Helping Trafficking Survivors During COVID-19

– By Mitzi Perdue

COVID-19 has impacted the survivors of human trafficking in particularly harsh ways. By some estimates, even under normal circumstances as many as 80% of individuals who have been rescued end up being re-trafficked.  COVID-19 has made the odds of this dramatically worse.

Here’s one of the reasons why.  Let’s take the case of what Restore, a New York-based anti-trafficking organization, is battling.

According to Amanda Eckhardt, Restore’s Executive Director, “Many of the survivors we work with had jobs in the service sector. They worked in food preparation or serving, personal care, and building and grounds cleaning. warehouses or hotels or restaurants. However, COVID-19 has hit so many of these businesses so hard hit that they may never re-open.”

She goes on to point out, “We had 30 business partners who were helping us find employment for our clients. Because of COVID-19, all but three had to shut down.  This caused 80% of our employed survivors at Restore to lose their jobs.”

Without a steady source of income, the trafficking survivors served at Restore are at risk of becoming homeless. Tragically, being homeless is a prime risk factor for being trafficked.

Restore responded by redirecting how the organization spends its funds. “We knew it would be critical to provide cash assistance to help our clients from becoming homeless,” explains Eckhardt.  “We work with 200 families, and we’re now dedicating a quarter of our budget to enabling clients to stay in their homes.”

Another way Restore is responding to the pandemic is technology.  Restore has recently invested heavily in technology  to ensure its clients have laptops and internet connection so they can receive counseling and therapy remotely. “About ¼ of our clients had no experience with computers, so we also helped them learn the technology,” adds Eckhardt.

Yet another response to the pandemic is encouraging people who have a bent for it to become entrepreneurs.  In many cases, a survivor may have an untapped talent for innovation or technology. With Restore’s guidance, they’re being offered new opportunities to be all they can be.

“We are leaning into promoting survivor-led businesses,” points out Eckhardt. “Often a trafficking survivor has the belief, ‘I don’t want anyone to be my boss again.’”

The fact is, an individual who has survived being trafficked often has unusual reservoirs of the kind of grit needed for entrepreneurship.  Because entrepreneurship requires unusual levels of grit, a trafficking survivor often has a head start when it comes to having the personality it takes to become an entrepreneur.

A hallmark of these efforts is a Shark Tank-type event launched in the summer 2020. Called Pitch Night, it puts investors together with entrepreneurial survivors.

With impressive frequency, the survivor-entrepreneurs have viable ideas and the business plans to go with them.   This year alone, Restore has seen investors put $80,000 into backing survivor-entrepreneur businesses.

COVID-19 has hit the efforts to combat human trafficking particularly hard. However, Restore has responded to COVID-19-created needs with:

• Emergency cash assistance
• Technology
• New career paths for their clients.

COVID-19 has been horrendous, but because of Restore, there are 200 families for whom its impact has been significantly less harsh than it otherwise would have been.

About The Author

Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.

She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.