Modern-day slavery and human trafficking might seem like a faraway problem for those living in the Bay Area but a local nonprofit, Freedom House, is putting a spotlight on the problem locally.
Formed in 2010, Freedom House is the first shelter in Northern California for adult female survivors of human trafficking.
Since opening, it has provided services for 100 survivors of human trafficking, including housing for 25 women at a shelter in northern San Mateo County.
The nonprofit’s mission is to bring hope and a new life to survivors of human trafficking by providing a safe home and long-term aftercare.
"It’s about restoring the human dignity of these women and bringing them hope and a new life,” said Jaida Im, the Freedom House founder.
The nonprofit holds its biggest fundraiser this weekend in San Francisco that will give its supporters an opportunity to hear survivor stories and see the faces victimized by modern-day slavery.
Im and her staff work closely with law enforcement and other agencies to identify trafficking survivors and to provide them with the care and services they need to rebuild their lives.
Many of the victims Freedom House assists were forced into the sex trade or to work for no money in hazardous situations.
"Before I came to Freedom House I was in a very dark place. I had nothing. No direction and no hope. The people at Freedom House cared about me and became my friends. They helped me to build my self-esteem and have hope for my future,” said a human-trafficking survivor who will also be a guest speaker at Saturday’s fundraiser. Other survivors will also speak at Freedom House’s Third Annual Gala.
Freedom House staff help meet the basic needs of survivors by providing them food, clothing and housing while connecting them to resources including social service, medical, legal, psychological, emotional and spiritual.
The fundraiser, with about 500 already signed up to attend, is an opportunity to stand in solidarity against modern-day slavery, Im said.
Many of the victims are often embarrassed or blame themselves for being victimized, she said.
"When I was forced to become a prostitute, I saw the ugly my family warned me of, and I believed that the world no longer possessed good,” shared another Freedom House victim. "This home that the staff has worked so hard to create is a place for women like me to feel safe and see what beauty God has to give.”
Im herself suffered terrible depression and was near suicide a few years ago as she suffered with severe migraine headaches for many years. A pharmacist for 20 years, she ended up leaving the profession as she was in pain every day and also heavily medicated.
"I hit rock bottom. I was anxious and depressed. I was ready to give up,” said Im, married with one child.
But in 2008, Im put her care into the hands of a renowned Christian faith healer from Korea who prayed over her.
She had tried everything else so thought it could not hurt.
Actually, it helped.
"I asked God to please heal me,” she said.
After her faith healing, Im had a miraculous recovery after about four days of what she described as physical and emotional purging.
"I woke up one morning and my mind was crystal clear,” she said.
Deciding to put her career as a pharmacist behind her, Im was looking for her next mission in life when she attended a human trafficking conference in San Francisco in 2009 and was inspired to help other women who were suffering even more than she was.
"I felt like I was given a second chance in life and found my new life’s mission,” she told the Daily Journal. "For me, its about letting these women know to never give up.”
The nonprofit is faith based but does not force religion on its clients, she said.
It relies completely on donations to serve victims.
Im’s hope is to raise awareness about the victims and the trauma they endure as they are trafficked for sex or labor.
Freedom House is also a supporter of the CASE Act, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, a ballot initiative that would increase the penalties for human trafficking and increase protections for victims that is supported by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.
Victims need all the help they can get, Im said.
State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, will speak at Saturday’s fundraiser in San Francisco.
Two years ago, the fundraiser attracted about 140 attendees but this year it is sold out, with more than 500 tickets sold.
For more information on Freedom House or to donate to help human-trafficking victims visit www.freedomhousesfbay.org.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.