an interview with Bridget Battistoni, Director of Operations
At REST, our goal is simple — freedom, safety, and hope to people exploited by the sex trade. Each year, we provide direct services to hundreds, mostly young women as well as girls who are seeking escape from the sex trade in Seattle and beyond. Through our holistic continuum of care (prevention, intervention, and aftercare), we serve those who are at-risk, who are actively involved in, and those taking steps towards freedom from sexual exploitation. Our desire is to see Washington State become inhospitable to traffickers and to work ourselves out of a job.
What’s the key to reaching the women and girls you serve?
It’s all about relationships. Everything we do at REST has a relational focus. We have amazing staff and volunteer outreach teams whose goals are to offer help and hope. Our prevention and intervention efforts touch the streets, jails, and even the Internet where we connect with those who are sold for sex online. REST also provides crisis intervention services and operates Washington state’s only dedicated 24/7 hotline for those seeking help to leave a life of commercial exploitation behind. Our restorative care services include mentorship, case management, and survivor support groups, as well as a one-year housing program at our REST House. All of our efforts are focused on listening and dreaming with clients, helping them to identify and remove the barriers they face whether through access to counseling, sobriety, education, housing, or something else.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing to making those dreams become a reality?
Many victims of human trafficking suffer the effects of complex trauma, co-occurring disorders, addiction, complex family histories, and financial and social barriers. Given the complexity of recurring issues, helping someone recover from years, or possibly a lifetime, of sexual abuse, assault, and exploitation requires patience, creativity, and endurance. There are massive barriers left in the wake of commercial sexual exploitation — housing, education, life and social skills, chemical dependency recovery, employment — that survivors must walk through. This work is incredibly hard for them and those who walk alongside them in support. And it’s expensive because the needs are so vast.
REST is a local organization and provides services primarily to survivors of domestic sex trafficking. What’s something you want people to know about sex trafficking specifically in North America?
While many Americans have heard of human trafficking, still many believe it’s primarily an international problem — happening to girls from places like Cambodia or Eastern Europe. Few people realize it happens domestically, in the United States, let alone on the streets of their own town. In fact, in 2014, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims — those are just the youth; there are also thousands of adult US citizens, across cities and neighborhoods throughout America, who are actively being commercially sexually exploited. We want people to know that this is a global problem — and that can include people within their own communities.
You are about to open the first of its kind Emergency Receiving Center (ERC) for female victims of sex trafficking in Washington State. Can you tell us more about that, and how the ERC will close a major gap in services for victims of trafficking?
When the REST House opened, it was the only residential program for victims of sex trafficking in our region. For some of the residents, it has been the safety and stability they’ve needed to move forward and take steps toward a new future. But, for some, and the many who never make it there, the step from homelessness and or drug addiction is too great, and they need an intermediate step. Clients, law enforcement, therapists and other service agencies all agree — while there are numerous existing shelters, they’re either inadequate to provide the setting needed to consider long-term stabilization or are so overrun with the tremendous demand for emergency placement they simply do not have a bed to offer. We know firsthand the hardship of this reality, and because of it, our team works for days, sometimes weeks, finding placement.
In 2016 alone, there were no beds available in King County for nearly 40% of women who called the REST hotline looking for a safe place to stay. These brave women took an incredible risk and reached out for help only to be told, “There’s no place for you to go tonight.” For more than two years, REST has been championing the ERC and we couldn’t be more thrilled to open it this fall. The 7-bed shelter will provide 30 days of emergency housing, intensive case management, and daytime programming to help victims of sex trafficking to stabilize and consider what life free from exploitation looks and feels like. In one year alone, the space will provide more than 2,500 nights of shelter for victims of human trafficking. Imagine when our 24-hour hotline rings with someone looking to escape a violent trafficker, having them hear, “There is a safe place for you to go tonight, and a team of people dedicated to helping you.” We are convinced closing this gap will be a game-changer for victims of human trafficking.
What do you like about what we're doing here at bonJOY?
We love that bonJOY shares our vision — to provide help and hope to survivors of sex trafficking and does so in a very practical way. Through bonJOY’s business platform, it mobilizes awareness, education, and support of fair trade brands who employ trafficking survivors while creating opportunities for small businesses to support anti-trafficking organizations. These are the small things that add up to big change. It’s such an honor to be a part of that. We love that both REST and bonJOY are compelled to action by the same motivator — a desire for justice in our cities. We know that it’s through efforts such as these that our world changes for the better and freedom is possible for those who seek it.
$1 from every box launched in September, October, November, and December (plus any additional donations from you) will be donated to REST's game-changing dreams for freedom for all. You can read more about Give-Back Program here.