East County nonprofit aids victims of human trafficking

Human trafficking — the crime of forcing people into labor or sex acts — is an ongoing problem in the United States and around the world, and it’s getting worse.

However, one nonprofit based in East Contra Costa County is working to stem the tide of this human tragedy and help victims rebuild their lives and restore hope.

Pillars of Hope offers victims of this crime comprehensive holistic healing for human trafficking, along with adult education to teach life skills, job preparation and completion of a GED, if needed.

“We really work to help rescued victims to get their lives back,” said Pillars of Hope Founder and CEO Debra Brown. “We try to provide victims with restorative programs such as temporary housing, transportation funds, job training ... anything that will restore a sense of normalcy to the lives of these victims.”

Brown said the nonprofit relies mostly on volunteers from the community to provide assistance to those in need. She said the group also works with some local doctors and dentists who volunteer their services to these victims. She said Pillars of Hope does use some part-time paid help, maily to deal with the nonprofit’s finances.

Brown said the organization is currently seeking funding to open a rescue house for human trafficking victims in Contra Costa County, but is having difficulty finding funders for the project.

“Typically rescued victims of human trafficking are put in state-operated facilities that aren’t always the greatest,” She said. “In some cases, the only place for minors who are victims is juvenile hall, which is really not a good solution. We want to purchase a property where we can place these victims, but it is difficult to find funders to build a facility.”

Brown indicated that temporary housing for these victims is its largest expense.

Brown said the two most common ways that people are trafficked is by kidnapping, or “Romeo pimping,” which is when an older person will start a romantic relationship with a younger victim and, as the relationship builds, the boyfriend in the situation will influence the victim to sell her body through prostitution. It’s a form of brainwashing.

“Kids should never be alone,” said Brown. “No place is safe”

Brown said that in addition to fundraising and providing basic services for trafficking victims, Pillars of Hope does work with the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office in the event that a victim tries to contact Pillars of Hope staff asking for help. She said some victims do reach out to the nonprofit through its website or other agencies and they then share this information with law enforcement.

While vulnerable people can become victims of human trafficking anywhere, one of the most common places where these victims are abducted is at highway rest stops. Some victims are also lured somewhere via online or social media channels.

Pillars of Hope will be holding fundraisers this month. It is hosting an online Bingo fundraiser on June 10 through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and it is holding an independent walk, bike and hike fundraiser through the summer, where participants can work independently and solicit their own sponsors for donations.

To donate funds, volenteer or for more information on the organization, call 925-305-7511 or visit www.pillarsofhope.com.