Safe haven plans initiated for human trafficking victims

Dr.+Sandra+Demos-Kelley+shared+the+SAFE+Coalition%E2%80%99s+goals+to+protect+potential+and+past+trafficking+victims.
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Safe haven plans initiated for human trafficking victims

Dr. Sandra Demos-Kelley shared the SAFE Coalition’s goals to protect potential and past trafficking victims.

Dr. Sandra Demos-Kelley shared the SAFE Coalition’s goals to protect potential and past trafficking victims.

Madison Lopez

Dr. Sandra Demos-Kelley shared the SAFE Coalition’s goals to protect potential and past trafficking victims.

Madison Lopez

Madison Lopez

Dr. Sandra Demos-Kelley shared the SAFE Coalition’s goals to protect potential and past trafficking victims.

Madison Lopez, Writer

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Dr. Sandra Demos-Kelley spoke on behalf of the SAFE Coalition for Human Rights last night to a crowded room of over 25 children, teachers, parents, and NWI residents who came to learn about human trafficking in The Region.

Demos-Kelley said NWI does not currently offer any type of safe house for victims and the group is looking to fill the void. She estimates that there are currently at least 1000 victims in The Region, many of them teens and children sold into trafficking through abductions in parking lots, department stores and places where youth congregate. The greatest hub for sex trafficking, she said, is in Merrillville, particularly in the cluster of hotels located at the I-65 and Hwy. 30 interchange.

The SAFE Coalition’s long term goal is to raise enough money through fundraising events and donations from corporations and individuals to purchase land in Merrillville, priced at $450k, and build a housing community for victims who feel they have nowhere to go and no options other than returning to trafficking. The development will be a gated community with 24 hour security and will offer cottage homes, as well as counseling and other tools to help victims see that there is a viable way out.

Madison Lopez
SAFE Coalition proposed a safe house community that will be built in Merrillville.

The event, held at Lincoln Street Christian Church in Highland, included a lively community discussion about how volunteers can help decrease the number of NWI trafficking victims through creating awareness.

Creating and implementing K-12 school curriculum meant to build positive self esteem is the first step in helping children avoid being lured into trafficking, Demos-Kelley said, acknowledging the connection between poor self-image, bullying and the resulting isolation, anxiety, suicidal idealizations, dependence on technology, and probability of meeting strangers online.

Demos-Kelley cited the lack of empathy today in teens and adults as an important factor in poor self esteem. In third grade, kids begin to break down and become so hard on themselves and eventually do not have any positive self esteem left.

The pre-teen and teen suicide rates in Indiana have risen dramatically over the past few years, and Demos-Kelley knows why. She works as a psychologist with kids from Highland, Dyer, Hammond, and most of Northwest Indiana. Every kid with suicidal ideations, that she counsels, has struggled first with poor self esteem, anxiety, depression, and a need to fit in and feel valued.

These teens cope and self-medicate by experimenting with drugs and are more likely to become victims by meeting strangers (including traffickers posing as teens) in online chat rooms and agreeing to meet them in person, she said.

What teens do not realize, Demos-Kelley added, is that by giving out personal information or agreeing to meet online “friends” in person, they are increasing the likelihood of becoming the next victim of human trafficking.

The best way anyone can try to  help is to give them a sense of belonging and  help them recognize that they are worth something.

Students and other community members are always welcome to attend meetings and fundraiser events. The group’s immediate goal is to create awareness and dispel the myth that “it doesn’t happen here” in NWI. The group will post upcoming events around the Region as a Facebook event invitation to spread the word.

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