“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Desmond Tutu
Extended Hands of Hope brings light to the darkness of sex trafficking, by providing a safe house and supportive services to girls ages 1 to 17 who have experienced some form of sex trafficking.
According to the National Human Trafficking group, there were 127 sex trafficking cases in Colorado in 2018, which is likely significantly underrepresented, as many of these victims are children and reluctant to report.
“Statistics are just numbers,” notes Sarah Majka, Extended Hands of Hope Developmental Director. “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.”
The Avanti House, Extended Hands of Hope's safe house, is a farmhouse-style building tucked away on 10 acres of land. The word Avanti means “come in”, offering safe and welcoming refuge. It contains two bedrooms, a communal living room, and houses 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 raise the funds to build more safe houses on their expansive property. Each room they offer has the potential to change the trajectory 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 have more access to children.
EatUp! Denver, an annual fundraiser that typically generates up to $100,000 in funds 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 back yards, it’s under our noses, and once you know, you can’t unknow. Everyone can play a part.”