Local nonprofit working to support survivors of sex trafficking - KPTV - FOX 12

Local nonprofit working to support survivors of sex trafficking in rural towns

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A local nonprofit is working to support survivors of sex trafficking who are being targeted in Oregon's rural towns.

The newly established nonprofit, Safety Compass, specifically supports sex trafficking survivors in Marion and Clackamas Counties, and the people behind the group say the need is so great that they help survivors every day.

"We take calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Executive Director Esther Nelson said.

Nelson was a victim's advocate in the Portland metro area for more than a decade. She made the jump to launch her own organization after seeing a need for more support services in Oregon's rural counties.

"I realized there were some gaps in services and I have a really big heart for this population," she said. "Personally, I grew up in a rural community and I feel like those survivors have many barriers to reaching services."

Nelson said people in these areas were already coming to her for help.

"There was a number of cases in my rural community where people were calling my personal phone, or coming to my house and would say, 'I know someone who needs help can you meet me,' or survivors who would say they need access to emergency care," she explained.

Nelson believes traffickers from Portland are now going online to target teens and young women who live in small towns.

"Kids coming from rural areas have some level of vulnerability just through not understanding street culture or gang culture because they're coming from an area where that's not prevalent," she said. "Just that in and of itself is a vulnerability factor for them."

Volunteers with Safety Compass said they take daily calls from women being trafficked and offer them free on the phone, or in person confidential care. Some volunteers are survivors themselves.  

"We're getting calls from Salem and Clackamas, but also places like Mt. Angel and Stayton," Nelson said.

The nonprofit also sends advocates into the community 24-7 at the request of police agencies to meet with victims. 

"We've had about 70 plus cases referred to us in the last year between two counties," Nelson noted.

Those calls and cases continue to come in, though Nelson strives to empower each individual survivor she meets. She's now partnering with Horses of Hope Oregon to fund private riding lessons for survivors.

"It's a special experience having survivors come and work with our horses," Horses of Hope Lead Instructor Allie Martin said.

Martin explained that horses are known to flee instinctively when they are afraid, an action often mirrored by a trauma survivor and a reason why a bond between the two can be so strong.

"The fact that the horses here at Horses of Hope have overcome that fear and have gone through the desensitization process, they can help survivors overcome that fear and anxiety as well," she said. "Having that empowering animal that is 1,500 pounds is a big image of safety."

That feeling of security is why Nelson brings survivors to the ranch in Turner and why she believes the program seems to be making a difference.

"Horses help ground people and come back into their bodies, they can access a whole new group of coping skills.  That gives them access to power and their own voice," said Nelson. "We see great results. We do pre- and post-tests for survivors coming in to do the 8-week long program. Their answers related to their confidence level, fear and grounding pre and post the program are wildly different. They report back a great sense of self-awareness and growth."

Both Safety Compass and Horses of Hope rely on grants and donations. To learn more about Safety Compass, visit their website at SafetyCompass.org, and more on Horses of Hope, check out HorsesOfHopeOregon.org.

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