Extended Hands of Hope

Colorado nonprofit gives sex-trafficking victims a place to process and heal

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Desmond Tutu

Light eradicates darkness and exposes hidden injustices. Awareness about a certain injustice— sex trafficking— is on the rise, and a group of hopeful Coloradans are fighting it with open hands.

Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. According to the National Human Trafficking group, there were 127 sex trafficking cases in Colorado in 2018. That’s not to mention all of the crimes that went undocumented. Many of these victims are children.

“Statistics are just numbers,” notes Sarah Majka. “Those don’t hit home. But when you hear a real story about a parent that traffics their child out for drug money, it hits home.”

Sarah is the Developmental Director for Extended Hands of Hope (EHH), a nonprofit that provides a safe house and supportive services to girls from the ages of 1 to 17 that have undergone some form of sex trafficking. True to the name, a safe house is a haven where people who have experienced some form of trauma can live and recover. The Avanti House, EHH’s safe house, is a farmhouse-style building tucked away on 10 acres of land. The word Avanti means “come in”, and the cozy atmosphere of EHH’s refuge stays consistent with it’s inviting namesake. It contains two bedrooms, a communal living room, and can house up to five girls at a time. They’re always at capacity, and, on average, girls stay for about a year.

However, Sarah notes that the trauma victims of sex trafficking face is intense and girls often become triggered to harm themselves or run away from the Avanti House.

“It’s a long journey. We might be one segment on a chain of recovery,” Sarah explains. “What people don’t understand is that the kids don’t just come to the house, get their treatment, earn a high school degree and become a white suburban mom.”

Understanding that healing is a process is what allows EHH to operate with sustainable, realistic hope. The team is able to celebrate the small successes and provide a space to grow.

Sadly, only one percent of trafficking victims nationwide have a shelter bed available. This means that many adults are left homeless and many children are looped into the foster care system. According to Jefferson County and Arapahoe County social services, there are young girls in Denver that will not be alive in one year if there isn’t an intervention of safe housing and services for them.

The team at Extended Hands of Hope is doing what they can to mitigate the need. They have a 24-hour team in the Avanti House, as well as a teacher and a therapist. Girls are partnered with a community mentor who invests in them regularly, both while they’re in the safe house and once they leave. In addition, EHH administers the ‘Simply Good’ program which aims to provide therapeutic job training, case management, life skills, and personal development through the making and selling of products. Their current goal is to launch a line of skincare and bath products that contain relaxing essential oils.

EHH hopes to accrue the support necessary to build more safe houses on their expansive property. Each room they're able to offer has the potential to redirect the course of a young girl’s life. The Coronavirus has hindered EHH fundraising efforts while simultaneously exacerbating the need for their services.

“There’s more demand for help because more kids are at home, environments are more toxic for abuse, and many children run out on the streets to escape,” Sarah says. In addition, children are spending more time online for school and socializing, so traffickers are targeting them on the internet. According to Web-IQ, a cyber company that combats illegal actions through extracting online data, there was a 200 percent spike in posts on child sex abuse forums between February and March, combined with nearly 90 percent drop in the amount of child sex abuse material removed from the internet.

EatUp! Denver, an annual fundraiser that typically generates up to $100,000 in fund for EHH, only raised 15 percent of that total this year. Though the Coronavirus has been detrimental to the majority of the population’s pocketbooks, Sarah urges people and companies who haven’t been negatively affected to consider giving to EHH. “Giving is living,” she says, “Sex trafficking is in our backyards, it’s under our noses, and once you know, you can’t unknow. Everyone can play a part.”

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