REST (REAL ESCAPE FROM THE SEX TRADE)
“You survived for a reason, and you deserve to be loved”
We often have a tendency to view sex trafficking as something that happens only in impoverished countries; that it’s not something we confront in the US. We often don’t understand the prevalence of human trafficking that is happening here in this country or more specifically, right here in Seattle. On any given night in Seattle and King County, thousands of individuals – women, men, and minors – are being sold for sex. And over half of them are experiencing homelessness or unstable housing. REST was built to respond to the unique needs to the victims and survivors of sex trafficking; they exist to build pathways to freedom, safety, and hope for individuals who are exploited by the sex trade.
Driven by the belief that everyone is inherently deserving of love and dignity, REST was founded in 2009 by a small team of volunteers who set out to engage folks being exploited by the sex trade. Foundational in their work from day one is an emphasis on building relationships and allowing folks who were experiencing sexual exploitation to determine what they needed. This relationship-first and ‘needs-based model’ continues to inform RESTs programming to this day.
Though every experience of sexual exploitation is unique, one thing is common amongst survivors is trauma. In fact, the rate of PTSD in survivors of sexual exploitation is higher than in combat veterans. Victims are more likely to have compounded trauma and need very specific environments set up to heal and begin to recover from the abuse they have incurred. The folks at REST understand that trauma affects the whole person, and therefore, seek to honor and care for the whole person: mind, body, and spirit, in a holistic and individualized way. REST understands the importance of relationship-building, communicating a sense of inclusion and belonging to everyone that they serve; they are a nationally-leading organization not only because of their unique programming and services, but because of their belief in the power of love. The shame that is often held from folks being exploited sexually no longer has to be a barrier to access services if they can feel seen and loved.
It takes an average of 5.8 attempts for an individual to fully exit the sex trade and the journey to healing is different for every individual. REST meets people where they are at, providing options, opportunities, and resources to discover what works. They ask questions about the kind of life people want – empowering them to choose – and provide resources for folks to attain their goals. If individuals fall back into the sex trade, REST maintains an open door policy and a stigma-free approach, because every survivor’s journey out of the sex trade is different. The special thing about REST is that when a victim of trafficking comes to one of their programs, they do not provide a one size fits all solution; but rather, they listen to the individual’s hopes and dreams and walk alongside them to support them in their journey. In 2020, 652 victims of sex trafficking were engaged by REST.
The majority of victims and survivors of sexual exploitation struggle to have access to safe and stable housing. Victims of sex trafficking will often not identify themselves as experiencing homelessness, living with their pimps or traffickers, in unsafe, unstable conditions, and chaotic environments. But you cannot talk about sex trafficking without talking about the intersection of homelessness. Nor can we adequately address homelessness without talking about trafficking and patriarchal violence. Housing instability is a tremendous barrier to escaping the sex trade: nearly 84% of those folks that REST serves have endured homelessness. Whether it’s through their emergency shelter program, transitional site, or rental assistance, REST understands the need to support folks establishing the security and capacity to set up stable housing. RESTs programs are incredibly low-barrier for entry, so that they can help the most individuals possible.
How do people access REST’s services?
Because of the loving reputation that REST has garnered in the community, folks will very often learn about programs they offer from word of mouth. REST also has a street outreach team that regularly goes out and builds relationships with individuals who are being forced to sell themselves, bringing resources, hygiene kits, food, and information. It’s all about relationships – going to where people are and being consistent. Additionally, through a collaboration with a group of tech workers, the folks at REST have created a program that can scrape phone numbers through ads on the internet and can send text messages to directly to folks in the sex trade, inviting them to access resources.
RESTs core belief is that everyone deserves to be loved and everyone deserves a life free of exploitation. When they say everyone, they mean everyone. Their work is an overflow of that belief – that’s why there are such low barriers to what they do, because barriers prevent people from accessing that love. They continue to focus on meeting folks where they are at, which is central to their programming and what makes it so effective. REST’s programs are leading the anti-trafficking movement nationally and ultimately, it is LOVE that makes them work. It is the relationships that staff forge with clients, so that clients know that they are loved, making them continue to access REST or refer REST to others being trafficked.
How can people get involved?
If you’d like to learn more about sex trafficking, RESTs work, or get involved, there are a number of opportunities for you:
DONATE: Please consider a donation to support RESTs efforts! A monthly, reoccurring donation is even better.
REST Training Days: They also host quarterly trainings for folks that are interested in learning more about the dynamics of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. There is a nominal cost, but the funds support their work.
Volunteer Opportunities: REST hosts a number of volunteer opportunities for folks looking to get directly involved. REST was started by a team of volunteers – and volunteers continue to play a critical role in supporting the mission.
*Photos are stock photography and feature models used for illustrative purposes only.