Understanding the Human-Trafficking Trade: Lord, what would you have us do?

In part one of this series you read the story of Nikki, a 25-year-old sex-trafficking victim who showed up on the doorstep of Cherry Hills Community Church seeking help. When the South Denver church realized how ill-equipped it was to respond and how little Denver had in the way of resources for victims, they took action.

“The church cannot not be ready the next time a sex-trafficking victim comes to us for help,” says Michelle Woodruff, local missions director for Cherry Hills. “We believe God sent Nikki to give us a heart for women in this situation, and we intend to see his mission through.”

“I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey…,”.”

Ezekiel 34:22a

God calls Allison
In 2012, Allison Madrigal was a 32-year-old property and casualty insurance broker in Houston. Led by the Holy Spirit, Allison quit her corporate job. Little did she know she would be called to spearhead Rescue Houston, that would ultimately become Rescue America, a nonprofit organization created to provide immediate rescue and stabilization to victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.  

Rescue America launched its prototype, Rescue Houston, in 2014. Over the course of five years, the organization has gone from opening its doors to receiving over 1,000 hotline calls and rescuing over 330 victims of sexual exploitation.

“After graduating from our emergency assessment program, our clients begin long-term care where they continue to recover while learning new life and job skills, Allison says. By the end of this year, the next Rescue America location, Rescue Denver, will open in the Rocky Mountains region. 

Research reveals need
Before Allison founded Rescue Houston, she began thoroughly researching what victim services were available in Houston and where they were lacking. “The Lord revealed a gaping hole in the anti-sex-trafficking landscape,” Allison said. “There was  a lot of direct outreach to victims and long-term care homes but there was no way to immediately get the victims out of their situation, properly assess and stabilize them, and place them in the best long term care home specific to their needs .”

Think of emergency assessment as triage. It’s meant to stabilize the victim. Escaping from the sex trade, victims suffer from compound traumas, drug addiction, mental disorders, and health problems. Stabilization is a necessary step before the victim can advance to the next level of healing and be placed in long-term care.

A hotline and a response team
Rescue Houston offers a 24/7 rescue  hotline for victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. While staff and volunteers are always available, they are also proactive. They boldly call the phone numbers listed on online sex advertisements, offering the hotline number for a way out to those who answer… 

“We tell them, “We will answer and we will come and get you…here’s our hotline number. Call anytime– day or night,’” Allison says. When a victim makes the call, an exit strategist assesses the situation, plans the escape with the survivor, and locates a bed in a partner shelter. Once the plan is in place the exit strategist then deploys a two-person rescue team to immediately pick the survivor up, and transport her or him to the partner shelter. 

Two months of holistic care
Once in a safe shelter, a survivor receives an overview of the Rescue America  Emergency Assessment (RAEA) Program. She or he is invited to commit to address and pursue physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing over the next 60 days, during which time a Survivor Advocate will help to identify continued care placement options for their long-term care.  The  RAEA Program includes seven core therapies and services that holistically assess and address the most common variables that cause victims to return to life over and over again.  

“Our goal is to minimize relapse by addressing mind, body, and spirit,” Allison said. The first 60 days are critical because that is when a victim is most vulnerable to relapse. “One of the issues that keeps a victim in fight-or-flight mode is uncertainty – the fear of not knowing what is coming next,” Allison said. “We calendar and plan the next two months for them.” Having a schedule gives victims a sense of safety and stability, providing them with a secure space and therapies to come out of flight or fight mode, and start their healing journey.  As an essential part of their healing journey, each survivor is introduced to The Exchange, a discipleship and healing ministry that equips believers to live an empowered life in Christ. “Every Rescue America client receives eight Exchange ministry sessions,” Allison says.

While clients are in the emergency assessment program, Rescue Houston volunteers provide transportation for dentist appointments, well-woman exams, professional counseling, and drug rehabilitation. A client may have up to seven appointments per week, based on her case-management needs.

Calls for help increase
Allison believes national media coverage of recent sex-trafficking busts has increased awareness that this horrific crime is happening here in  America. The coverage is giving victims the courage to reach out, as evidenced by the number and origin of distress calls Rescue Houston has recently received.

“The Lord is shining a light on the darkness – on powerhouse people who are traffickers – and justice is coming,” Allison says. One record-breaking day this July, Rescue Houston received five hotline calls which resulted in rescuing seven survivors, plus three children for a total of 10 people from trafficking in Tennessee, California, Dallas and Oklahoma City, all within 24 hours.

Another time, Allison’s team was dispatched to support a victim in Atlanta. “We had to get the victim out of state right away because her trafficker was a police officer,” Allison says. It takes manpower and connections to respond that quickly to all different parts of the country. Rescue Houston has nine paid staff and more than 100  volunteers, who contributed more than 10,000 hours of service in 2018 alone.

 Cherry Hills reaches out for help
Knowing it is in the Lord’s plans to expand the Rescue America franchise, Allison was not going to make a move until she knew the Lord was going before her into new territory. In the fall of 2018,  she received an email from Cherry Hills, seeking guidance on how to start an anti-sex-trafficking mission specifically focused on rescue, assessment and stabilization for victims off the streets. “Cherry Hills’  email was a true Holy Spirit connection,” Allison says.

Cherry Hills hired Rescue America to conduct a landscape analysis of victims’ resources in Denver, similar to the study they had conducted in Houston. Allison interviewed 23 Denver-area organizations, including law enforcement and government agencies, to identify overlapping services and uncover gaps.

Her most startling finding? “There are no beds specifically for adult trafficking victims right off the streets,” Allison said. “None.” Her conclusion: For Denver to be successful in eradicating sex trafficking, it needs a rescue and emergency response program like the one she established in Houston. 

God has shown himself faithful to His vision of expansion to other cities. Rescue America’s next location will be in Denver.

Cherry Hills is the catalyst to bring Rescue America to Denver by the end of 2019. S.A.F.E Rockies (Strategic Alliance to Fight Exploitation)  is helping to fund the effort and other needs related to the fight against human trafficking through a Giving Fund at NCF. Another local partner, Open Door Ministries, will provide an emergency assessment and stabilization house in urban Denver, with capacity starting at 10 beds.

“Rescue America provides the local front line operations of Rescue Houston and Rescue Denver with governing oversight, operational blueprints, reporting systems, marketing, communications, staff development, financial partner development,  accounting, legal, and spiritual direction – everything they need to undergird front line operations,” Allison says.

“I think it’s a game-changer,” Michelle says. “Once God led us to the Houston model, doors started opening.”

Currently, Allison is awaiting funding to help finish setting up Rescue Denver to begin operating, which she hopes to do by the end of November.  Rescue America’s funding comes from churches, businesses, government grants, foundations, and local community boards in each territory. To meet that goal, Rescue America needs to raise $500,000 by the end of the year. Allison has faith it will happen. All things are possible with Christ.