Women forced and coerced into human trafficking may endure years of sexual and labour exploitation before they’re rescued. But the resulting emotional scars can last even longer. Among these are loss of self-esteem and terror at the thought of being found by their traffickers.

Human-trafficking survivors may also find it difficult to get back into mainstream society due to their lack of day-to-day living skills and the need for employment training.

But The Salvation Army in Canada is helping to meet those needs by providing safe housing, counselling and job training.

Back to Basics
“Our goal is to help each woman go from being a survivor to being a thriver,” says Larissa Maxwell, who manages several Salvation Army anti-human trafficking programs in British Columbia. “We want to help redeem and restore what’s been taken from them during the years they were exploited.”

One of the programs she oversees is a recently created one called Refresh: Barista Employment Training Program, which equips survivors to become baristas in coffee shops or cafés. It also prepares them to work in general food service.

Refresh falls under the umbrella of another Salvation Army program—Living Hope: Life and Living Skills Program—which works in partnership with Deborah’s Gate, a 10-bed living facility. Most of the Refresh participants live at Deborah’s Gate or other safe houses located in the Vancouver area, although that is not a requirement. The training program is offered free of charge.

Since most trafficking abuse begins before the age of 15, survivors generally come into the programs lacking skills they would otherwise have learned at home or in school. So Living Hope focuses on the basics—things like personal hygiene and day-to-day living skills. Registered counsellors help with improving self-esteem and dealing with other emotional and psychological issues.

Coping With Trauma
Long after they’ve been able to get away from their captors, survivors may still need help in learning to deal with emotional triggers that remind them of their past.

“How do you handle it when you have to serve a customer who reminds you of someone who purchased sex from you, or when you smell the brand of cologne that your trafficker always wore?” Larissa says, naming just a couple of instances that might trigger an emotional reaction in the workplace.

“Sleep hygiene” is also taught, since survivors often have sleep problems.

“Many were exploited or abused at night, and often don’t sleep well even after they’re in a safe environment,” Larissa says. “If they don’t sleep at night, they can’t get up for an 8 a.m. job.”

A victim may wake up from a bad dream in a panic, feeling as if she’s still being held captive, helpless and terrified that someone will abuse her at any moment. Fear is so ingrained in her that she can’t easily get back emotionally to the safe place where she is now.

Fortunately, she can talk through her fears with on-site staff who are available around the clock at Deborah’s Gate. And hopefully, some of the coping skills she’s being taught will help—drinking a calming cup of camomile tea at bedtime, using meditation apps, and taking time to describe her feelings and fears in a journal.

Certified for Success
In preparation for employment, participants learn about human rights and employment rights, have practice interviews, and get the clothes they’ll need on the job.

“We give them a voucher so they can go to Salvation Army thrift shops for appropriate clothes for work, and accompany them so they know what a professional dress code looks like,” Larissa explains.

They will learn “soft skills” such as time management, communication, cash handling and professionalism.

The “hard skills” portion of the training includes touring an industrial kitchen, learning how to prepare and serve coffee, tea and other beverages, and working in a simulated café to practise their newfound skills.

JJ Bean partners with Refresh, providing coffee for the program and volunteer practicum placements so that participants can gain first-hand work experience. Additionally, kitchen-based skills are conducted by a Red Seal Chef.

It takes 22 hours spread over two weeks to complete the curriculum and another week for the practicum. Graduates of the program obtain certification from Foodsafe and WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), which teach the safe handling of food and the safe use of hazardous materials commonly found in Canadian workplaces.

“Having this certification will be helpful for them when they apply for jobs in the food-service industry, and adds lines to the resumé,” Larissa says.

Living Beyond
All of the anti-human trafficking programs of The Salvation Army stem from the belief that people can be restored, redeemed, healed and renewed.

“Our vision is to give back to these women what has been taken away from them,” says Larissa Maxwell. She quotes Joel 2:25, where God, through the Old Testament prophet, promises: “I will restore to you the years that the … locust has eaten” (English Standard Version).

The idea for adding employment training to the other anti-human trafficking programs grew out of something that was said by a survivor in 2013.

The woman, who expressed her appreciation for the help she’d already received, wanted to find a way to become more independent. “I want to live beyond the program,” Larissa quotes her as saying. “I want to make my choices and take care of myself, not to depend on government programs.”

Refresh is the result of Larissa and her team realizing that the path to greater independence and more productive lives for survivors is to prepare them for good jobs when they are ready. And thanks to the Army and grant funding from the provincial and federal governments, the barista employment training program is now a reality.

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