Q&A with Melba Robinson, Program Director for The Salvation Army’s HavenATL

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Human Trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry, and the third most profitable criminal industry in the world, generating an estimated $150 billion each year.

The Salvation Army has been fighting to end human trafficking since the organization was founded in 1865.

HavenATL is a cohesive program through The Metro Atlanta Salvation Army that helps to transition women who have fallen victim to commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking. HavenATL is a drop-in-center that primarily provides services to young women aged 18 and older. By providing consistent support, unfailing love, and resources for positive change, HavenATL’s caseworkers help to empower victims of human trafficking to lead healthy, whole lives.

Here, Melba Robinson, HavenATL’s Program Director, shares more about The Salvation Army’s fight to end this criminal enterprise.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Where a person younger than 18 is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime, regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion.

According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children. How big a problem is human trafficking in Atlanta?

Atlanta is considered to be one of the top 14 cities in the world that have a human trafficking problem. It is known for trafficking due to our airport being one of the world’s busiest and largest. We are also a convention city, and we have a growing entertainment industry. That makes Atlanta a prime location for trafficking to occur.

No matter where we live, chances are, sex trafficking is happening near us. Do traffickers and their victims typically fit a certain profile?

There is no specific profile for victims and traffickers. They can be anyone.

How do women come to be involved with HavenATL?

Women come to our program through a number of ways; word of mouth is one. We also do outreach, and we have partnerships with organizations that request our services. We work with two courts—one in Dekalb County (the Phoenix Diversion Program), and the Fulton Industrial Boulevard Community Court.

After women come into the HavenATL program, how do you help them to reclaim their lives?

When they come to us, we provide a safe and nurturing environment. Then, we address their basic needs (i.e. food, clothing, safety, medical care, etc.). Our program has phases, and we assist each woman with working through them. All goals are set by the women to empower them to make decisions for their lives. They try to achieve their goals within a year, but they go at their own pace—that ultimately determines how long the program lasts.

HavenATL provides a variety of services to assist the women on the journey to recovery.  We provide individual and group therapy, life skills, health and wellness, Bible study, job readiness, and various referrals for housing, rental, and utility assistance. After they’ve finished the program, the women become alumni and receive a mentor to provide continued support.

If someone reading this is a victim of human trafficking or suspects that someone they know is, what should they do, or who should they call to get help?

There are numerous organizations doing great work on this issue. Here are additional resources that assist victims of trafficking:

National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888

GA Cares: 1-844-8GA-DMST

Call your local police department

To learn more about human trafficking, including ways you can identify and help to stop it, visit https://sajustice.us/.