that aspect of human trafficking. There are people who were born into this environment. We are waking up to this fact now as a society. We need a safe place for these gals to go to talk about adopting out their children or being parents themselves,” she said. “Abortions are made readily available for survivors, and choices for bringing their babies into safe environments and foster healthy choices with strong family bonds are severely lacking. The average age for being taken into human trafficking is 12 years old. It effects your health across your lifetime. We want to show them there are other ways to live. We want to show them hope, compassion, love, and learn skills to get them through life.”
Carolyn Sweets hopes to be able to employee some survivors at some point in the future. Right now, there is a basket raffle for three baskets. On March 20 the raffle will be live on Carolyn Sweets Facebook. Tickets for these baskets can be found at E.J. Cottrell Memorial Library.
Levinson said there needs to be safe place for the children to go. She plans on being prepared to handle foster care as well as leadership.
“We can’t do this alone. It is a huge effort. Once I saw what Potter’s Hands could do in a couple of years, I felt inspired to take this on. I knew we could all come together and do this here too. What they had accomplished there was mostly donated to them. It gave me the amount of inspiration I needed to keep going on this project,” she said. “They have accomplished so much in a couple of years. It went from a single idea to everything coming together for this huge success. We are going to try to come together and provide a safe place here. Leah’s Place will be a long-term facility for teens who have survived human trafficking, which we simply don’t have right now. This will be an intensive care place. We are offering an alternative route that shows a human trafficking survivor the hope of a pro-choice society. They are all in a very vulnerable situation. They have all fallen through the social cracks due to this intense trauma. It is all a unique challenge we are prepared to face.”
Levinson said she felt inspired after reading “Wives, Slaves and Servant Girls” by Don Hagist. This is a book filled with newspaper reports and advertisements on female runaways from 1770 to 1783. It shows the dark under belly of human trafficking from long ago. She feels now is the first time in history everyone is willing to take the blinders off and talk about this crime.
For more information about Healing Journey visit https://www.hishealinglight.org/
To learn more about the Loyola University study on sex trafficking visit https://www.globalcenturion.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/The-Health-Consequences-of-Sex-Trafficking.pdf