Recovering from a life of commercial sexual exploitation takes time, and assisting youth victims takes just as much time as it does persistence and compassion. Kira’s story illustrates the struggle youth victims of trafficking face.
The local 17-year-old victim had tried to leave her trafficker multiple times. She first came to The Center’s Safe Harbour program after police discovered her in an undercover operation. Our Safe Harbour advocates helped her with emergency housing while searching for stable living arrangements. They identified and worked with a family member who offered to take care of Kira and help get her re-enrolled in school.
Before being discharged from the shelter into the family member’s care, she ran back to her trafficker.
“It is not uncommon for a youth victim to return to a trafficker after starting services with us,” says Nicole Thomson, Safe Harbour Coordinator. “It’s such a slow process and recovery. Most don’t view themselves as victims because they are brainwashed by their traffickers.”
However, many victims, like Kira, continue to stay connected with The Center for Youth even after they run. Safe Harbour provided her with a cell phone and bus passes to get her to and from medical appointments and substance abuse treatment.
“We never go away,” Thomson says. “We go to where the kids are in the community. We never end our services.”
One day, Kira showed up again in The Center’s lobby. She said, “I want to go back to school and get my life together.”
The Safe Harbour team reconnected her with the family member, a safe place to live and mental health supports. Today, she is enrolled in high school with plans to graduate and go to college.
Kira was one of 119 young people referred to Safe Harbour in 2014-15.