OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The state of Oklahoma is taking new action to help victims of human trafficking.
Over the next three years, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will utilize a $600,000 federal grant that will provide resources such as safe housing and trauma therapy.
At least 75 individuals will benefit from this grant, but the state anticipates serving more.
Human trafficking is an insidious crime that can go undetected for decades.
The average age for victims of human trafficking nationwide is 13-years-old, but it can impact anyone.
“It can also be where perhaps the family has parents who are deeply entrenched in a substance abuse problem and are facilitating access by selling their children,” said Lauren Garder, senior manager at Zero Suicide and Trauma Care.
Some victims undergo the abuse to survive, exchanging acts for basic needs, but for some it eventually converts to a trafficking experience.
“They may not realize that that’s happening to them,” said Garder. “So part of this program, right, is allowing us to give people housing stability so that they don’t have to worry about meeting those basic needs that can lead to vulnerability for trafficking.”
The new grant gives individuals a safe place to stay while also addressing their trauma with a specialist.
“The vouchers that they get will meet housing, rent, utilities, all of that for each voucher that they receive,” said Garder. “So we will be able to support them for up to six months, or if they’re in one of our residential treatment programs, then they would be able to receive that support even longer there.”
Melissa Eick with The Dragonfly Home, a human trafficking crisis center in Oklahoma City, has seen the positive impact of what these resources can do.
“Instilling confidence and and the ability to hope and dream again, those are such base level things that we all need, and it’s been truly incredible to see how people go on to build a new life and get a fresh start when they get specialized services,” said Eick.
Victims over the age of 12 can be helped with this grant. The Department of Human Services has resources available for those seeking services that are younger.
The project will offer access to transitional housing and short-term rental assistance in 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.