Surviving COVID-19 as a Human Trafficking Survivor

Sep 24, 2020

The coronavirus has impacted everyone – including survivors of human trafficking. To learn more, we turned to Elyse Dobney, program manager for STOP-IT, The Salvation Army’s initiative against human trafficking. In addition to providing supportive services to survivors, this group educates the public to better prevent, identify, and respond to human trafficking in all its forms. Here’s what she wants the public to know about trafficking in this season of COVID-19 – and as we approach The Salvation Army’s Annual Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking this Sunday, September 27.

Has COVID-19 impacted human trafficking in the Chicago area?

The needs did not go away. We have continued to see a consistent flow of new referrals, but it’s become more challenging to help them. The financial needs of participants have grown as consistent employment has become more difficult for many, and foreign-born participants are not always eligible for the same resources as U.S. residents.

Safe housing continues to be a challenge. And we know that the isolation required to keep people healthy and minimize the spread of COVID can also replicate the control tactic of isolation used by some traffickers during the trafficking experience.

How has STOP-IT adapted to keep supporting survivors during the pandemic?

We initially moved all client meetings to virtual platforms instead of in-person. We were still dropping off items to participants, but followed public health recommendations for distancing.

For our drop-in center, we did have to close our in-person drop-in space and we also moved the case management meetings to virtual platforms. We’ve been offering Zoom “hang outs” for folks interested in still engaging with the program and each other in a more social manner, rather than just the case management side of the programming.

What are the challenges of meeting survivors’ needs while respecting coronavirus guidelines?

Recently, we have started to reintroduce in-person meetings for initial appointments and with individuals who are interested in more emotional support during their program participation. While this is all done following our local public health recommendations, we believe it’s important to meet with people face-to-face when able in order to build rapport and trust. Currently these meetings are primarily outdoors or in spaces in which there is adequate room for distancing. However, some of the individuals with whom we work prefer to maintain virtual meetings in order to minimize their physical contact with others.

Thankfully, we are about to open a new drop-in center for survivors, where meeting in a safe, socially distant way will be much easier. That’ll be especially helpful this winter when we can’t meet with participants outside.

What can the public do to help STOP-IT and survivors during this difficult time?

The best way to help STOP-IT is by donating money. The needs are so great and so specific to each participant’s unique circumstances, having adequate funds gives us the capacity to help everyone who comes to us.

If you suspect someone is in a trafficking situation, call STOP-IT at 877.606.3158. We can advise you on what to do. Sometimes it’s best and safest to do nothing. Don’t make any promises to someone in that situation, and don’t try to rescue someone. Call our hotline (877.606.3158) or the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888.373.7888) for guidance.

It’s also important to educate yourself about trafficking from legitimate sources. There’s a lot of false information and fearmongering going on about trafficking and related issues right now, and that’s distracting from the real issues and challenges of trafficking. Make sure the information you get is from agencies that have been helping survivors for years.

NOTE: The Salvation Army site sajustice.us is a great resource for information about human trafficking. There, you’ll find a page of videos, reports, and fact sheets about the Army’s National Day of Prayer for Human Trafficking Victims, which is September 27 this year. There’s even a 31-day devotional guide, a flyer of prayer prompts, and ideas for planning your own prayer gathering.


Help The Salvation Army Do the Most Good

Learn about all the ways The Salvation Army is responding to the coronavirus – as well as how you can help – at salarmychicago.org/coronavirus

Donate to Our COVID-19 Response      Fundraise for Good

For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.


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