By: Aubony Chalfant, LCPC
HALO's Mission stands for much more than the physical and mental well-being of children. Human Trafficking is a tragic but real issue that even we have to confront.
Our focus is housing, healing, and education for homeless and at-risk children locally and worldwide. Unfortunately, this population is more at risk for human trafficking due to the many physical and emotional vulnerabilities of being homeless or at risk. Not only do they need the basics - a place to stay, food, warmth- but they’re also susceptible to the emotionally fulfilling promises that a lot of traffickers make - love, friendship, belonging, a new life. Studies have shown that anywhere from 19% - 40% of RHY (Runaway and Homeless Youth) have experienced trafficking. We deal with increased exposure rates in our Missouri locations due to the number of major interstates that run right through the middle of the U.S. Because of this, HALO volunteers and workers realized pretty early on in our organization that we needed to bring focus to this specialized area.
Aside from the standard services we have provided our children, HALO began teaching a program called iEmpathize in 2015, based on and in collaboration with an organization out of Colorado. The iEmpathize curriculum focuses on trafficking education and prevention, but also what kids can do if they’re already stuck in a situation they feel they can’t get out of. HALO’s iEmpathize program teaches kids how to spot these manipulative promises versus knowing if someone is safe and you can trust them (i.e. HALO staff or a school social worker). It focuses on teaching empathy and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships to avoid the exploitation of vulnerable youth. The program teaches how to discern if someone is wearing a “disguise” or pretending to care about you just so they can exploit you later and how to tell if something or someone is a positive or negative influence. IEmpathize also teaches self-esteem empowerment- to help youth be less vulnerable prey. It also teaches empathy for their peers- so they can form strong relationships instead of being susceptible to (usually older) traffickers wanting to take them “under their wing.”
The program also teaches youth about having empathy for themselves regardless of what they’ve been through or done in the past. At HALO, we know some of our kids have been involved in trafficking or other activities they are ashamed of so that they could survive the night. So a lot of this program also talks about how external circumstances that we can’t help can put us in situations we don’t want to be in, and that’s not our fault or make us a bad person. It's essential that they understand HALO is not here to judge but to help them in whatever way we can so they never feel taken advantage of again.
At HALO, we provide the foundation of a family for children without one. In that way, we are also stepping in and filling that gap of support, love, and belonging that makes many homeless and at-risk youth susceptible to people that would exploit that vulnerability. HALO does everything we can to step in and empower them so they can empower and protect themselves and ultimately break the cycle.
If you or anyone you know is in such a situation, please do not hesitate to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or by texting "HELP" or "INFO" to 233733. Learn more about volunteering with HALO.