Prostitution is often not a "choice," according to Faith Huckel of the sex trafficking organization Restore NYC.
Restore NYC is a non-profit organization created to help rebuild the lives of survivors of sex trafficking in New York City through "restoring freedom, safety and hope for foreign-born survivors of sex trafficking."
Sex trafficking is one of the fastest growing transnational crimes across the U.S. – but the scope of the problem is difficult to detect as victims are often mistaken for and treated as criminals, and not victims of modern day slave trade.
"I always tell people, if you are looking to find trafficking victims in your communities really all you have to do is go to the courts and see who's being arrested on prostitution," Huckel told The Christian Post in a recent interview.
"I think that we have kind of a misconception about actually what prostitution is because of a lack of awareness and understanding," Huckel said.
"Often times people see it as a choice, but when you take into consideration the amount of abuse and violence, the fact that you have 50 percent chance of homicide as a result of prostitution, and that the average entry age is 12 –to-13-years-old, I can't look at something that is as devastating and as evil as prostitution and think that anyone would want to choose that for their life."
Restore NYC was born on a limb when Huckel, an experienced social worker, moved from Philadelphia to New York City to begin a graduate program at Columbia University.
"I had no intention of starting an organization – that was fully led by God and the Holy Spirit," Huckel told CP.
"Up to that point I had known sex trafficking had existed in other parts of the world, you know you hear from time to time the horrifying stories of things happening China, or in Thailand, or Cambodia, or other parts of the world. But, I just didn't really have the understanding that it was also happening within the U.S."
It was only after her move to New York that Huckel began to learn about the extent of the sex trafficking problem within the U.S. and said that she was left "completely blown away" to discover the massive footprint this country and other industrialized nations were having on the horrific transnational crime.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought: 'this is New York City, this is America, these things don't happen here.' But obviously the more and more I learned the more I realized that it's really thriving here."
Initially Restore NYC began its work providing assistance to survivors who were criminalized within the legal system by managing court cases and providing advocacy services, but eventually expanded to open the first ever long-term safe house for foreign-born victims of sex trafficking on the eastern seaboard.
Restore also offers culturally and linguistically tailored holistic care to its clients through various programmatic efforts that enable victims to put back together the often shattered pieces of their lives. Everything from legal assistance, housing, education, yoga classes, job training skills, spiritual support, to counseling, among others are available to victims referred to Restore.
Restore is a Christian organization and although it does not mandate that its services go solely to believers of Christ, the organization offers Christian-based spiritual guidance and support to victims.
"Our services are available for anyone regardless of their sexual orientation, religion, race, what-have-you." Huckel told CP.
"We try to be incarnational in our faith, but we believe that Jesus is the ultimate healer and we do encourage our staff to be open about where they get their strength – and that comes through Christ."
Despite its vast efforts, not all victims who have access to Restore's services take the opportunity to rebuild their lives, and about half the clients referred to Restore opt to not continue with the organization and some, for various reasons, return back to a life of prostitution.
However, the complex layers of abuse that people forced into sex trafficking face does not make going back to prostitution a clear-cut choice, according to Huckel.
"There is a feeling that sometimes you get stuck in this cycle of abuse and in order to get out we really do believe that the women really have to be ready, and everyone is at a different place in their recovery."
"I think sometimes people get confused and think, 'well then therefore that the person is making that choice.' But it's very complicated to look at in terms of black and white."
Breaking free from the mental, physical, emotional bondage that occurs to a person who has been trafficked can take time, but Restore is there to help victims whenever they are ready.
"If you're not ready right now and you decide six months from now, we'll be here. They have our contact information and they know that they can contact us at any time."
Five years from now, Huckel, who recently stepped down from her position as Executive Director of Restore NYC to focus on the vision and direction of the organization, hopes to see Restore expand its services and perfect its framework to serve as a successful example for other communities or organizations looking to help victims of sex trafficking across the U.S.
"With God's will, if we can expand what we are doing to other at-risk cities it would be amazing."