Program helps former adult entertainment club employees
The impact of COVID-19 in Las Vegas even stretches to the adult entertainment clubs and people formerly employed there, who now find themselves needing help. More than 50 such clubs closed because of the virus—and The Salvation Army SEEDS of Hope provides a refuge for those in need.
The SEEDS of Hope program exists to save, empower, educate and restore dreams (SEEDS) to lives shattered by human trafficking. Since its inception in 2006, more than 2,000 men, women and children have received services.
“Human beings don’t know what they don’t know,” said SEEDS of Hope Program Coordinator Erin Kauffman. “Many women working in the sex industry have never experienced real, true, life-changing love. During this crazy, upside-down COVID-19 world, God has given us time, space and resources to share strength, hope and love with a wonderful group of women. It is my hope that they will know how wide, how deep and how strong love is.”
Before the pandemic, most victims were referred through the police department’s Vice unit or the Anti-Human Trafficking Hot Line. Now, victims are coming through local shelters and street outreach ministries like Scarlet Hope and Cupcake Girls who would visit the strip clubs weekly building relationships with the women. According to Kauffman, more than 65 percent of women in strip clubs identify as survivors of sexual exploitation.
Some 10,000 men and women are now out of work, and many have been deserted by their exploiter. The SEEDS of Hope program is currently working with more than 20 women, providing trauma-informed, client-centered case management for emergency shelter, food, clothing, transportation, financial assistance, applying for unemployment and stimulus benefits, counseling, group therapy, life skills, vocational training, safety planning, setting boundaries and fulfilling personal goals.
Nine transitional apartments are occupied, providing the women time away from the lifestyle, and helping them sort out what they want to do—and what God’s plan is for their lives.
Case Manager Jennifer Cantley leads a weekly support group, Seeking Safety, which has expanded to include lunch and fellowship time. Amid the quarantine and isolation, loneliness has been an issue for these survivors. A second class, Self Defense, is now available to help the women intentionally stay in safe places, with safe people.
Victories are emerging from these efforts.
One woman left her abuser, moved into her own apartment, started The Salvation Army Culinary Program in mid-August. Another woman began online classes through the College of Southern Nevada and is working part time as a lifeguard at one of the major hotels. Yet another woman began Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and has just secured permanent employment.
SEEDS of Hope continues to evolve in the COVID-19 world, and Captain Lisa Barnes, recently assigned as the Clark County Coordinator, expects greater things to come.
“In a previous appointment in the Southwest Division, I heard about the SEEDS of Hope Anti-Trafficking program, and my heart lit up,” Barnes said. “I knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of. I asked the SEEDS of Hope Director at that time what could I do that would be a support. She told me about the need for immediate funds for items like toiletries and diapers, and I immediately started personal fundraising through making and selling simple jewelry. It was something small, but when the Lord puts a passion in your heart to be a part of something, we must be moved to action—even in the little things.
“When we found out we were coming to Las Vegas, the SEEDS of Hope Program was the first thing to come to my mind. It’s funny how full circle God can be,” Barnes said. “I believe helping exploited and marginalized people is in our DNA as The Salvation Army. God has done great things with this ministry, and he’s just getting started.”