The first-of-its-type resource will fill a growing need in the region, a hot spot for sex trafficking, said Natasha Paradeshi, co-founder and board chair of The Landing, a faith-based nonprofit that has offered aid to trafficking victims in Houston since 2016. It currently serves adults and minors in the same facility.
The services the existing drop-in daytime center provides — counseling, transportation, food, safety plans and connections to other resources — are critical for victims, said Paradeshi. It often takes several attempts to leave abusive traffickers who use psychological and physical tactics to threaten and manipulate their victims.
“The national average it takes for a victim to leave their trafficker is seven times,” Rebekah Charleston, a 38-year-old Dallas native who was first trafficked at 17, told a crowd of 600 at Texas Safari Ranch in Sugar Land. “I am here today because there was a community of people who wrapped their arms around me. I’m here because of their unconditional love and acceptance. The Landing does that.”
National Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 888-373-7888 or email at email@example.com to report human trafficking, get information about support services and learn about the warning signs of exploitation. Callers may remain anonymous.
National Center for Missing Exploited Children: The center has an online CyberTipline and a hotline at 800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) to handle reports of child exploitation, suspected abuse, online enticement of children, child pornography or child sex trafficking.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 800-799-7233 for local resources such as emergency shelters, legal advocacy and assistance and social service programs.
The Landing, 9894 Bissonnet St., #605: The faith-based drop-in center within the Bissonnet Track provides clothing, food, toiletries, counseling and case management. It is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and can be reached at 713-766-1111.
Houston Area Women‘s Center, 1010 Waugh Drive: The center provides free advocacy, counseling, education, career support, help finding child care and case management, and has a food pantry and limited clothing available on site. The center serves men, women and children.
Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 713 528-2121 for help with emergency or transitional and 24-hour hospital accompaniment.
Redeemed Ministries: The faith-based organization operates an eight-bed safe house and counseling program for sex trafficking victims in the Houston area. Referrals may be made online or via voice mail at 832-447-4130.
Harris County Pct. 1 Constable’s Office: Call the human trafficking hotline at 832-927-1650 and leave a message for Kathryn Griffin or call the office’s main line at 713-755-5200. Griffin accepts court-ordered participants as well as voluntary ones in her weekly support group. She has connections for shelter, education programs and more.
On HoustonChronicle.com: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/investigations/thetrack/
A survivor’s story
Charleston, now executive director of Valiant Hearts, a ministry that advocates against sexual exploitation, said the events that led to her being trafficked and abused for more than a decade could happen to any one of their daughters. Raised in a strict home, she said her parents had no idea about the trauma she experienced that made her vulnerable to traffickers.
“This guy took me to his house and at first it was great,” she said. “He told me about all of his dreams. That sounded great to me. But I didn’t realize what his dreams would cost me until the second night.”
“It was like my entire world flipped upside down on top of me,” Charleston said. “I remember thinking if I run from them, I will probably get raped and murdered and no one will know what happened to me.”
Charleston eventually went to federal prison for tax evasion when a neighbor reported they saw something suspicious at the home where she was trafficked. Even in prison, she said she still feared her trafficker and would not tell police what he had done to her.
She only realized she was a victim when someone asked her what would have happened if she refused to work for her abuser.
“I started laughing because I could never say I didn’t want to work,” Charleston said. “I worked 20 hours a day everyday. Every birthday. Every holiday. I remember working on 9/11. I realized then that I had no choices.”
Ending the stigma
“I’ve learned to not judge,” she said. “I didn’t think I judged before, but there was a part of me that did. I think we do it without thinking.”
The kindness the survivor received didn’t just change her life, she said.
“They changed my community,” she said. “They changed generations by helping one person.”