Nonprofit Coffee House Fights Sex Trafficking

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In a suburban neighborhood on one of the busiest corners in Rocklin, California, Origin Coffee & Tea serves award winning java along with some awareness about human sex trafficking.

About 100 volunteers staff Origin, working a few hours a week so that the store’s proceeds can fund organizations working to stop trafficking and rehabilitate survivors, many of whom are children.

Human trafficking, both for labor and sex, is now the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, generating an estimated $32 billion per year globally, according to the California Department of Justice. Nationally the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative recovered more than 4,800 children from sex trafficking between 2003 and 2015.

Origin is mobilizing citizens, equipping them with information and helping to fund nonprofits like The Grace Network in Sacramento and Courage Worldwide Inc. in Rocklin. The Grace Network links first responders and victims to resources both digitally and through its resource center. Courage Worldwide operates long-term residential treatment houses in Rocklin and Tanzania, Africa, where children can live until they’re 18.

Surrounded by middle to upper-class neighborhoods, Origin is just 15 miles away from North Sacramento, where sex trafficking occurs right on the street, said Chris Stambaugh, founder and executive director of The Grace Network.

One of the reasons Sacramento has been referred to as a hub for sex trafficking is the convergence of interstate freeways there as well as access to bus and train stations and an international airport, said Maggy Krell, the Statewide Human Trafficking Coordinator and Deputy Attorney General. Other major California cities have similar problems, she said.

Origin was founded about five years ago by Origin Church, now in Roseville, to rally the community and fund the fight against sex trafficking. Two years ago Braden Kok, Pastor of Locality Church, set to launch in Roseville in March, heard the coffee house was closing. The large shop just wasn’t profitable enough to be viable, Kok said. In September of 2014 Locality purchased Origin and upgraded all the equipment and Kok became its director.

Despite some downtime last year from a broken pipe, which enabled a remodeling of the shop, Origin donated $10,000 in cash to anti-trafficking efforts and $16,000 in in-kind resources. Sales are steadily growing and this year Kok expects to donate $5,000 monthly to anti-sex-trafficking efforts.

And those efforts are having an impact. In June The Grace Network was invited to The White House Summit on Trafficking and Child Welfare. Stambaugh presented the GraceCity App, a free app for Android and iPhones. It connects first responders to local resources from safe housing and counseling to laser surgeons for removing tattoos or scarring that traffickers use to brand their victims. So far 12 California counties have adopted the app and Stambaugh hopes to network the entire state.

Supplying vulnerable children with basic necessities is key to fighting sex trafficking, which is linked with homelessness, Stambaugh said.

Carrissa Phelps knows what it’s like to be that vulnerable. She grew up in a family of 11 children and life at home was not good. At 12 her mother dropped her off at Juvenile Hall in Fresno with a suitcase. Phelps was moved to a group home but ran away.

Once on the run I was completely ignored,” she said. She wasn’t viewed as a victim of a crime. “It was like I was a free commodity.”

A friend’s uncle picked her up and took her to a motel. Phelps escaped from him only to be picked up by a pimp, forced to do drugs and perform sex for sale. When law enforcement intervened she didn’t feel much safer. At the age of 12 she said she was treated like a criminal.

Nobody cared about me or asked me what happened to me on the street,” she said.

There is a strong link between runaways and sex trafficking, said Phelps, now an attorney, author and founder of Runaway Girl. Inc. That organization invests in survivor-led solutions to sex trafficking and offers survivor-led trainings to law enforcement, social service providers and community organizations. Kids run from abuse or neglect if they’re not getting their basic needs met with love, attention or safety. But it’s not just poor, abused or neglected children who get sucked in. College students become victims too, Phelps said.

A “Romeo pimp” will gain a victim’s trust and then destroy her support systems and self esteem. Victims are cowed into subservience through gang rape, confinement, beatings, branding, being deprived of basic needs and threats of murder, according to The State of Human Trafficking in California report by the California Department of Justice in 2012.

If children get rescued, that’s where Courage Worldwide can step in. It operates a six-bed long-term residential treatment home for 11-17 year-old victims of sex trafficking in Placer County. This year it plans to break ground on a long-term plan to build 10 seven-bedroom houses on a 50-acre horse ranch.

For nonprofits like The Grace Network and Courage Worldwide, having an advocate like Origin in a suburban setting helps recruit community assistance and alerts parents that this is not just a low-income neighborhood problem.

Every time we present at schools, kids come up who know someone being trafficked or who have been approached or who are being trafficked,” said Stephanie Midthun, community relations and resource director for Courage Worldwide. Even three students at a private school were being trafficked, she said.

Traffickers lure them in, groom them, sell them a dream of security and then children as young as 12 are drugged and forced to service as many as 10 to 12 men a night,” Midthun said.

Experts agree that community awareness is key to preventing trafficking, identifying it and stopping it. And generating funding from the very population Origin is trying to educate is a brilliant business model, Phelps said. She even envisions shops like Origin providing survivors the chance to develop employment skills, helping them to heal.

There is no shortage of volunteers for Origin. Community members as well as college and high school students, looking to make a difference and maybe fulfill some community service requirements, are lining up to work, Kok said.

Origin volunteers Shane Brandsen and Sam Balean are both 22-year-old college graduates, passionate about the cause. And they feel amply rewarded for their contributions. Balean hopes to open his own coffee shop someday. He’s learning customer service and management skills by training other volunteers, he said. And Brandsen finds hope in being part of 100 plus volunteer-effort working to end trafficking.

And after their stints as baristas, many volunteers want to do something more, Stambaugh said. Two of Grace Network’s employees came from Origin.

There is so much flowing out of that shop,” he said.

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