So, wait, first, what do you do?
News surrounding human trafficking often focuses on policy and rescue, but skips over what happens after being “saved,” when survivors find themselves in the same vulnerable circumstances that initially led to exploitation. That’s where Empower Her Network steps in. We work with partner organizations to identify survivors with a will for independence. Once a needs assessment is complete, we collaborate on an Empowerment Plan that acts as a roadway for her journey to independence. As every survivor is different, so is every Empowerment Plan. All program funds go directly from EHN to the source of support, be it rent, vocational training, college courses, or childcare.
The following sketches are based on real cases of Empower Her Network. Their stories and information have been used to create composite sketches to ensure Empower Her Network does not exploit any one survivor or their stories.
“I will never forget the first night I was forced to sleep with a man. I cried all night, and that was only the beginning.” For Harriet, abuse started in the foster care system. Looking for a way out, she latched onto a boyfriend who said he loved her and who, at first, treated her well. After high school she moved in with him, and soon after he wouldn’t let her leave and began pimping her out for money. Heroin was injected in her as means of coercion. Harriet escaped to a plaza parking lot, and now lives in a rented room with her young daughter. She has taken admirable steps toward independence, remaining sober for two years and retaining a job at a coffee shop. With financial and emotional support from Empower Her Network, Harriet is determined to receive her bachelor’s degree from a local community college and rise above the minimum wage poverty spiral. In a year and a half, Harriet will graduate. With elevated wages, she plans first to secure her own apartment for her and her daughter.
When Harriet was 14, a trafficker earned the trust of her family and convinced them he had a high wage job he could take her to. Sold in Tenacingo, Mexico—the trafficking hub of the world, a town financed by human exploitation—to a sex trafficker, Harriet was forced to sleep with up to 40 men a day. When Harriet turned 18, she transferred to New York City, where her life of confinement and horror continued. One day Harriet, courageous Harriet, escaped to the police. She lived in a shelter for two years undergoing intense trauma work while participating in English and GED classes before securing a job at a restaurant. The problem was, her time at the shelter was up, and though she could afford monthly rent, it would take years to save enough for the first/last/security deposit required to get a place. Empower Her Network provided the funding with a grant from A Home of Her Own, to remove that barrier, along with housing essentials, as she owned nothing but a bag of clothes. Harriet is now in her first apartment, able to lock her door, sleep in her own bed, and feel safe for the first time since her childhood was taken.
Trafficked from Guatemala, Harriet was convinced to come to the states by a man promising to pay for her cosmetology school in the states in exchange for a little work on the side. When Harriet arrived, she learned she’d been tricked. Her documents were taken, she had no means to communicate with her family or the outside world, and she was forced to clean a factory 7 days a week. After two years receiving less then a dollar a day and being held captive, the FBI raided the factory and Harriet was sent to receive services. She is sharp and motivated. As she awaits her trafficking Visa, a process that can take years, Empower Her Network is subsidizing tuition costs so she will be qualified for steady-wage employment when the time comes.
Sounds great. How’d you get started?
Meet our founders— Kristy Norbert and Abby Fabiaschi . They are both believers in the power of economic solutions for vulnerable populations, and connected while working with an organization that provided funding to programs in Asia aimed at helping survivors of human trafficking achieve fiscal independence. Drawn together by shared core values and beliefs, when they realized an organization with the same mission didn’t exist domestically, they decided to build one. Kristy and Abby believe that:
Circumstance is all that separates us from those enslaved
Circumstances can be changed
Fiscal independence is key to breaking the cycle of exploitation
Readiness matters: a will for independence is essential
It is our duty to provide total financial transparency to our donor community
Take me through how EHN evolved from an idea to an organization.
From the moment the concept was hatched, the universe was on our side. Christine Merser joined our board and donated all the marketing resources needed to build an organization from scratch (hint: it’s a lot); Liza Salzer from Lulu Frost designed a beautiful bracelet, launching in November, to help us gain awareness and raise money; donors banded together to fund our pilot program; shelters validated the need by immediately knowing survivors in a position to benefit from our program. All this is to say, it blossomed from an idea to reality because a great many people decided to make it so, and we couldn’t be more grateful. The future looks brighter already.