New Hampshire’s first safe house for human trafficking victims will open next year

  • Photos of the interior of the location that will serve as the safe house for survivors of human trafficking run by Brigid's House of Hope. Courtesy—Brigid's House of Hope

  • Photos of the interior of the location that will serve as the safe house for survivors of human trafficking run by Brigid's House of Hope. Courtesy—Brigid's House of Hope

  • Photos of the interior of the location that will serve as the safe house for survivors of human trafficking run by Brigid's House of Hope. Courtesy—Brigid's House of Hope

Concord Monitor
Published: 12/13/2021 2:39:55 PM
Modified: 12/13/2021 2:39:19 PM

A half million dollars in federal grant money will finally allow a safe house for victims of human trafficking to open, the first transitional housing of its kind in New Hampshire.

Executive Director Bethany Cottrell said the three-year grant of $583,586 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs will allow Brigid’s House of Hope to sign a lease on a building and hire staff to support women escaping sex trafficking at a restorative safe house. The home will be located in central New Hampshire and provide programming and intensive case management for victims in addition to shelter.

The vision for Brigid’s House of Hope, a nonprofit founded to provide a safe space for people escaping human trafficking in New Hampshire, has been in the works since 2018. The organization is named after St. Brigid of Kildare, an Irish saint born into slavery in the fifth century.

“For years, we’ve been recognizing that the biggest gap in service is housing for survivors and victims of human trafficking and this grant is really going to allow us to identify these victims and survivors and allow them to transition into the community with independence,” Cottrell said. “We’re excited to see what that journey looks like and provide that support and create a better and safer community for New Hampshire.”

Although residential homes exist for survivors of domestic violence, people transitioning out of jail and those recovering from substance abuse issues, this safe house will be the only one in the state geared towards victims of trafficking and exploitation, who often have complex needs that often can’t be met by existing services.

In the next few months, Brigid’s House of Hope will be hiring licensed social workers and case managers to provide services to these survivors. Cottrell, who is also the Human Services Director for Merrimack County, said a lease at a confidential location will be signed this month, where a landlord is matching each dollar of the organization’s funds.

The safe house will have space for six women when it first opens, aiming to ultimately house eight women, and provide up to a year and a half of programming and support.

“There are quite a few partner agencies, we’re working with all of them to be able to provide that referral process,” Cottrell said. She said jails and prisons have reached out to refer inmates whose involvement in the criminal justice system is linked to their histories of trauma and exploitation.

At the safe house, basic needs like food, shelter and security will be satisfied first. Then, victims will focus on improving mental health and substance issues before achieving stability through job training and education. Trafficking survivors will ultimately develop the tools to live independently and give back to their own communities.

Although human trafficking encompasses both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, the safe house will start by serving victims of sexual exploitation because that’s where the need is greatest, Cottrell said. Under federal law, trafficking is the use of “force, fraud or coercion” to exploit a person for their labor or a commercial sex act.

“The statistics and the information that we’ve been able to gather over the last 3 years show that the majority of the victims we’re seeing are women, early 20s to mid 30s that are from the New England,” she said. Creating a full count of the number of victims can be difficult, she said, since trafficking and exploitation can be hard to define.

Of the 59 human trafficking victims served by nonprofit Waypoint New Hampshire between 2017 and 2020, 92% were female and 61% were victims of sex trafficking, according to a 2020 report from the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force.

The task force confirmed 30 victims of human trafficking in the state in 2020. Of those confirmed victims, 16 were victims sex trafficking and 13 were victims of labor trafficking.

Cottrell said that Brigid’s House of Hope will eventually expand the forms of support they offer, including rental assistance for survivors who may not be well-suited for communal living, as well as male victims and those who have families.

The pandemic had delayed progress on securing a location and staffing for the safe house, as private funders and foundations focused on COVID relief needs. COVID has also made it harder for service providers to get in touch with survivors.

“When everything shut down it made it difficult to really identify victims, let alone support them,” Cottrell said.

During video meetings, telehealth providers or victim services workers can’t tell whether another person might be watching just beyond the camera’s line of sight, or restricting communications entirely. The isolation has also compounded mental health challenges for survivors who were already dealing with trauma and anxiety.

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice, which oversees the Office of Justice Programs that funded the grant.

“Brigid’s House of Hope does critical work connecting women in Concord with the resources they need to find safety and recover from trauma. I’m pleased they’ll soon receive over half a million dollars to support their work on the frontlines during this critical time,” Shaheen said a statement. “I’m committed to ensuring survivors have access to the life-saving support and resources they need to heal and rebuild.”

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