Local Organization Fights Human Trafficking

An evening event at Norwalk Art Space on October 15 is an opportunity to support Partnership to End Human Trafficking, the only residential program in the state for victims of human trafficking, and the only one in the Northeast with an active in-house employment program.

The event starts at 6:30 pm. Norwalk Art Space is at 455 West Avenue in Norwalk. Tickets can be purchased at the PEHT website.

As defined by the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality.”

Jamie Manirakiza, PEHT’s executive director, said, “Once you realize what trafficking looks like, when it’s not sensationalized like it is in the movies, when you realize you don’t have to be an abducted girl from Thailand to be trafficked, you realize there is a lot of this happening, right here in Fairfield County.”

The organization was established in 2016. Its residential program offers comprehensive support for trafficking survivors in what Ms. Manirakiza describes as a “holistic, life changing housing opportunity” that includes emotional and social development, job training, and financial literacy skills.

Ms. Manirakiza said the program works with an average of 25 to 30 young women at any given time, “although the number could easily be 100,” given the need.

Finding a safe place

The home purchased by PEHT can only accommodate a handful of residents, so much of the organization’s work involves finding immediate and longer term housing for victims.

Referrals come from other organizations, previous survivors, the FBI, and local police.

In a recent case, an 18 year-old, beaten and hospitalized, was identified by authorities as a victim of human trafficking. She was cleared to leave by hospital staff, but not being a child, had nowhere to go. Other than back to the street.

PEHT got the call. In cases like this, the organization typically finds a hotel room for the night, provides food, toiletries, and clothes. Plans for next steps begin the next day. Finding housing is a particular crisis when it comes minors, which is frequently the case.

Ms. Manirakiza said that, recently, one minor was trafficked out of a restaurant in South Norwalk that doubles as a speakeasy late at night. The girl came into prostitution after being raped and was forced to work in the restaurant.

Coercion and control

Homeland Security reports that, often,”a human trafficker is known to their victim, and may even be a family member, boyfriend, or relative. Traffickers will often use drugs to control or coerce their victims.”

“The opioid addiction crisis made the problem even worse,” said Ms. Manirakiza. “It provided yet another way for traffickers to coerce and control victims.”

Partnership to End Human Trafficking is supported by grants, volunteers, and the community. The evening fundraiser on October 15 is an opportunity to meet a giant in the field.

The event will honor Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, one of the oldest international organizations dedicated to ending trafficking in women and girls for commercial and sexual exploitation. Ms. Bien-Aimé is on the Forbes list of “50 Over 50 Women” who have made a social impact.

More information about PEHT can be found at peht.org.

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