At Brittany’s Place, a shelter for sex-trafficked girls under the age of 18, purple walls line the hallways along with messages of encouragement on a billboard.
In the classroom, the word “yet” is placed in large letters, to encourage girls who have fallen behind in math and reading skills that they are on their way to achievement while confronting abuse that taught them “their bodies are not their own.”
Brittany’s Place is one shelter run by 180 Degrees, a non-profit providing shelter and supportive housing for men exiting prison, girls under 18 who are victims of sex trafficking, and youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness and exploitation.
“The fact is people buy sex and buy it from minors,” said Dan Pfarr, CEO of 180 Degrees. “We need to speak up so we can help solve this problem in this country.”
In July, 180 Degrees was named Safe Harbor Regional Navigator for the East Metro and was awarded a $450,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. The grant will help expand services in Minnesota to prevent and intervene on sex trafficking of minors in the East Metro.
The grant is intended to help girls like Brittany Clardy, the namesake of Brittany’s Place, who was trafficked and murdered at 18 years-old in 2013. The purple walls are in her honor, her favorite color.
Brittany’s Place opened in 2015 and serves about 100 girls per year. The shelter includes bedrooms, showers, meals, clothes, education, mental health services and entertainment for female and female-identifying youth under the age of 18.
“We meet them where they’re at,” said Mary McRoy, the former program manager at Brittany’s Place.
In July, McRoy was named Safe Harbor Regional Navigator for the East Metro on behalf of 180 Degrees. Brittany’s Place is now searching for a new program manager to replace her.
With the grant McRoy will help provide healthcare, law enforcement, education and other agencies guidance to identify and serve sex-trafficked youth, with an emphasis on being “trauma informed”. McRoy says sex-trafficking causes a high level of trauma and causing further trauma must be avoided to allow a “continuum of care.”
“For the most part people want to help, they just don’t always know how and they don’t know how serious of an issue this is,” said McRoy. As the regional navigator, McRoy can connect sexually exploited youth to shelters like Brittany’s Place.
The Safe Harbor Navigator role stems from the Safe Harbor law passed in 2011 which “provided the legislative framework for legal protections and state services for sexually exploited youth and young adults.” It allows youth who are being sexually exploited to be “viewed as victims and survivors, not criminals.”
McRoy says some groups are particularly targeted by traffickers. These include youth experiencing homelessness, Native Americans, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. She says more often their pimp isn’t a stranger. It’s someone they know like family, friends or neighbors.
“Minnesota Department of Health recognizes the need to connect with more youth at risk for sexual exploitation,” said Caroline Palmer, Safe Harbor director for the Minnesota Department of Health. “We are working with organizations across the state, like 180 Degrees in the East Metro, to identify more at risk youth and connect them with appropriate services.”
A PLACE TO STAY
For Mony Joy, an 18-year-old who was exploited sexually, Brittany’s Place came at the right moment.
At 15, she remembers entering the building, walking pass announcements saying “believe in yourself,” receiving a Brittany basket and a room to stay. Three years later, she’s finished summer classes with the AfterCare program and is staying in Safe Harbor housing. She looks forward to a future where she’s independent and working as a mental health nurse; a future she almost lost after struggling to move on from her past.
Before her 18th birthday this year, she contacted a worker at Brittany’s Place and came back to what she calls her “second home.”
“My last visit was when I needed it the most,” said Mony Joy. “I was doing bad and about to be 18. I felt like my life was so messed up. I didn’t want to go back to Brittany’s Place, but I knew I needed to stay.”
Michelle Hall, program services specialist at Brittany’s Place said she’s pleased Joy can benefit from the staff and case managers at Brittany’s Place.
“It’s a blessing that she’s going on and moving forward with her life,” Hall said.
Mony Joy has cut her ties to her past and stays in contact with Brittany’s Place while she works at her job, goes to church and keeps herself busy. She says she’s in “a good place” now.
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