By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times
WASHINGTON, DC, June 14, 2012 – Last month, the Associated Press reported that three men were convicted in a child sex-trafficking ring run mostly by Somali gang members that spanned from Minnesota to Tennessee, including Columbus, Ohio. The article reported that a Somali victim, identified only as Jane Doe Number Two, testified that she was “used as a prostitute by gang members starting at the age of twelve.”
Child sex trafficking is not a new issue in Columbus, Ohio. As far back as 2009, the FBI reported having rescued 45 potential underage victims of sex trafficking, some as young as thirteen, in a state-wide sweep. Survivors know from experience that the pain for a victim of sex trafficking does not end upon rescue; the process of healing takes time and specialized care.
Many have stepped forward in the anti-human trafficking movement, but a survivor’s voice is the strongest and most powerful among them. One such survivor, Marlene Carson of Columbus, Ohio, founded a grassroots outreach ministry called Rahab’s Hideaway, Inc. in 2008. Marlene led this ministry into the darkest hours of the night to rescue homeless teenage girls and adult young women involved in prostitution.
“We dare[d] to face what most fear,” Marlene said, “the traffickers…traffickers and pimps always tell their victims that no one cares about [them] or is looking for [them], but [we] are [the] people out here who will not stop until [they] are all free.”
Marlene’s outreach ministry eventually grew into a shelter for adult women. Marlene collaborated with community members in order to provide victims with connections to many resources including maternal and pediatric health care, mental health services, child and youth development programs, education, and job training. Rahab’s Hideaway also collaborated with a part-time housing advocate whose primary responsibility was to assist residents in their permanent housing search. Individual meetings were provided to ensure that residents were working constructively towards their goals.
Marlene also opened a restaurant called Boujhetto’s Soul Food in order to provide survivors with job skills and experience.
“We watched these women grow, mature, progress, and survive,” Marlene said, “This is a story of liberation from physical, emotional, and even spiritual control…the only piece missing was a shelter for the youth.”
Well, not anymore.
Rahab’s Hideaway is partnering with the Rosemont Center in east Columbus to provide the first fully-comprehensive treatment facility for child victims of sex trafficking. Rahab’s at Rosemont Center is slated to open this fall, in September 2012, and will be able to house up to 32 girls, aged 11 to 18, for up to two years.
“We are a means to…education,” Marlene stated, “For [those] who have been sold so much that they feel they have nothing left, we instill value.”
According to the organization’s website, more than a thousand children from the state of Ohio fall into the hands of traffickers each year. The website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) cites the following nationwide statistic:
“Each year thousands of children run away from home, are forced out of their homes, or are simply abducted by their parents or guardians. The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children 2 (NISMART-2), conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), estimates that in 1999 more than 1,680,000 children had runaway or thrownaway episodes.”
As I have explained in a past article, many runaway children who wind up in the clutches of sex traffickers were abused or exploited in their childhood; this is the reason they are often unable to identify themselves as currently being exploited or victimized. Marlene aims to provide these children with a program that will not only provide refuge but will facilitate recovery. The staff at Rahab’s at Rosemont Center recognize that treatment for prior abuse is required in order to properly care for child victims of sex trafficking. Their brochure states the following:
“It is estimated that 80 percent of prostituted persons within the United States have suffered physical or sexual abuse before entering the sex trade. Experts agree that this population, which includes women and children from a variety of socioeconomic conditions, were often victims of abuse long before they were introduced to prostitution. Chronic sexual exploitation often causes victims to feel powerless, forcing them to stay in their circumstances. The traffickers who control such women and children often remove any last hope for alternatives.”
On Thursday this week, Rahab’s at Rosemont Center will be hosting a housewarming and fundraising event. Stacy Jewell Lewis, a playwright, producer, artist, and survivor of trafficking, will be performing a spoken word monologue at the event.
“Marlene really is inspiring, direct, and a no-nonsense kind of person,” said Stacy, “I love the fact that she’s open to supporting other survivors’ missions and is totally giving of herself to victims…truly an inspiration of where dedication and hard work can get you.”
“Yes, I am a survivor of human trafficking,” Marlene said, “and I thank God for second chances… for those who are looking for a way out, Rahab’s Hideaway is a beacon of light.”
If you are looking to place a victim, please call Rahab’s 24-hour hotline at 614-593-5033 or call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline at 888-373-7888.