The field of child welfare is becoming increasingly aware of the vulnerability of youth in foster care to a particularly heinous predator. The predator: human traffickers. These are people who kidnap, coerce, or prey upon vulnerable children and adults in order to sell their (involuntary) services. Perhaps the worst form of trafficking is sex trafficking. Victims of sex trafficking are forced into prostitution or pornography. Human trafficking can take on other forms of forced labor. Trafficking victims have been found in businesses ranging from hair salons to convenience stores. Victims are generally forced to work long hours for little or no pay. Some are immigrants brought into the country with false promises of employment. Others are from vulnerable populations within the US, including youth from the foster care system.
Human trafficking can be particularly difficult to disrupt as victims often are isolated and have few resources to leave their situation. They usually are totally dependent on the people who are essentially holding them hostage in forced labor. They may be separated from family and friends by distance or emotionally, increasing their reliance on the criminals who have enslaved them.
As awareness of human trafficking has increased, gradually resources are being developed to address the needs of victims. At the most basic level, victims of human trafficking need a safe place to sleep while they attempt to separate themselves from the abusive situation. Often they don’t have a support network that can provide them a bed and safe haven. Because criminal traffickers go to great lengths to make their victims totally dependent on them, their financial resources are usually slim.
This is where a new app can help. The SafeNight App was initially developed by Caravan Studios with domestic violence victims in mind and quickly evolved to include victims of human trafficking. The SafeNight App helps connect victims with a place to stay when they leave the abusive situation. This may be at a shelter or it may be at a hotel. Service organizations supporting victims of violence can locate a shelter in the area. If space is not available at a shelter, donors receive a notification on their phone that there is an individual who needs a safe night. By agreeing to sponsor a hotel stay, donors give that person a chance to receive additional support in a time of need. Currently, the SafeNight App is being piloted regionally with a goal to be made available nationwide. The Partnership for Freedom, Modern Solutions for Modern Day Slavery recently recognized the SafeNight App as a finalist in their ReImagine: Opportunity competition.
As volunteers and staff in domestic violence shelters know, finding an available bed for victims of violence can be time consuming and at times, impossible. This is time taken away from providing valuable emotional support and case management services to victims. Or worse, it can mean that a victim seeking assistance has no where to go where they can be safe from their abuser. The SafeNight App fulfills this need for a safe night while victims begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
[For persons working in child welfare, Building Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking, was developed to assist professionals in the field in responding to trafficking of children and youth involved in the foster care system.]