DEARBORN — With the new age of technology and social media, human trafficking has seen a shift from luring children from the streets to luring them online, as Vista Maria Associate Manager of Volunteer Resources Becky Herman explained.
Herman presented this and more information on human trafficking during the American Association of University Women-Dearborn’s annual meeting Jan. 23 at Christ Episcopal Church.
She emphasized the message of being more aware and sharing information with family and friends on human trafficking in order to combat the issue.
“Vista Maria is the only licensed and contracted human trafficking treatment program for girls in the state,” she said. Our goal is to not only help those girls that are targeted, but also to spread awareness on this important issue.”
The Vista Maria human trafficking program is a 18- to 24-month treatment process for girls filled with workshops, seminars, education and hope.
Currently, Vista Maria has 22 girls in its human trafficking program, and Herman said the organization is planning fundraising for a second treatment housing facility.
“There is no specific girl that is targeted with a specific type or demographic,” Herman said. “It’s usually a girl with low self-esteem who wants attention.”
Herman gave details on how girls are lured in at malls, big events like the North American International Auto Show in Detroit or Super Bowl, as well as online.
“When girls are lured in they are most likely to be hooked on drugs and asked to do things at parties or they will get threatened by their pimps,” she said. “The pimps will also use photos or blackmail information against the girls or women.”
The process for Vista Maria taking in human trafficking victims begins when police conduct a raid and then take the girls to the hospital for medical treatment.
Next in the process is filing a police report and deciding where the girls will be going to stay, which includes places like Vista Maria, instead of putting them in jail.
“Through our program we tell girls that their life has value and meaning because they are worth more than shoes or purses,” Herman said. “We bring in survivors to speak with the girls to encourage them and share their stories.”
Herman said she hopes with fundraising for the new treatment housing facility that a medical wing, police room and bedrooms all can be available in the same place.
“We want to make the process less crazy and not more traumatizing for the girls,” she said. “Currently we also do not have a detox area, so the girls go to our hospital partner for treatment. We hope to have a detox center in the new facility as well.”
Vista Maria also cares for 150 girls annually who have dealt with abuse, are taken by child protective services or may be disruptive.
“We care for girls from ages 11 to 24 years that sometimes come from the court system along with others within a six- to nine-month time period at our facilities,” Herman said. “Vista Maria has two charter schools so girls can get an education while seeking treatment in our programs.”
After girls leave Vista Maria, they can be reunited with their families — immediate or extended — placed into foster care training, or live independently with the institution’s help while they get a job or attend school.
“We provided the skills, schooling, work options and apartment for girls who are ready to live on their own,” Herman said. “There is also a program for girls that want to get jobs and live independently but have a cognitive impairment.”
For more information on Vista Maria call 800-784-7826 or go to www.vistamaria.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)