SPOTLIGHT ON GRANTEE: Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault
On March 16, members of the Maine Women's Fund staff and board of directors visited grantee Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA) at the organization's headquarters in Augusta.
The Maine Women's Fund's grant specifically funds staffing for the Attorney General's Work Group, and the staff time needed to increase the resources available to trafficking victims and providers in Maine - including establishing a victim's support fund, a volunteer bank, an online resource guide, and a media guide for Maine journalists reporting on human trafficking.
The representatives from the Fund learned that MECASA is in a unique position to support direct service providers with training, technical assistance, education and tools to support best practices. MECASA's view of sexual assault is inclusive of sexual harassment, gender-based bullying, child sexual abuse, elder abuse, sexual assault, and rape. As a result of this breadth of work, the organization is able to support many organizations serving people all over the state on a broad range of topics as they relate to sexual violence.
MECASA's work in human trafficking began about five years ago with a small grant to do some training and outreach in that area. In their statewide work, they have watched awareness of and response to human trafficking and sexual exploitation grow exponentially. It is unclear how much of that growth is reflective of a greater awareness of the topic, and its connection to growing drug trafficking and other criminal activity. Still, basic resources-such as a common definition for the term "human trafficking" and common protocols for organizations addressing the issue-do not yet exist.
Trafficking is not new to Maine, but it is just much more visible than it has been in the past. The average age of entry for trafficking victims is 13. Trafficking and prostitution are often confused with one another; however, anyone under the age of eighteen is a minor and legally, minors engaged in exchanging sex acts of any kind for goods or services are being trafficked. Trafficking may look different in rural and urban areas, and sadly sometimes families traffic their own children (e.g., to pay the rent).
During the visit, substantial conversation happened around the connection between cycles of poverty and trafficking and its relationship to other criminal activity. The group discussed the role that human trafficking victims play in other crimes that are dependent on the very complicated dynamics that make trafficking possible, and the fact that issues of economic security are at the heart of this problem. This dynamic makes training and education on the topic challenging, especially without discussing the environmental and contextual issues that create circumstances where human trafficking thrives.
Finally, the group discussed ways to empower victims of trafficking; many felt that allowing the victim to direct any support they may receive and that the help be immediate. For example, focusing on asking what that individual needs to be safe that day or night and to address those needs that night.
For more information on Maine's human trafficking problem, visit the Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network, a program of MECASA: www.mainesten.org.
Posted 04.17.2015 under Press Releases