It’s estimated that 30 million people live as slaves in the world today, and more than 100 cases of sex trafficking of both minors and adults have been reported in Shelby County. Restore Corps exists to empower survivors, equip communities and seek justice through systemic change, all in an effort to eradicate human trafficking. It does that work here in Memphis, serving the West Tennessee region.
Restore Corps began in 2013 as an anti-trafficking team of Operation Broken Silence, a Memphis organization that focuses on genocide in Sudan. The two organizations eventually separated so that Restore Corps could sharpen its focus on empowering survivors of human trafficking. One way it does that is through a push for legislative change. Tennessee now is considered top in the U.S. for its counter-trafficking law that provides better provisions for victims and stricter penalties for traffickers. A program of Memphis Leadership Foundation, Restore Corps serves as the point of contact in West Tennessee for the state-wide anti-trafficking task force.
Rachel Sumner Haaga serves as executive director. The work started for her after graduating from the University of Memphis with a degree in psychology when she spent five years with the international volunteer organization Youth With A Mission. Much of her time was in Cambodia, where she coached soccer and conducted leadership training with youth in orphanages and safe-house rehabilitation homes for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. Rachel said she found inspiration in the resilience and courage of the women to place their trust in someone again. The life-changing experience put her on a path to make change back in her hometown of Memphis.
“I know what it looks like globally in those countries and I came back to Memphis wondering what it looks like here,” she said. “I don’t think I ever wondered if trafficking happens here. I had seen enough knowing the supply and demand in the world. It was wondering what it looks like here.” Human trafficking is the use of force or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is transported. It could be a child who never leaves the home. A parent or other family member offers a sexual encounter with the child in exchange for something of value, money or drugs, for example.
Restore Corps receives referrals from a variety of organizations, primarily law enforcement, the judicial system, juvenile court or probation officers. A trafficker might use a juvenile for a petty crime. “Often with a juvenile if the trafficker gets pulled over he’ll hand the juvenile the drugs,” Rachel said. “They say, ‘If you really love me you’ll say all of this is yours.’ The trafficker gets off and the juvenile takes the charge.”
Restore Corps determines what’s needed for the victim, whether that’s transportation to get them back home or alternative housing while they figure out services to wrap around him or her. Restore Corps also provides transitional housing for single women. Long-term visions include expansion of the transitional housing, which would potentially include two to three apartments that are always ready for those mothers and their children.
Restore Corps welcomes volunteers. Opportunities include people who have specific skills they can offer on a 12-week rotating basis, cooking meals for safe house residents, making repairs or driving clients to appointments. Donations help further the mission. For more information, visit restorecorps.org.
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