We got the call on a Tuesday afternoon. It was the kind of call all parents, guardians, or even caregivers dread.
Jill, a trafficking survivor in her late teens, was in trouble. She had left her family during the holidays and took off for a big city thousands of miles away.
A few months ago, we had said our “see you laters…” to Jill as she turned 18 and decided to move to live with family in another state, full of hope for better chapters ahead. Behind the scenes, we connected with care providers in her new community to ensure a smooth transition. And we told her, as we tell all the survivors we work with: “We are always here for you. You can call us any time.”
That Tuesday, Jill called. After processing past experiences, she had learned enough of the warning signs to seek help. Quickly caught up in a dangerous relationship, she managed to find her way to a domestic abuse shelter, where she was temporarily safe. But she wanted to come back to Connecticut where she had a support system that she trusted, and where she had been living with a foster family.
To be clear, Love146 is not Jill’s legal guardian. But Jill had been a part of our Survivor Care program, receiving long-term services. . For Jill’s safety (and for her privacy) we cannot reveal her real name or tell the story of the details of what sorts of trauma or exploitation she experienced, but we can tell that it’s the kind of tale you wish only existed on shows like CSI.
The good news is that this chapter of Jill’s story found resolution: she was able to come back to Connecticut, and to safety.
This is the part of Jill’s story we can tell. It’s the part about the people who pulled together to make sure that Jill would be safe. It’s the part of the story about what happens when we make the well-being of people a priority, and what can be accomplished when a life is truly on the line.
It is also a story about perseverance: about how one youth who had already experienced being trafficked was able to avoid being lured into another bad situation. It is also about the perseverance of Love146 — how our staff kept working toward a safe resolution until one could be found. About how we don’t stop journeying with the youth we work with even after they are no longer minors, because the trauma and the vulnerabilities that come with the experience of being trafficked don’t go away when you turn 18.
It is also a story of the power of collaboration. Jill was able to leave a dangerous situation behind because people and organizations from all around the country cared about her. We worked together, on an urgent timeline, to get her to safety. Jill’s story only sounds dramatic because it includes coast-to-coast intervention. But unfortunately, cases like Jill’s take place all too frequently, in a smaller geography, often within state borders, but demanding no less an amount of diligence and cooperation.
When we got the call, we got busy. One of our social workers began working the phones. We connected with Airline Ambassadors International, a United Nations-affiliated nonprofit that identifies human trafficking as one of its focus areas. (AAI started as a network of airline employees using their pass privileges to help others, and “escorts children in need, hand-delivers humanitarian aid to orphanages, clinics, and remote communities, and educates and advocates on Child Protection.”)
Airline Ambassadors used its airline connections to have a ticket home arranged within hours. Meanwhile, caseworkers at Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) were in touch with Jill’s former foster mom, and were assessing what kinds of services Jill would need, and what could be provided to her, given that she was no longer under 18 (though still a victim of trafficking). Love146 arranged for safe transportation from the airport, while DCF and her former foster mom helped her to secure safe housing for the night. We worked with her over the weekend to make sure she still had safe housing.
We all exhaled a sigh of relief when she landed. Thanks to those who rallied to get her home, Jill is safe for now – and she knows and trusts that there is a community that will always be there for her.