Margaret* loves to cook. Whether it's preparing food from her home country or surprising our staff with gluten free desserts, cooking is an outlet for her. When Margaret moved into the safe house she had nowhere else to stay and had no way to get back on her feet after being trafficked. Frightened and uncertain about her future she was wasn't sure if she would ever feel safe again. With the opening of our safe house we were able to provide a secure place for her to stay as she transitions to freedom.

While in operation, the Underground Railroad utilized safe houses as temporary refuge for fleeing slaves on the path to freedom. A lantern was hung outside to signal whether it was safe to stop or not. A dim lantern meant it was too dangerous to stop. A bright lantern meant it was safe to stop for the night.

It's easy to see slavery as a thing of the past but the unfortunate reality is that contemporary slavery is not a distant horror, but one that exists in Virginia.

Until now, there was not one safe house in Virginia for victims of contemporary slavery and human trafficking.

But, that has all changed with the opening of Virginia's first safe house. A symbolic lantern will be lit brightly for years to come as we do our part in ending the enslavement of people.

Everyone who stays in the house is provided with food, clothing, access to medical care and legal services, job and life skills, and counseling.

Please consider supporting this historic step in the movement against contemporary slavery and human trafficking. And please consider sharing this with your friends, family, and co-workers.

Click HERE to give now

Branding: The Harsh Reality of Sex Trafficking

Livestock branding is a technique for marking livestock so as to identify the owner. It’s an old practice that with the advent of technology can be done in more humane ways. In the past livestock farmers used burning irons to put their brand on their cattle, now there are less painful ways to do so.

Throughout history we have seen the stain of slavery come onto the world stage. The treatment of slaves during the trans-Atlantic slave trade was well documented as being gruesome and inhumane. Since the slaves were viewed as no more than a piece of property, and many times less valuable, you can imagine how horrific their treatment must have been. Just as livestock owners would brand their cattle or horses, they would also brand their slaves to identify who owned them and to remind them of their enslavement.

In Betty Wood’s book, Slavery in Colonial America, she writes about the branding of slaves,

“The use of branding iron was making an unmistakable statement of the slave owners, who asserted complete possession by disfiguring the body. It was an explicit attempt to deny the humanity of people of African origin. Women and men were branded on the chest, the shoulder, or cheek; sometimes, in an explicitly sexual statement of ownership, women were branded on the breast. Owners used the same, or similar, branding irons to stamp their mark of ownership on their cattle and horses as well as to ensure their return should they stray. In effect, the branding of newly enslaved people was intended to serve precisely the same purposes. The brand mark was a visible statement, both to them and the world at large, that they were considered of no more and no less worth than any other beasts of burden” (emphasis mine)

When we reflect on such heinous acts we may think this form of dehumanization is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

The trafficking of people for commercial sex and/or labor exploitation is an issue garnering more attention and more action in communities across the United States and the globe. Sex trafficking in particluar takes place in every state and country in the world. No country is an exception. Pimps control victims of trafficking through threats and acts of violence. There are additional means that aim at the complete degradation of the victimized person. In order to maintain this control abusers will employ brutal tactics to bring shame and guilt on their victims. It’s a harsh reality I wish none of us needed to write about.

One trend seen in sex trafficking is the branding of women and girls by their pimp. Branding is commonly done through the tattooing of the pimp or gangs name in a prominent place on the persons body.

As Nicholas Kristof writes in a New York Times article,

“Taz, a 16-year-old girl here in New York City, told me that her pimp had branded three other girls with tattoos bearing his name. When she refused the tattoo, she said, he held her down and carved his name on her back with a safety pin.”

We have seen how this affects a trafficking victim. It’s a permanent reminder of the harsh treatment they endured. And frequently the public is under the impression that if we can only “rescue” someone from trafficking or slavery that they will be okay, not accounting for the physical and psychological harm done to them.

The days, weeks, months, and years following exploitation take time and healing to see a person restored. I certainly wish that rescue was a one time thing, but the process of being rescued is a process of healing, processing trauma, and overcoming multiple obstacles. Fortunately, those victimized by trafficking and slavery are both courageous and resilient, and, a key ingredient to them moving forward is the context of a healthy community.

That is you and I, creating spaces in the community where those victimized by the brutality of slavery can feel welcomed and accepted. Acceptance and belonging, isn’t that something we all yearn for?



Technology & Serving Victims of Human Trafficking

The Gray Haven began serving trafficking victims in February 2012. Over the course of the past two years we have asked the question, “How do we know we’re doing it right?” 

Consulting with existing programs from around the world helped us begin to form our philosophy. Bringing the right people to the table became a vital component of serving our clients. Through research, building our team, receiving training, and constantly seeking best practices proven to work, we have seen incredible progress in our clients lives.

But the question we still ask is, “How are we doing?”, and more importantly, “How are those we serve doing after they interact with TGH?” Some of our clients come through TGH very quickly. We may need to relocate them to another state because of security concerns or we identify they have family somewhere outside of Virginia and it’s the ideal place for them. In that case we always make sure we identify and coordinate services for them wherever they are. 

Other clients have been with us since the day we opened our program. We’re able to see their lives improve and move forward.  

When an agency consistently asks themselves how they are doing it has the potential to create an approach that effectively meets the complex needs of a population that has experienced things most of us can’t imagine. 

In the process of asking ourselves these questions we have learned the value of making sure our program staff isn’t bogged down with paper work and inefficient means to keep track of each client throughout their time with TGH. We also learned we need to understand gaps in our services. Removing inefficient processes gives our team the ability to provide more care, more effectively.

Thanks to an IT Consulting and Mobile App Development company we’re taking a huge step toward doing this better than ever before. is coming alongside The Gray Haven to help us customize and design a software that will give us the tools we need to not only provide a lot of services to clients, but to do so with excellence. 

Using technology to provide direct services will give our team the ability to track each client through a streamlined process that will allow us to track every step of someone’s walk to freedom. Our team will be freed up to sit with clients and not worry about doing paperwork then taking an extra step to plug it into a computer database. It will all be done securely with mobile capability. We respond to crisis calls from law enforcement and other agencies 24/7 and need the ability to focus on client care not burdensome paperwork. We also need to ensure that the care we’re providing is working, not just well intended. Evaluating our services and identifying gaps gives us the ability to always improve what we do and how we do it.

Our partnership with translates into victims of trafficking finding hope and freedom. Technology has it’s pros and cons, but this is one of the pros. By leveraging these tools we will see more victims of human trafficking receive the quality care we would want for our own children and loved ones. 

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To financially support this project, please donate here.