Jennifer Marks (right) is the Church Mobilizer and Volunteer Coordinator at World Relief Tampa, which has provided restorative services to survivors of human trafficking since 2004. She has agreed to provide a snapshot human trafficking in one region of the United States and what it looks like to mobilize the local Church and community in response.
Describe the state of human trafficking in the areas you serve.
J.M:The Tampa Bay region, Florida’s second largest metropolitan area, is renowned for its beautiful beaches, diverse cuisine, and thriving nightlife. Yet, beneath the surface of this vibrant community, the burgeoning criminal industry of modern day slavery thrives. In fact, Florida ranks third in the nation for calls placed to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and is one of the highest destination states for women, men, and children trafficked into the United States.
Who does World Relief Tampa serve?
J.M:World Relief Tampa assists men and women, both foreign-born and U.S. citizens. World Relief Tampa provides direct case management for adult survivors and works with local partners to meet the specific needs of trafficked children. In previous years, World Relief Tampa served exclusively foreign-born survivors, the majority of whom were male labor trafficking survivors. However, due to expanded funding, World Relief Tampa is now able to serve adult female domestic sex trafficking survivors; a population which has comprised the majority of our case load since 2012.
Can you provide an overview of your office’s work and the services offered to victims?
J.M:World Relief Tampa has three staff members, including myself. In partnership with local churches, law enforcement and community groups, our team provide direct services and referrals to meet the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of human trafficking survivors.
To address these comprehensive needs, World Relief Tampa relies upon pro bono partnerships and leverages community resources to provide transportation, food, health care, counseling, ESOL, housing, clothing, legal advocacy and employment services. Expanding our pro-bono networks is a high priority given the intense medical and psychological needs of clients and the expansive geographic circumference of the region.
In addition to client services, World Relief Tampa conducts community outreach. As the Church Mobilizer/Volunteer Coordinator, it is my responsibility to engage and equip the local Church, build partnerships, advance prevention strategies, acquire critical resources and increase awareness.
In what ways is the local church involved?
J.M:Church partnerships are critical to successfully addressing survivors’ comprehensive needs. One of the most important roles of the local church is praying for the rescue and restoration of survivors and for an end to the great evil of modern day slavery. Churches also facilitate anti-trafficking awareness presentations to increase understanding and involvement within congregations and collect donations of money and needed items. Finally, churches assist World Relief Tampa in forming new relationships with pro bono medical professionals and life mentors.
In what ways are volunteers from the local community involved?
J.M:Volunteers assist with fundraising, collection of donations, awareness, mall outreach campaigns, birthday and Christmas collection drives for survivors and mentoring on a case-by-case basis (preceded by specialized training and background checks).
From where does most of your financial support come? How is that changing?
J.M:Prior to 1994, World Relief Tampa focused on refugee resettlement and equipping the church to “welcome the stranger” into our congregations and our hearts. Funds provided by the US State Department Refugee Resettlement Program and church donations allowed World Relief Tampa to reach hundreds of vulnerable refugees.
In 2004, World Relief received a grant from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to serve victims of human trafficking in the Southeastern United States through the “Network of Emergency Trafficking Services” (NETS) program. World Relief Tampa became the pilot site for this program and has continued to receive federal funding to expand anti-trafficking activities in Tampa for the past 9 years.
This federal funding will end in April 2014. As a result, World Relief in Tampa must increasingly rely on the local Church to fund the expenses associated with meeting the vast needs of human trafficking survivors in the Tampa Bay region. However, as awareness grows, local churches are increasingly sharing a vision for their indispensable role in demonstrating God’s love for victims of exploitation and abuse.
What victories have you witnessed at your office over the past years?
J.M:The last couple of years have been marked by change, creating a host of challenges and blessings. In 2012, World Relief Tampa began ministering to domestic victims of human trafficking. Over the next year and a half, 90 percent of World Relief Tampa’s clients would be female American sex trafficking victims, a majority of whom lack basic life skills and struggle with crippling drug addictions, PTSD and trauma bonding. Additional training bolstered staff competence (and confidence), but nothing brought peace like the power of prayer. As the World Relief team experienced a deeper understanding of the intense spiritual warfare surrounding service to these women, churches launched prayer groups to stand with staff in this battle for the restoration of bodies, minds and souls.World Relief Tampa is confident that God will move mountains to defend the vulnerable as the Christian community moves out in His strength and provision.
In addition, World Relief Tampa has initiated a Mall Outreach Campaign to equip churches to launch awareness and prevention ministries in local malls, a documented venue for trafficking recruitment. Malls are being prayed over and employees at over two hundred stores have already been educated on what to do if they witness suspicious behavior. To further target those on the front lines, World Relief Tampa is traveling throughout the region to provide domestic minor sex trafficking training to mall security teams.
What are some of your goals for the future?
To better meet the comprehensive needs of human trafficking survivors, we will continue to build our community of church partnerships and expand pro bono serve providers. In particular, we hope to add pro bono trauma counselors to guide clients in their restoration journey. Similarly, we will develop strategies to better connect clients with church congregations and healthy mentors who are trained and equipped to provide long-term guidance and friendship.
To meet the needs of survivors and ensure the long-term financial security of the World Relief Tampa human trafficking ministry, we are also developing a plan to broaden the support base through monthly financial donors.
When asked to share a piece of scripture integral to the mission of World Relief’s Tampa office, Marks shared Matthew 25:34-40. The passage is a reminder of the necessary changes we must make in our lives to advocate for the oppressed. It ends with Jesus’ words: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
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