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July 14, 2016

Trapped in a Nightmare

Victims of sex trafficking freed by Seeds of Hope program in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has been identified by a Justice Department study as one of 17 cities nationwide most likely to be a destination for human trafficking. The victims of this terrible trade are of all ages and ethnic backgrounds; many are brought from foreign countries, but some are torn from their homes right here in the United States.

Now in its 10th year, a Las Vegas-based program called Seeds of Hope is fighting against traffickers and giving victims a way out. Stacey Cramer, the program's director, knows all too well how trafficking victims are entrapped thorugh a combination of calculated lies and brutal coersion.

‘‘So many of the young girls we work with are minors who are targeted by older men who approach them as boyfriends” Cramer says. “[These men] befriend them at malls, libraries and outside their schools. They get to know them and groom them slowly … convince them that they are the only ones who truly love them … give them expensive clothing, phones."

But before long, this fairytale world is shattered: "Eventually he shows his true colors by convincing her to have sex with someone else. He degrades her and tells her no one will ever love her again because of what she has done," Cramer says. "The shame and blaming, in combination with her love for him are what keep her trapped in this nightmare."

This is where Seeds of Hope steps in. This Salvation Army program includes case management services that provide emergency shelter, transportation, clothing, food, victim advocacy, crises intervention and safety planning—all essential to helping victims escape in safety.

But Seeds of Hope doesn't just get victims out; it also helps them start a new life through mental health counseling, employment assistance, medical and dental care, family member benefits, legal referrals, substance abuse treatment and access to child care and education.

About 150 victims a year who range from ages 12 to 60 are engaged in the program. Most are adults, but director Cramer says she has assisted a victim as young as nine. In 2014, 79 of the victims were under 18 at the time they became ensnared by either sex or labor trafficking.

Recently, 12 girls graduated from My Life My Choice (MLMC), a program conducted by Seeds of Hope. The 10-session curriculum created through the Justice Resource Institute educates at–risk and sexually exploited teens about how to avoid substance abuse and exploitation, develop self-respect and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Seeds of Hope also holds training and outreach activities to improve how communities identify and report crimes involving trafficking. The program is also part of a vital network along with local law enforcement, FBI, ICE and numerous community service providers that work together to identify, rescue and restore victims.

The Salvation Army as a whole has made a clear statement on its mission to fight trafficking worldwide:

The Salvation Army firmly believes that the abuse and exploitation of human beings through any form of human trafficking is an offense against humankind and against God. We work vigilantly for the prevention of human trafficking and for the restoration of survivors.

Seeds of Hope is just one facet of this mission, but impact of its work serving both the immediate and long-term needs of trafficking victims in Las Vegas will be felt in the lives of many people for years to come.

Stacey Cramer, Program Director for Seeds of Hope, Las Vegas, NV.

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