When Safe Houses FAIL To Protect Victims; And Why They NEED Public Oversight

Look, it’s not a comfortable conversation, but it needs to be had.

Human trafficking is a huge, and all too often overlooked issue in America.

Yes, even America.

Worse of all, it can be tremendously difficult for sex workers to leave the ‘industry‘.

Fortunately, there are safe houses designed to help victims of human tracking escape the industry.

But make no doubt about it, these safe houses aren’t always “safe”.

Below we will take a look at some of the problems safe houses face, how these problems arise, and 5 steps safe houses can do to avoid them.

Safe houses may not always be ‘safe’

Dr. Deborah Vinall of DrDeborahVinall.com, is a psychologist who once offered her services pro bono for a safe house that helped women leaving the sex industry.

And she has quite the story to share about her experience as a worker at one of these safe houses.

A story of an experience so shocking, she felt the need to resign.

She explains:

“At the safe house where I volunteered my professional services, the director became angry when a survivor, in a triggered traumatized state, yelled at her, and she retaliated by dropping the survivor off on “the strip” where she used to solicit johns, with no money or resources.”

Dr. Deborah Vinall, Psychologist and former ‘Safe House’ Volunteer.

Dr. Vinall continues to express that while this incident is rare, it did cause her to resign. And assuredly there are many similar stories that go all too often untold.

Safe Houses Can Even Exploit Victims for Publicity

Again while this is not to shame safe houses for the VERY important work they do, there is a lot to consider.

It does illustrate one of many horrible situations that may occur at a safe house.

Further it shows the importance of properly focusing on proper care, oversight, and procedures that need to be in place to ensure victims aren’t re-victimized.

Here’s the deal, safe houses are often run by former pimps or sex workers. Which can clearly create ‘conflicts of interest’.

And the NEED public scrutiny and oversight to ensure they are run above board.

But it gets worse…

As Doctor Deborah Vinall explains:

“Survivor-residents were also exploited by the safe house in being forced to tell their traumatic stories at fundraisers as a condition of their stay, and forced to turn over all funds received from social security or disability payments.”

Dr. Deborah Vinall

So as we are beginning to see, the exploitation of survivors doesn’t end when they enter the safe house.

It can even continue in the very places designed to help them break free.

And unfortunately, it gets even worse.

While we will get into how safe houses can better assist survivors of sex trafficking, there is one more thing we should consider.

Churches Running Cover For Sex Trade

Look, I am the first to admit that I am a very religious man, but churches are far from perfect.

I won’t begin to get into how Catholic churches are often the center of unmentionable attention.

But there can be no denying that bad actors often use church and religion as a cover for their activities.

For example, this story of a bible study group in Louisville, KY that was rumored to be a cover to attract students into human trafficking.

And this is the sort of behavior that Dr. Deborah Vinall also saw at the safe house she was once working for.

As she explains:

“They (survivors) were required to attend weekly church in a neighborhood known for its large sex trade, putting them in a regular public context where former johns and traffickers could have access.”

Dr. Deborah Vinall

Ok, so I believe it’s fair to say…

Safe houses need public oversight in order to ensure they are properly run.

How can safe houses protect victims?

Ok, so as the old saying goes “Problem, Reaction, Solution”.

So, what is the solution to the problems safe houses currently face?

Well, obviously there is no one size fits all response, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

The first 4 steps were raised by Dr. Vinall, but I do believe she overlooked step #5.

Step #1: Safe Houses Should Invoke Marketable Life Skills

There is no denying that one of the many reasons survivors fall victim to human trafficking is a lack of marketable skills.

As Dr. Vinall explains:

“It is imperative that safe houses assist survivors with developing alternative practical, marketable skills or facilitate enrollment in a trade college. They should be provided education in budgeting and basic life skills that may be absent if the survivor has been under the control of a trafficker since childhood or adolescence.”

Dr. Deborah Vinall

Step #2: Safe Houses Should Provide Trauma Therapy

It’s true, human trafficking is a horrific and difficult to deal with life experience.

So as Dr. Vinall points out, survivors NEED access to proper therapy.

I will allow her to explain:

“In addition, survivors must be provided trauma therapy through a highly competent and qualified mental health professional with extensive experience working with complex trauma and dissociation. The negative self-beliefs that developed before or during exploitation must be addressed to prevent the survivor from continuing to re-enact a role that she may have come to believe is who she is, and dissociative parts reintegrated.”

Dr. Deborah Vinall

Step #3: Should Be Empowered With Personal Finances

According to Dr. Vinall, it is imperative that survivors of human trafficking are empowered with their own personal bank accounts and finances.

While this may seem simple, it is certainly an imperative measure responsible safe houses need to take in order to help survivors of the sex trafficking industry.

As she explains:
“…survivors should be empowered to set up bank accounts and taught about savings, and any personal funds deposited in their own accounts as a nest egg for when they are ready to launch out on their own.. Residents should have a case plan with target goals for self-sufficiency to reach prior to discharge.”

Dr. Deborah Vinall

Step #4: Survivors Should Be Provided With New Phones and Numbers

Here’s the deal, we all fall into the trappings of our old ways.

And with modern technology it can be even harder to escape the past.

So this next point brought by Dr. Vinall is definitely on point:

“They should be given new phones with new phone numbers and taught how to navigate boundary enforcement with dangerous people. Survivors’ identifying information must be guarded at the highest levels of confidentiality so that former traffickers are not able to locate them.”

Dr. Deborah Vinall

Step #5: More Public Oversight and Scrutiny

Finally, this is the one and only step that I think that Dr. Vinall overlooked.

Safe houses need more public scrutiny and oversight. While it is important to protect the privacy of survivors of human trafficking, it should not be done to the determinant of public oversight.

Here’s the deal, sex is one of the most carnal and inherent desires in humanity. After all we all desire our ideas, and ourselves to be carried forth generation after generation.

As a result, uncontrolled sexual desire is one of the hardest sins we have to over come when it comes to governing out own bodies and our interactions with the world.

Therefore, it takes public oversight and scrutiny to ensure that safe houses are indeed what they are intended to be. A safe place for survivors of sex trafficking to rebuild their lives.

In a nutshell: The Dangers of Safe Houses, and The Solutions to Keep them Safe

At the end of the day we can plainly and clearly see that just because a place may be called a “safe house”, doesn’t mean that they are not subject of the sin and error of the men or women that run them.

Therefore we must properly address this issue if we truly want to see an end to human trafficking and provide a proper stepping stone for survivors of the sex industry to overcome their traumatic past.

Until next time, thank you for reading. Be sure to share this article with your friends and family, and subscribe to our newsletter for future updates.