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Survivors seek community help to build Utah’s first home for sex trafficking victims

Salt Lake City— January is Human Trafficking and Slavery Prevention Month, qn ideal time to note that Utah ranks #4 per capita in reported human trafficking cases, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

A new organization in Salt Lake City is stepping forward to fill the gap in home-like living accommodations, empowerment, social enterprise, and training for Utah’s female victims who need support.

Introducing the Aspen Magdalene House

The Aspen Magdalene House (“Aspen”) organization started in March 2018 with a model and plan to support female victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in achieving safety, freedom, recovery and preparation to move forward with new life skills and opportunities.

Britanny is an Aspen board member and a trafficking survivor. “You would think the day I was arrested would be my worst day ever, but I look back on that day and know it saved my life,” said Brittany,“Jail was escape for me and I credit the police officer for saving my life. He has been there to support my obtaining care and getting back on my feet.”

Britanny is now using her experience to help victims who are often reluctant to accept help.

The scope of the problem

By definition, human trafficking is the use of fraud, force or coercion to cause a commercial sexual act. Perpetrators promise protection, a home or adventure or exchange for rent to lure and manipulate women and men, and girls and boys who are high-risk, including those who are homeless, needing rent money, as well as youth aging out or receiving insufficient support in homes or foster care.

Some mistakenly believe that slavery is a thing of the past but most analysts say it is more prevalent now than ever before. Consider these facts:

  • Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide that uses force, fraud and coercion to sexually exploit individuals.
  • The International Labour Organization estimates approximately 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.
  • It is the most criminal and profitable enterprise, second to drug trafficking.

Aspen is a sister organization of Thistle Farms, a national network of nonprofits helping women survivors of trafficking find healing, hope and freedom. In June 2019, a University of Utah research team partnered with the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, Salt Lake City Council, and Salt Lake District Attorney’s Office to complete a needs assessment.

The report illustrates the need for increased support and a coordinated community response for long-term comprehensive service provision for survivors of human trafficking. Following the report, Aspen created a board of directors that includes survivors and established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Aspen Magdalene House is one-of-a-kind as no model currently exists in Utah with comprehensive programming, services and housing for this underserved population.

Aspen is ready but community and funding and support is needed

Starting in January 2021, the organization began actively raising funds through donations, grants and financing. With that support, the organization is hiring an Executive Director and securing property in Greater Salt Lake to create a home-like residence to support 8-10 survivors at a time and provide them with long-term care and support.

“I never would have guessed Utah has the 4th highest per capita reported cases and the numbers are growing,” said Pamela Atkinson, vice chairman of the board. “Once I started doing research, I realized how pervasive it is here and around the world. It’s taken on new forms during the pandemic too as people are on the precipice of eviction.” 

The organization welcomes all community partners and resources that can help to answer the need for financial support. 

“While Salt Lake City has clinics and a network of short-term housing, nothing like Aspen House is available in the area,” said Kori Renwick, Aspen board chairman. “It’s a crtitical need.  While Brittany made it, many don’t.”

The Aspen House Name

The Aspen Magdalene House is named after the Utah state tree, the Quaking Aspen, a symbol of sustainability and interconnectedness. The tree is a single clone of the Quaking Aspen connected by one, massive and extensive underground root system — Aspens are foundationally stronger together because of the shared root system.

The Aspen is so much more than a tree; it’s one small part of a larger organism. The conditions need to be just right for this tree to grow. They need an abundance of sunshine and can also grow in harsh winters.

Much like Aspen trees, each survivor is one part of a larger healing process. Survivors will have ups and downs, go through mountains and valleys, and will face good days and bad days. Through the healing powers of love, survivors will thrive together in a supportive environment filled with sunshine.

Next steps include building a strong network of community partners and secure financial support.

About Aspen House

Aspen House (www.aspenhouseslc.org) believes victims and survivors of human trafficking  deserve healing, dignity and opportunity. Our mission is to provide a home-like residence that’s offering a safe and nurturing environment to empower women. Through social enterprise, residents learn skills and have an opportunity become self-sufficent. We are guided by the declaration “Love Heals.” Love is the most powerful force for change in the world by building a movement that connects  survivors, customers, advocates and communities.

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