A local nonprofit group is raising money to give child victims of sex trafficking a safe place to recover and thrive.
Magdalena’s Daughters was founded in 2018. Ashley Hill, a licensed therapist who has worked for five years with foster youth for San Bernardino County, launched the organization to address the growing issue of child sex trafficking.
“I was heartbroken listening to the stories of my clients being victimized and I couldn’t believe that it was happening,” Hill said. “I just wanted to help.”
Sex trafficking is very different than most of its depictions on television and in movies, according to Hill. Local victims are not usually kidnapped and transported in cargo containers. The more common scenario involves connecting online.
Without realizing they are making themselves a target, teenagers may express their discontent with their family, their loneliness or their desire for a romantic relationship. This gives traffickers the information they need to connect and draw in the victim.
The youths begins corresponding with the trafficker, who gives them attention, emotional support and romance. This leads to an in-person meeting and ultimately with the trafficker isolating the victim from family and friends. The adult then leverages the relationship to convince the victim to have sex in exchange for money, drugs or housing.
“Our kids are very vulnerable and can be naïve about who they develop relationships with,” Hill said. “Looking at the computer screen and really believing you know the person on the other side can be dangerous.”
Foster youths are particularly vulnerable, Hill said. Many have suffered abuse in the past, do not have strong support systems and seek validation and belonging. It is not uncommon for foster youths to run away and become homeless. All this makes them more susceptible to sex trafficking.
Magdalena’s Daughters is working to provide safe homes for female foster youths between the ages of 12 and 18 who are victims or at risk of sex trafficking. The organization plans to open its first home in 2025. The homes will give youths an option if they are ready to end the relationship with their trafficker.
Services will ensure safety and reduce re-victimization and sexual exploitation of residents. Services will include counseling, school support and physical health support.
“As a therapist, talking to clients about what they need, I see that they want a sense of family,” Hill said. “My firm belief is that we have to go back to that foundation of family, which means consistent caregivers in smaller homes.”
While Magdalena’s Daughters raises funds for residential homes, it is focusing on prevention. The organization is partnering with Cal State San Bernardino to research how widespread sex trafficking is locally and its effects on youths. The organization is also working with the District Attorney’s Office to develop a curriculum for middle and high schools to educate students and teachers on the issue.
Magdalena’s Daughters recently received a grant from the San Bernardino County Nonprofit Assistance Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The money will support the organization’s research and work, but it will continue to need community support to reach its goals.
Magdalena’s Daughters has connected with the community through outreach programs throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Hill hopes to raise awareness about sex trafficking and encourages the community to attend human trafficking training. Interested individuals can also follow Magdalena’s Daughters on Facebook and Instagram.
“The things happening to our foster youth can happen in any home regardless of socioeconomic status,” Hill said.
Information: 909-906-0472 or https://www.magdalenasdaughters.org/
Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.
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