Orth read stories written by survivors, looked up all the information he could online and looked for organizations that were involved in the fight against human trafficking.
“The more information I found, the more my heart just broke,” Orth explained. “I discovered the average age of a girl when she enters trafficking is 13. And if she’s not able to escape her situation, her life expectancy is only seven years. The trauma women experience on a daily basis who work in the sex industry is unimaginable.”
As Orth looked through all the information on human trafficking, one need in particular stood out to him – aftercare.
“Aftercare refers to what happens with a trafficking survivor after she exits the sex industry. Women exiting the sex industry rarely have any resources to help them establish a new life. Usually, some type of vulnerability and lack or resources made them susceptible to trafficking to begin with, and unless they have a place to go that will give them all the support they need to exit The Life, it’s very likely they will return to the only life and ‘family’ they know,” Orth said.
Orth explains how meeting the needs of sex industry survivors is a highly specialized niche due to, among other things, addressing the complex trauma survivors have experienced.
“Most women’s shelters won’t accept a woman if they know she’s coming straight out of a trafficking situation because they are not equipped to meet her needs. There are only a handful of shelters across the nation that specialize in meeting the needs of trafficking survivors,” he said.
Orth explains the need for shelters for trafficking survivors far outweighs the availability.
“There are outreach organizations who work directly with women wanting to exit the sex industry. If they have a client, they need to place in a shelter organizations will literally have to call all over the country to find an available bed,” he said.
All the pieces started coming together
Orth has had a vision to open a safe house for several years but this past year, all the pieces of that dream started falling into place.
A major piece was Orth finding Marcie Landreth and hiring her as the executive director of the new nonprofit, Set Free Refuge.
A little over a year ago, Landreth, her husband Jake and their three children moved back to Navarre after leaving a little over 20 years ago. They started reconnecting with people they knew from when they lived here previously, including Orth and his wife, Teresa.
“After speaking with Marcie shortly after they moved back, and hearing about the career path she had been following; earning a master’s degree in social work, starting and running several nonprofit organizations and working directly with sexual assault and human trafficking survivors, I immediately knew she would be a perfect fit as the executive director of the organization I was wanting to start. So I offered her the position!” Orth said.
It didn’t take long for Landreth to think over the offer.
“This is my dream job,” Landreth said with a big smile. “My passion is working with survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation, and I absolutely thrive on the challenge and creativity that goes into building a new organization.”
In addition to opening a safe house, one of the needs Landreth and Set Free Refuge have begun to address in the community is supporting women who have experienced sexual assault. Statics say one in six women experience some type of sexual assault in their lifetime. Experiencing a sexual assault can carry long-lasting emotional scars.
To address that need, Landreth started a support group for survivors of sexual assault that meets here in Navarre. “Experiencing a sexual assault, whether it’s recently or decades ago, can impact every area of your life and actually distort the person you really are. Being able to talk about what happened, in a safe environment, surrounded by other women who know how you feel can be a very important part of the healing process for a survivor of sexual assault,” said Landreth.
A lot of progress in the last year
It’s been a year since Orth and Landreth joined forces to launch Set Free Refuge. In that time, they have established their nonprofit status with the IRS, started a support group for sexual assault survivors, become involved with and spoken to numerous community and civic organizations, held their first fundraising event through the Greater Navarre Area Chamber of Commerce, Landreth was brought on as a board member of the District One Human Trafficking Task Force, applied for grants and most importantly, secured a commitment for a house to use as the safe home.
Landreth says they expect to be accepting clients in 2023. “Our goal is to be fully operational in 12 to 18 months. We have a lot of work to do, but things are progressing quickly,” she said.
If you would like more information about Set Free Refuge, support groups for sexual assault survivors or are interested in having Skip or Marcie speak to your group or organization about human trafficking, email firstname.lastname@example.org.