In the last few years, I have had the opportunity to deliver training on human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation to nearly 700 direct service providers and law enforcement officers from every county in the state. In that time, two things in particular struck me: the number of times I’ve been approached by Mainers who believe they are currently working with or have worked with trafficked individuals, and the outpouring of interest to effectively respond to this issue.
In light of the first concern, the second issue is a good problem to have. But until recently, there hasn’t always been an effective way to help connect the interest with appropriate outlets for those efforts.
Due to the significant gaps in the state’s infrastructure with regard to responding to this issue, we can certainly use all the commitment from individuals we can get. However, there are virtually no trafficking-specific organizations in Maine, and interested citizens don’t always know how to be helpful locally.
For that reason, MECASA teamed up with the Maine Women’s Fund to create the first statewide trafficking-specific volunteer databank, as part of MECASA’s program called the Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network.
Anti-trafficking work can take many forms. It can look like prevention: mentoring at-risk youth, such as foster care and homeless youth, to build the resilience that prevents trafficking in the first place.
It can look like support for our social safety net: shelters, sexual and domestic violence response agencies, mental health providers and substance abuse providers are engaging with victims of trafficking and those at risk for trafficking daily, and they can desperately use donations of time, goods and financial support.
It may mean advocating for policies that support those vulnerable to trafficking. For instance, most victims of exploitation are childless adults, and as such are ineligible for Medicaid due to Maine’s decision to opt out of the health-care expansion.
Some of these services require extensive skill and training. Others might be as easy as a Saturday morning bake sale to benefit a local agency. Hopefully, with time all of these opportunities will be available through the databank.
The new statewide trafficking volunteer databank will be an opportunity to finally connect the needs of the community with those individuals who are seeking to bring their time and talent to this issue. Maine has the tools and resources that it needs to better understand trafficking and exploitation, and to develop a powerful response.
We hope that the volunteer databank is just one step toward connecting those resources with the places where they can do the most good. If you would like to volunteer for an organization responding to human trafficking, or if you would like to host a volunteer, visit the Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network’s volunteer databank to get connected.
Destie Hohman Sprague is the program director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.