By Natasha Paradeshi
Natasha Paradeshi, MPP will be presenting, “Importance of the Drop-In Center Model in Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking” on Tuesday, October 15 at this year’s JuST (Juvenile Sex Trafficking) Conference in Cincinnati, OH. Visit justconference.org/just2019 to review our workshop agenda and for more information on how to register. Read Natasha’s blog post below:
Trust is not something that appears overnight. Building trust takes time, persistence, and vulnerability. Trust is ultimately built through creating relationships.
I think about the relationship between my husband and me. When we first started dating, we both guarded our hearts because we didn’t quite know how much we could trust the other person. But through friendship, we got to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Over time, we were able to get to the level of trust where we unclasped the tight grip we had on our hearts. Only then were we able to move forward in a marriage built on trust.Trust finds its roots in solid, positive relationships – the kind of relationship that a victim of trafficking may never have experienced. Or maybe they thought they had a good relationship with someone, but that person broke their trust. This is exactly why it’s so hard for a victim of trafficking to trust service providers when we reach out our hands. Because they haven’t seen a reason to trust us yet, they may not tell us the full story, which often means we don’t identify them as a victim of trafficking. This can lead to them not getting the most appropriate services for their levels of trauma.
How do we create these positive relationships so we can serve survivors better? The great paradox is that it is at once incredibly difficult and yet so simple: we create positive relationships by being loving, helpful and truthful with survivors. We must have open and honest communication. We try our best to say the most helpful thing and provide the best services, even though we may not always get it right.
One of the best ways we’ve found to build trust is through drop-in centers, which are safe, accessible and non-judgmental – places where trust is built. We create positive relationships by opening our doors at our drop-in center, The Landing, which is based in Houston, TX. Drop-in centers not only provide basic needs and continual support, but are also the stepping stone for victims to get further help, resources, and referrals from other service providers. By not judging someone because of their circumstances or choices they have made because of those circumstances. By offering a safe place to rest for an exhausted woman after a night of being picked up and dropped off on the streets. By having an art station ready for the little girl whose mom has been in and out of jail. But most importantly, by listening to what each survivor has to say.
Because of this emphasis on building trust, we have been able to increase victim identification, which is the first step in getting help for survivors, many of whom are falling through the gaps. At The Landing, we are coming up on our four year anniversary. In that time, we’ve served over 500 survivors of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Over 60% of these survivors have been identified as victims of sex trafficking. This shows that building relationships is key for survivors to open up about the extent of the trauma they have, which, in turn, allows them to heal. And the stories of increased hope, confidence and mental well-being are incredible! I think of April, who has been coming to The Landing’s drop-in center for two years. Recently, she was diagnosed with cancer. Facing such a life-threatening sickness alone is terrifying. But because we were able to build a trusting relationship with her, she has a community to support her through this journey. We get to be her family in her time of need, giving her hope. I think of Juanita, who was trafficked in the cantinas and came to us for counseling, case management, and other services. We were able to be there for her when she recently graduated from college! The first time she came to The Landing she was shy, soft-spoken, and seemed unsure of herself. But now, she is a confident young woman who voluntarily introduces herself to other clients at The Landing, welcoming them with warm smiles.
Consider drop-in centers when you think of valuable resources. This model is reliable in building relationships and trust so that we can help identify and serve more victims of trafficking. And when a survivor of trafficking is ready to leave their abuser – they have somewhere and someone to turn to.
Natasha Paradeshi serves as the Executive Director/Co-founder of The Landing, Houston’s first drop-in center for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. She believes that this model helps increase trust with survivors, giving them greater access and hope for freedom. She is responsible for strategy direction, development implementation, program oversight, and community engagement. Over the past 8 years, she has been passionate about creatively filling needs and forming strategic partnerships so that more survivors can get access to the services they need. Natasha graduated from the University of Southern California with a Masters of Public Policy degree and from the University of Texas with a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Liberal Arts.