Even in states such as Illinois, long-term help — housing, mental health counseling and trauma services that are survivor-led — are lacking, says Lynne Johnson, the policy and advocacy director for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.
"We have little pockets of progress," she says, noting that much of it is aimed at minors. In Chicago, for instance, there's now a long-term safe home with space for eight girls that is funded by a private donor. A drop-in center for youth on the city's West Side, funded by federal grants, is open a couple days a week, Johnson says.
The Salvation Army, as it does in other cities, also helps for victims of human trafficking through its STOP-IT initiative. Those services might include giving victims cellphones, clothing and food, items traffickers may have provided to keep them dependent.
The victims also have access to counseling, but aren't required to attend.
"We don't tell them what to do. Our goal is to build independence, both from traffickers — and from us," says Elyse Dobney, STOP-IT's volunteer manager in the Chicago area.
Brenda Myers-Powell — a former prostitute who now works as a peer specialist and counselor at the Cook County jail — agrees that independence should be the goal.
Early in the process, it's good for the public to understand that victims are victims, she says.
"But you can't stay a victim forever," she says. "At some point, you become a survivor."
As a hand-made sign on the jail wall where the Prostitution Anonymous group meets says: "It's never too late to be what you might have been."
On the Internet:
Salvation Army STOP-IT initiative: http://sa-stopit.org/
Martha Irvine is an AP national writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or at http://twitter.com/irvineap
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