MaLisa Johnson Umstead knew that human trafficking existed, but she believed, like many, that the “problem” was limited to areas outside the borders of the United States, in remote places like Cambodia and Thailand. Research quickly showed, however, that hundreds of thousands of American children are trafficked into the sex trade each year, and yet in 2011, there were fewer than 100 beds across the country waiting for them upon discovery and removal from the trade.
A Safe Place opened its doors in 2012 as MaLisa’s vision to address the enormous lack of supportive and trauma-informed services and housing for victims of human trafficking in America. Over the next year, MaLisa put together a board of directors, began building a plan for the safe house and victim services they would provide and began fundraising in order to open the first restorative home, then known as “The Centre of Redemption” or “CoR.” In December of 2012, the FBI referred the first resident to the Centre, a young teen mother who had been trafficked for the previous three years, since the age of fourteen.
MaLisa Johnson Umstead
Founder, A Safe Place
In working with the first resident, and then soon others who followed, the Board of the COR realized several things:
restorative work is more than a safe house and three meals a day
the need for housing is greatest for young women and mothers exiting the life of sex slavery
the need for victim services and outreach in the COR’s own community was both desperate and unmet
The COR always planned to provide counseling and success strategies for the residents in the house, but it seemed that as soon as word got out what was happening at the Centre, the need began pouring out of the woodwork. As a result, the COR quickly expanded to include one on one counseling, casework, vocational consulting, and – most importantly – a drop in center for local victims, called “A Safe Place”. Because our mission has always been to provide direct services and build lasting and restorative relationships with victims, A Safe Place has become the true heart of our organization.
As A Safe Place has grown, surrounding communities also have shown interest in implementing the successful model we have created. In the summer of 2014 we were thrilled to announce, that as we continue to not only meet the growing need in our own community, but also the need across the state and beyond. We will operate exclusively as “A Safe Place”.