CHICAGO, IL (January 11, 2010) – The final phase of the three-year Break the Chains anti-human trafficking initiative will focus on starting a boarding school for girls ages 10-18 who have been rescued from prostitution.
Ruth Hill, executive minister of the Department of Women Ministries (WM), made the announcement several days ago as congregations across the Evangelical Covenant Church prepared to hold special services linked to National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which is being observed today, January 11.
Covenanters have donated more than $400,000 during the first two years of the project. Those funds have been distributed to two project partners, International Justice Mission and the Hindustani Covenant Church in India.
This year, WM will partner with New Day for Children, a nonprofit faith-based organization started by Covenanters and chaired by Paul Wilson, pastor of First Covenant Church in Oakland, California.
“In the last year of Break the Chains, we wanted to partner with an organization in the United States that is helping these girls achieve a better life,” says Hill. “We were thrilled to learn of New Day for Children.”
Sharmin Bock, deputy district attorney for Alameda County and the head of her office’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking unit, is an advisor to the New Day board. The organization also has received the enthusiastic endorsement of Howard Jordan, Oakland assistant chief of police.
“In the Bay area, 75 percent of those enslaved are dependents of the juvenile system, 88 percent are runaways, and 75 percent report having been raped,” Jordan wrote in a letter supporting the project. “These are among the most vulnerable children in our community. They must be protected.”
“Drug dealers are dealing children instead of dope,” says Bock. “It’s far more lucrative and far less risky.”
Law enforcement agencies estimate that 300,000 girls ages 10-17 are trapped in sex slavery in North America today. The average age for girls entering prostitution has dropped to between 10 and 12 years old.
Richard Estes, a social policy professor at University of Pennsylvania and an expert on child exploitation, told the Los Angeles Times recently that the “best fighting chance” for victims is “24/7 residential care for a long period of time.”
Only a handful of such facilities exist in the country, however. According to the National Center on Crime and Delinquency, “The most crucial service that is lacking is the existence of secure physical shelters and safe housing for victims.”
The girls at the New Day school will live there until they are healthy and prepared to live again with their families or guardians, or until attaining adulthood, says Kathryn Wilson, the organization’s director of development and Paul Wilson’s spouse.
The school will be located on several acres of property in a safe area where the girls can feel secure, Wilson says. The organization is looking at two sites – one in northern California and another in southern California – as possible locations.
The organization is not giving out specific locations so that pimps do not learn of them. Traffickers have become increasingly determined to track down the girls because the sex slave industry has become so lucrative, Wilson says.
In addition to providing a safe place to live and be educated, the project will offer pet therapy and opportunities to serve others, Wilson says. They also will have a lot of opportunities to engage in fun activities that have been closed off to them while enslaved.
New Day hopes to launch a pilot project with several girls sometime this summer. Ultimately, New Day hopes to board and care for up to 25 girls at a time.
“That will make us the largest faith-based program of its kind in the country,” Wilson says. She adds, however, that the organization won’t expand the school until it is clear that enough money is committed to keep it sustainable.
Funds raised through Break the Chains will provide essential seed money for launching the endeavor, Wilson says.
Operating costs once the school is fully operational will be roughly $2 million a year, says Wilson, who is working to secure grants for the project. New Day will not seek or receive government funds because of the organization’s commitment to being a faith-based program.
Wilson acknowledges the amount sounds daunting. She notes, however, that Alaska Christian College, which her husband helped start while serving as field director for the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska, “started as an idea written on a napkin.”
Wilson says the biggest hurdle to raising funds is that so many people still regard the girls as criminals.
The idea for the school was born out of a task force created at First Covenant Church after members were surprised to learn how extensive human trafficking is in the United States, especially in Oakland. Undercover detectives told the church that more than 100 minors are being trafficked.
Although the idea for the school started among First Covenant members, Wilson emphasizes that New Day is a “completely separate” 501c3 from the church.
According to the United Nations, more than 27 million people are enslaved around the world. Human trafficking is the third-largest source of income for organized crime, generating an estimated $32 billion a year.