Sex trafficking impacts women and girls around the globe—and right here in Maine
Two hundred to 300 people.
That’s the estimate of how many people in Maine are victims of sex trafficking every year, according to a November 2015 needs assessment by South Portland-based Hornby Zeller Associates Inc.
Specific numbers are extremely hard to pin down—law enforcement agencies in the U.S. didn’t collect data on human trafficking until 2013 and, even still, there are discrepancies on how accurately those agencies identify cases. Cases are also underreported by victims, who often don’t know where to turn for help or who are fearful about coming forward. But the report makes one reality very clear: Sex trafficking is happening right here in Maine.
“People do not realize that it happens in their town or city—many people couldn’t imagine it happening in Maine,” says Andrea King, owner of Aristelle in Portland. “But sadly, it happens everywhere.”
Much of King’s career has been international development work, “so global human rights and poverty alleviation has always been important to me,” she says. When she lived in London, she volunteered with a group called Her Equality Rights and Autonomy (HERA) and worked with women who had been trafficked from all over the world.
“I am passionate about women’s rights and this, to me, is the biggest and most harmful infringement on women,” she says.
So King decided to take action. Leveraging her downtown Portland lingerie shop, she created the Aristelle Bra Drive to benefit Free the Girls, a nonprofit organization that provides reintegration services for survivors of sex trafficking in developing countries, and solicited donations of gently used bras.
“The secondhand clothing market is a thriving industry in many countries around the world,” according to the Free the Girls website. “Bras are a sought-after item in the countries we work in and command top dollar in the marketplace.” An inventory of gently used bras is capital for a future business—and a life with hope.
King’s goal was to collect 250 bras between Jan 1 and Jan 19, when the bra drive culminated with an event at the shop, which included bra fittings and a giveaway. She ended up collecting over 1,000.
“I love the fact that these bras will make a real and impactful difference in the lives of women who need help,” says King. But she’s also glad for the opportunity to bring attention to an important topic.
“We reached so many people in Maine and New England and raised awareness of human trafficking on a global and on a local level,” she says.
And every bit—and bra—helps.
For more information about how to recognize sex trafficking victims in your community, go to: polarisproject.org/recognize-signs.
To learn more about sex trafficking and exploitation in Maine, and to see the 2015 Human Trafficking Needs Assesment, go to: www.mainesten.org.