HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Human traffickers have robbed 24.9 million people across the globe of their freedom, according to a June report by the State Department.
Hampton Roads is far from immune. Experts estimate anywhere from 40 to 80 victims of human trafficking are identified in our area every year.
The founders of Survivor Ventures, a local non-profit, say there’s no standard, proven model on how to help victims of human trafficking. So they’ve pioneered a plan of their own. The premise is economic empowerment. The means, is entrepreneurship.
They want to turn survivors intro small business owners.
“Sometimes they’re extremely overwhelmed but many of them, they’re excited,” explained Sentoria Harold, the program’s director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “We are the first people who they’ve ever encountered who are willing to invest in them, invest in their lives and invest in their future to give them the opportunity to see themselves in a different light.”
The program starts by giving participants and their children a safe place to call home. That means an apartment in a safe area, fully furnished by community donations.
For the first three months, Survivor Ventures covers 100% of rent. After three months, they cover 75% and so on, until the participant can cover the cost on their own.
Next, Survivor Ventures partners with a local small businesses to employ the victim.
“When I say small business, I mean really small mom and pop businesses,” explained Tiffany McGee, the non-profit’s executive director. “They might not be at the point where they can hire their first employee. That’s where we come in. We provide the employee. We provide the wages, helping the small business owner get to a point in their business development where they can organically hire their first employee.”
While employeed at the small business, participants will gain valuable experience and knowledge to one day start their own venture. For many, this is the best if not only option for survivors in Virginia.
“We’re one of the last states in the nation not to have any kind of expungement or sealing of criminal records for victims of human trafficking,” said McGee “Meaning almost all of our participants have extensive criminal backgrounds.”
So even if the survivors were forced to commit crimes, like solicitation for example, their criminal history will haunt them making it extremely difficult to rent an apartment or get a job.
But if survivors can own their own business, be their own boss, make their own money, their chances of succeeding in the world are that much greater.
Survivor Ventures currently has 8 participants who are a few months into the program.
As a new non-profit they’re funded mostly by private donations. If you’d like to help you can donate at this link.