Breaking the Chains

An organization dedicated to helping victims find life beyond their trauma.

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Human Trafficking is the ugly buzz word that has been on the rise in Fresno’s ear increasingly within the last few years. The high rates of concentrated poverty, the suspiciously discreet location of motels along Golden State, and the proverbial ‘sweep-under-the-rug’ attitude of political big wigs of the past – Fresno became the perfect incubator for the rampant growth of a seedy industry for more than three decades. But the covers are coming off and organizations, both locally and nationally, are rolling up their sleeves to tackle the disease that is the sex trafficking industry head-on.

Breaking The Chains (BTC) is a local, 501c(3) non-profit organization fully immersed in rescuing victims of sex trafficking. While law enforcement hunts down the abusers and dismantles whole circles of ‘business,’ Breaking the Chains is there for the victims – to help them put back the pieces and find a life that exists beyond their trauma.

“Human Trafficking is a very complex issue, it looks different across the board, and touches every walk of life … Everyone’s healing process is different, so is everyone’s level of trauma,” explains CEO and Co-Founder, Debra Rush, “We are complete comprehensive wrap-around service providers, everything from the simplest of needs which would be food, shelter, medication, medical attention, and mental health treatment to things like life skills classes, and trauma therapy courses.”

The road to recovery for each victim varies, but by all means is not short or could be even be categorized as ‘straight-forward.’ BTC has no set exit date for the girls in their program; however, the average is anywhere from 9 months to 2 years, although it remains on a case-by-case basis. Rush often compares the trauma suffered by victims, and its aftermath, to that of a combat veteran with complex PTSD – more specifically, of those from the Vietnam era.

“I’m a social worker, and I’ve worked with that population, with CPS, and studied different statistics. I helped with Real Change Fresno with the homeless population – it was eye-opening for me to look at some of our veterans – why they were out there, homeless, why there was a high rate of drug use and alcohol abuse. And then, why is there a difference in what we’re seeing with some of our Afghanistan vets? It’s intensive counseling and debriefings when they come home,” Rush shares.

Service members from the Vietnam War were being shipped home without any trauma therapy, only to be given a job and sent on their way. Although PTSD remains a deeply layered issue with no clear-cut solution, the military has evolved its process in bringing combat veterans home – with debriefings, counseling, etc. Likewise, victims of sex trafficking also require the same level of intensive therapy and rehabilitation to reintegrate themselves safely, and healthily back into the world. There’s often a misconception that victims can be rescued, given a few resources, a class, and then immediately placed into society without issue when, to the contrary, it’s a lengthy, intricate process.

Rush states that “It’s like having a domestic violence victim – because most girls believe they are loved – meshed with a combat tour to Vietnam on the front lines followed by a stint in a P.O.W. camp for a year then rescued and then dropped off on a corner with a job.”

The notion that a person who has suffered that level of trauma is rescued, and in some respect made whole again, merely because they’re no longer in an abusive environment is misguided. Removing the victim from a terrible situation is just the first step.

Furthermore, victims have to come to the realization that they are, in fact, victims before the healing process can begin. A shocking realization for outsiders, but it’s something BTC expects to work through as a crucial turning point. The organization understands how girls are lured and/or abducted into sex trafficking in the first place – they were convinced, manipulated, into believing that it was their choice. Rush educates that one of the core components of trafficking a child (victims are often underage and as young as 13) is making them believe that this is what they want. “It’s the leash that keeps them there.”

Reprogramming that way of thinking is a vital part of a victim’s rehabilitation process – watching a girl make the connection, or rather, break the psychological leash and understand that she has value far and away above sex is “better than getting a million bucks” for BTC. But that breakthrough is only the beginning – as painful memories can be easily triggered through smells, colors, locations, and sometimes, a tone of voice – the road to recovery is long and full of hard work for both BTC and survivor.

Access to potential victims has grown over the years as social media developed both dramatically and exponentially, abusers are able to assume whatever persona necessary to achieve their goal. BTC recommends that parents become actively involved in their children’s lives when it comes to their social circles, both virtually and in-person, by asking pertinent questions such as what a friend’s birthday is, where they live, who their parents are, who are some of that person’s other friends, etc. Apps and devices have come out on the market that helps parents create filters and monitor internet usage. Circle with Disney comes recommended by Rush as the service allows parents to manage every device that has the ability to connect to the Internet. Parents can see which sites are visited and how often, they’re able to turn the Internet on and off to specific devices at any given time for any length of time and create custom filters for each member of the family.

Human Trafficking can and does affect every walk of life, “However, most victims are coming out of the broken foster care system – 70/80%. These pimps are smart; they know that if they come into the average, working-class family’s home and take a kid, it’s going to be all over [the news] but if a girl runs away from a group home… the most that will happen is the head of the group home will call [local police] and file a report,” explains Rush.

There would be no wanted posters, no state-wide manhunt, nothing – police may come across the missing child or they may not.

There are also those who weren’t abducted into sex trafficking but were born into it. Second generation victims whose entire understanding of the modern world is wrapped around their oppressive environment. And one of the most identifying characteristics of Breaking the Chains is their ability to efficiently understand both perspectives.

“I’m not only the founder; I’m a survivor. I’m not just a survivor but a second-generation survivor. I was literally born into human trafficking. So, I have a very unique perspective,” shares Rush.

BTC provides victims with a comprehensive program to help them reintegrate alongside with helping them deal with their trauma; Addiction Treatment, Case Management, Education/Job Training, Education and Job Support, Long-term Housing, Survivor Leadership, and Transitional Housing. A full range of programs painstakingly put together with the personal touch of first-hand knowledge and experience in what victims need.

And the need is growing. Over the three years of operation, BTC has consistently pushed its capacity every day (rescuing 86 women and children in 2017 alone) and as a result, plans to expand into a new 1.2-million-dollar facility is currently in the works. As it stands, the building is in the design stages and will hopefully be built over the next two years. It’ll act as a 24-hour drop-in center working with local law enforcement and first responders in rescue situations.

Volunteers are also a big part of BTC’s ability to meet the needs of the girls in their programs – and more are encouraged to lend a helping hand. The opportunities are entry-level and include driving, safe-house supervision (various shifts, spend time with the residents and assist in making sure they stay on task), donor coordination, and even those willing to roll up their sleeves to help organize donations in storage units.

College students and young adults are highly encouraged to apply for the upcoming youth program. Volunteers are needed to help lead sports activities, facilitate classes, take part in mentoring opportunities, and overall, spend quality time with the kids in the program by doing things as simple as playing video games.

Anyone interested in volunteering with Breaking the Chains can reach the organization directly by calling 559-402-3955 or emailing info@btcfresno.org.

Breaking the Chains will also be a recipient of a fundraiser hosted by Granville for their annual Home of Hope event. Participants will have a chance to win a brand-new home valued at $400,000 along with a 2-year lease to a 2018 Lexus – there will also be additional prizes in the shape of weekend getaways, electronics, and fine dining opportunities. The drawing is limited to 6,000 tickets in total and will take place on April 25 for the two-ticket bundle drawing (for the home and lease of the Lexus) and on May 2 for the grand prize.

Proceeds from every ticket purchased through BTC will go back to BTC to help fund their various programs in support of human trafficking victims. For more information on purchasing tickets call 559-402-3955.

The difference Breaking the Chains makes not only within the local community but also in the fight against human trafficking as a whole is undoubtedly due to the tireless dedication of Founder, Debra Rush, the BTC staff, and the diligent hard work of the local law enforcement agencies; but it’s also due to the level of community support BTC receives. It’s individuals and organizations alike who contribute their time and talents or donate supplies that help make sure BTC is always ready to carry out the life-changing work that they do.

Keep up the fight with Breaking the Chains by staying informed on their events, activities, calls-to-action, and volunteer opportunities by following them on social media: @breakingthechainsfresno on Facebook and @btcfresno on Twitter or visiting their website at www.btcfresno.org

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