Human Trafficking

Savannah is closer than ever to getting the only Human Trafficking Recovery Residential Facility in our region

It’s a beautiful goal: “To provide support and shelter for survivors of human trafficking by providing non-residential services for girls between the ages of 11-17.” It’s a difficult conversation: Trafficking is not an international “far away” problem. It’s a “right here in Chatham County” problem. It’s rampant from the rural stretches to the downtown squares, and those in the know are calling on the community to be there for the kids who face the challenge of growing out of the trafficking they’ve experienced.

It’s right there in the name: “Tharros means courage in Greek, and it’s the motivating force for survivors which allows them to envision the future they desire for themselves.”

All combined, this equation has formed into a useful, hopeful undertaking now underway in Savannah Georgia: Tharros Place – Cultivating a Culture of Change.

Started by Georgia Attorney Julie Wade, the Tharros Place endeavor is currently in the “outreach and fundraising” stage, hoping to open a twelve-bed facility for girls eleven to seventeen within the next year to help them as they are pulled out of the grasp of human trafficking, which is explicitly defined the exploitation of another person for sex, labor, or services. Wade, who serves as the organization’s Executive Director, shares, “We created Tharros Place to fill a gap in services to provide support and residential shelter to survivors of human trafficking.”

Tharros Outreach Coordinator Kate Templeton adds, “Everyone thinks of human trafficking as less of a problem in the US, or not a problem. We’re here to move that conversation into a place that reflects what’s going on with girls, and with boys, in our region. People don’t realize human trafficking is here at home in rural, suburban, and urban areas – not just large metropolitan cities like New York or Los Angeles. It’s a combination of a high poverty rate and high youth homelessness, with anything that brings in a lot of people – tourism, being a port city, proximity to Florida, the i95 corridor. But what’s also growing in our area and what we hope to influence even more is that these courageous youth are being inspired by someone to come forward and get help.

It’s Not What It Looks Like

How can this be so prevalent in an area known for its beauty, hospitality, history, and charm? It grows almost faster in unexpected areas like the Coastal Empire because, whereas the community is “prepared” for it in larger cities and border towns, here in “the Hostess City,” with Spanish-Moss lined streets, we’re lulled into a somewhat false sense of security, less sure of the signs of danger or what to do about it. Grooming doesn’t look like a shady character on a street corner, and it isn’t confined to the stereotypes of inner-city high crime districts. It looks like another teenager your teen met online who isn’t who they say they are. It looks like students falling into the trap of fake job postings. The guise of relationships, acceptance, opportunity, especially for youth who don’t have a ton of familial support. Someone comes along and offers food and nice clothing, jobs, a future, and nothing is as it seems. 

The prevalence of these things reaching young lives is almost overwhelming and the counteractive services are vastly underwhelming with a shocking 55 beds total in the state of Georgia for those coming out of trafficking. Not only does that fail to meet the need overall, but when it comes to local interests in the Savannah area, there are none in the vicinity.

Enter Tharros Place which in addition to the residential solutions will have a recreation area, conference room, and office space as it offers life changing space and services to young women who need a place to heal, hope, and forge ahead. 

“Our trauma-informed approach and plans are customized for each survivor to address underlying trauma and to cultivate a culture of courage,” Julie Wade says of a four-part vision to provide trauma-informed care, transitional housing, restorative treatments, and success plans.

When open, Tharros will stay open 24/7/365, and they’re one step closer after winning a government grant earlier this year landing them $750,000 closer to accomplishing their valiant goal. The grant award describes, “The facility will meet both emergency/rapid and long-term housing needs, with the ability to place young victims in crisis while also meeting long-term needs to transition to life beyond trafficking. The four primary objectives of Tharros Place are to 1. provide safe and secure housing; 2. leverage community resources; 3. equip residents for independence; and 4. engage and educate the community about human trafficking all through ha lens of trauma and racial equity. Tharros Place will partner with H.O.P.E. Court, a Chatham Country Juvenile Treatment Court that identifies minor victims of human trafficking within the juvenile justice system and provides restorative practices.”

Adding to the big leap grant support, the community is beginning to rally around Tharros’s efforts in initial outreach and donation projects like programs in public schools; stakeholder meetings where audiences are invited to hear from experts on signs to look out for and why this is an urgent issue for Chatham County; events like Savannah Day of Peace: Peace in the Park; and partnerships with area businesses like the Horne Law Firm and United Way of the Coastal Empire who provided trauma kits that include snacks, sketch books, colored pencils, PJs, socks, lotion, stress ball, and Chick-fil-A gift cards.

That’s where they are right now – paving a way for the vision to become reality by: 

  • Applying for grants; federal, state, local, private.
  • Creating building plans for the residential facility.
  • Touring and discussing possible building locations. 
  • Building a highly qualified, trauma informed, and collaborative Staff Team and Board.
  • Planning future programs for residents to implement during their residential time and after.
  • Establishing an interactive Social Media presence and community.

Our Courageous Children

The biggest inspiration bar none are the teens and young adults themselves who are already benefiting from similar endeavors in other cities. Julie Wade shares experiences of meeting with youth in the equivalent facility in Atlanta, “making brownies and talking with survivors, learning what matters to them most in their recovery, what they’ve been through, how to support them now and in the future, what they need, and generally being motivated by their stories and their strength in coming out of what they’ve been through – which equips them to help other kids, teens, and young adults in the same situation.”

The biggest ways you can support the vision? Follow Tharros on Instagram and Facebook for the most up to date events and ways you can donate or provide high-need items; attend community events where Tharros is on site to educate and reach out to help end trafficking in the Savannah area; or contact Tharros directly to find out how to donate or contribute. 

Most of all, Tharros encourages a greater community awareness and compassion for a very close-to-home need. Learn the signs, get involved, create a safer southeast for our most promising asset: our very “courageous” children. 

National Human Trafficking Hotline:

888.373.7888

233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week social media, or by phone or mail

 


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