Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive.
What is the mission of Awaken?
Awaken’s mission is to increase awareness and education surrounding the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and to provide housing and restoration for its victims. We act to transform our community with the ultimate goal of eradicating commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). We aim for victims of CSE to be restored to their fullest potential and we aspire to be an inspirational model for other communities.
Awaken’s key programming falls under three main categories – prevention, restoration, and city transformation. Our comprehensive model puts victims at the center of what we do – helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and partnering with community stakeholders to stop traffickers wherever they operate.
How does Awaken come in contact with the women/girls that you help? Or how can they come in contact with you.
We have developed great relationships with law-enforcement agencies such as the Reno and Sparks Police Departments and the regional Street Enforcement Team (SET); community-based agencies including local hospitals and schools; and, other non-profit agencies. These organizations serve as excellent referral sources for Awaken. In addition, we also get referrals from current clients who share about Awaken through word of mouth. Clients who hear about Awaken and are interested in our services or learning more can visit our drop-in center that is open for women and children to come to for assistance and a safe space or give us a call. Since 2011, we have served over 300 individuals.
What is your Drop-In Center and how does it serve victims?
The Awaken Drop-in Center opened in January of 2016. It is located off of 4th and Spokane St., a hot spot for trafficking, prostitution and CSE. The center is open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Thursdays from 12-5pm. The Drop-In center serves as a welcoming, safe space where individuals’ basic and critical needs are met through case management, education, counseling, mentoring, food and clothing. We aim to be a consistent presence that provides immediate tangible needs and resources delivered by a team of caring and professional case managers.
What steps are being made to help victims be restored to their fullest potential?
Through our restoration program, we help program participants with long-term and emergency needs including basic outreach, mentorship services, counseling, housing, transportation, financial aid for college, legal and medical assistance and much more. The women and girls involved with our program have an assigned case manager who helps them set and work toward personalized goals applicable to their specific situation.
What types of holistic aftercare services are needed in order to best serve women and children coming out of the life?
We have found that some of the greatest needs are met through therapy (both group and individual), life skills classes, mentorship, exercise, dietary guidance, religious activities/community (if requested), and healthy relationship building events.
What tools are used to identify specific needs for survivors?
The initial meeting with a client typically includes a standard intake and assessment, often, though not always, followed by assignment of the client to a case manager. The case manager helps the client to set, monitor and achieve individualized goals and to access other services provided by Awaken and other community organizations, including therapy, workshops, mentoring, family support, a drop-in center, groups, assistance with employment, and more.
How do you protect the dignity and confidentiality of clients you serve?
Services are delivered with victim safety and client confidentiality as a primary concern. One of the first documents that our clients sign is the confidentiality waiver. The document goes into depth regarding what their right to confidentiality is and in what ways, if any, they can choose to waive that right. If we are collaborating with another organization we also ensure a release of information is signed by the client, allowing us to share information the client deems beneficial for their services. In addition, staff receives annual training on the importance of and restrictions on confidentiality.
Are there gaps in the services needed for survivors?
In Reno specifically, housing is a problem for most individuals. It is very difficult to provide placement for our clients whether it be residential, transitional housing, or aid in finding permanent housing. We do collaborate with many community organizations that are able to provide shelter in various ways, however, there is usually a waiting list and they are not specifically trained to work with victims of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. In 2019, Awaken opened a residential program that can house up to five women. It is not an emergency housing, but a long-term, 18-24 month program. We are thrilled to be able to offer this!
When attending school assemblies what do you share with the students-in hopes of what?
Awaken offers preventative education efforts targeting the most vulnerable population – disadvantaged youth. Awaken presents at school assemblies, delivers classroom-based curriculum to students, and works with youth groups to talk to local students about the realities of human trafficking and how to prevent it from happening to them or their loved ones. Our curriculum aligns with Modern Day Slavery units that are taught in history classes.
Are there any other ways Awaken contributes to the community?
In order to effectively advocate for social change, our community must be involved. Through our awareness and outreach efforts, Awaken is reaching a diverse cross-section of Nevadans from grassroots supporters to policymakers. We aim to educate and empower individuals with the information and resources they need to combat sex trafficking and CSE. Awaken offers year-round workshops and trainings for law enforcement, hospitals, social service providers, and faith-based groups. We perform outreach through special events and media campaigns. Through our Professional Network program, community members provide a wide array of in-kind and pro-bono services to the women and girls we serve. Awaken worked closely with the Nevada Attorney General’s office and helped to successfully ensure passage of the AGO’s victim-centered bill, AB 67.
What’s an average week of work for Awaken?
Every week is different at the Awaken offices. It depends on our client load and their needs, and what other events are happening that week (i.e. community events, trainings, etc.). We always have an “on-call” case manager since many times we get calls outside of typical 9am-5pm hours.
What are the age ranges of the girls who are being sexually exploited?
We serve a broad range of clients, ranging from young girls to older women. The nature of exploitation is that it does not discriminate, even in age. As a point of reference, the average age of entry into prostitution for the US is 14. Specifically here at Awaken, 85% of our clients are between the ages of 16-29. However, we have served girls as young as 11 years of age and many of the adult women we serve were forced to enter “the life” as minors.
What do sex traffickers look for when choosing a girl?
Any sort of vulnerability creates a target, whether relational, financial, emotional, etc. To get an idea of more specific flags, you can read more on our website at: https://goo.gl/LZojSy
On average how long would one say a girl is being exploited for?
The survivors that we have worked with here at Awaken have, on average, been trafficked for 8 years.
What are some of the challenges/barriers in working with survivors of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation?
Establishing trust with an individual who has been through a great deal of
trauma can be difficult, but that is to be expected. Therefore, we do our best to ensure a relationship is established and that the client feels supported on their journey to healing. In addition, the lack of knowledge and understanding regarding sex trafficking among service providers, law enforcement, and even victims themselves who often do not believe or understand that they are a victim of a crime. As a result, victims often go unidentified and unserved.
With sex trafficking being such a hot topic in Reno recently, do you think Reno is becoming a new target?
Reno is not a new target, but our hope is that the reality of local trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation is starting to be more exposed. Our location along the I-80 corridor mixed with the legalization of prostitution in certain areas of Nevada has created the perfect conditions for exploitation to happen. It is estimated that over 1,500 women and children are being commercially exploited at any point in time in northern Nevada. We believe legal prostitution in our state increases the rate of sex trafficking. Go here https://awakenreno.org/be-informed/the-problem/ for more information on global, national and local statistics.
Do you think our community is aware of the amount of sex trafficking that is occurring or is it something that should be looked at more often?
Every day we encounter someone whose response to the epidemic of this issue is “I didn’t think it happened here!” Through our prevention and city transformation efforts, we are working to educate the general population about the reality of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in our city and state. It is absolutely an issue that needs to have the attention of ALL sectors of our community. We need to increase awareness and educate the community on not only the existence of trafficking and sexual exploitation, but also potential solutions.