New Arkansas home shelters survivors

Partners Against Trafficking Humans (PATH) is working to launch a safe house in Arkansas for adult survivors of sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and prostitution.

There are currently no safe houses in Arkansas dedicated to serving the specific needs of this demographic. The safe house is stated to open in an undisclosed location in central Arkansas during the first quarter of 2016.

Polaris Project, an organization that works to eradicate modern slavery, conducted a survey in 2012 of anti-trafficking organizations that provide shelter services. Polaris Project found 75 organizations in the U.S. that provide a combined 1,644 shelter beds.

“It’s a big number, but I feel like that’s not really big enough at all,” Rebecca Ramirez, a junior who went on Students Against Sex Slavery’s spring 2015 mission trip, said.

Louise Allison, executive director of PATH, said that the number of victims in the U.S. far exceeds the number of beds.

“Right now, every assessment shelter we know of is out of beds,” Allison said. “If we got a girl right now, there would be no place in the United States that we’re aware of that would be able to place her.”

PATH opened a safe house in October 2012, but ran out of money after 2 years and Allison was forced to close it. She explained that there are few grants for human trafficking, and there are many government grants that do not give funds to faith-based institutions like PATH. Therefore, PATH’s funding is totally dependent on individuals, businesses and churches.

“We’ve been doing fundraising for quite a while,” Allison said. This time around, she plans to have one year’s worth of operating expenses in the bank before opening.

PATH also plans to open assessment centers for victims of sexual assault in Fayetteville and Hot Springs, Ark. in the first half of 2016.

Allison said that an assessment center is a 30 to 90 day program that provides services for survivors of sexual exploitation during the assessment stage of their care.

“It gives us a chance to make a full assessment and find out what her needs are before we place her,” Allison said, and explained that some survivors need substance abuse counseling before they are ready to receive sex trauma counseling, while others might have to be sent out of state for their protection.

Area representatives for PATH are establishing relationships with existing domestic violence shelters to secure that a certain number of their beds will be set aside to create the assessment centers.

“The state of Arkansas right now doesn’t have any place to put girls in an immediate emergency situation,” said Allison. “That’s what the assessment center will do, to where when police make an arrest or a raid, their only option is not to take them to jail.”

Allison said PATH’s biggest need right now is prayer and financial support. She also said there are two full-time positions with PATH that she is looking to fill, as well as opportunities to volunteer with PATH and serve as a mentor to survivors.