Sex trafficking in New England: Amirah fights to save enslaved women

(Stephanie Clark read from Sorjourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” in the Ecumenical Center on April 27. Photo by Cass Doherty)

In December of 2014, Stephanie Clark felt a call from God to be involved in the fight against sex trafficking. 

Within two weeks of having this epiphany, she was hired as the Executive Director for Amirah, a Christian non-profit that offers a safe space and transformative whole-person care for survivors of sex trafficking.

The word “Amirah” is derived from the Arabic and Persian meaning “daughter of the king” and “female warrior.” The organization’s name originates from the mother of one of the board members who ran a home for sexually abused women, also called Amirah.

Clark told this to the group of 40 students gathered in the Ecumenical Center on April 27.

When asked by freshman Abby Mann, “How did you get involved in this [Amirah]?” Her short answer was “God.”

Clark went on to explain the background behind Amirah, including its creation in 2009 by a group of Christians who had heard about sex trafficking. She stated that at the time Amirah was formed, there were no safe homes in New England. She proudly stated that there are now four.

According to Clark, when people hear the term “sex trafficking,” their mind goes straight to places like India, Cambodia and Thailand, where there are women and children born into sex slavery.

She explained how that’s really not the case in America, particularly in New England.

“In New England, trafficking is, on average, a 14-year-old girl who grew up right here … the majority of women that I meet that have been trafficked look exactly like me. They look like they could be my sister,” she said.

Clark briefly covered the opioid epidemic in New England, which is ensnaring younger and younger people.

“If you’re a 14-year-old drug addict, this man is going to prey upon you because he knows you have a need, and he can help you fill that need,” she said.

Clark pointed out sex trafficking is “across the board. It doesn’t matter your economic status … people think this is happening in those really, really poor towns. Nope. It doesn’t matter your economic status. What matters is that you’re vulnerable, and he will prey upon that.” She said that really, it can happen to anyone – she’s met women from Newton and Lynn, towns which both have ongoing issues with sex trafficking.

“He will do a long con, and introduce her to a life of sexuality,” Clark said, mentioning that a pimp will tell his girl how much he loves her. She said it breaks her heart to hear this – she knows what love is, and whatever this guy is telling his girls is love, isn’t. And she believes him and loves him in return. Clark says he promises the world to the girls, but that they have to help him out a little, because “money is tight.”

“The average person that buys sex is a 42-year-old white man with two kids at home,” Clark stated. These men, she said, have an addiction, and that breaks her heart as well.

Clark said trafficking has been happening in America for a very long time, and that only now is the country starting to realize this.

“We need to provide hope,” Clark says as she informs the group that Amirah, and other organizations, are fighting against a $32 billion industry each year. 

“What do we need to do, to help people understand that it is not okay to buy and sell human beings?” Clark asked. There are a total of 17 beds available in the New England safe houses, according to Clark. She explained when a bed is not available, the women in need isput on a waitlist with the FBI. The first step, Clark said, is having enough beds to free these women.

“Amirah comes in and treats them as a human being, with dignity. And we help them recover,” Clark said while explaining it’s impossible to extract the women from their dire situation. The women are dealing with PTSD, trauma and drug addiction, and according to Clark, are afraid to leave, since the lifestyle is all they really know.

Clark regards Sorjourner Truth and William Wilberforce, people who worked until their deaths for women’s rights and to abolish the slave trade respectively, as true aboloitionists.

Clark said she struggles every day to meet her budget of $3 million, which she would like to one day increase to $6 million in order to open a second safe home, and $100 million so that she can open a coffee shop for the women to work in.

“But I’m fighting a $32 billion industry. And all I have is history before me, of people who said, ‘Well, this does not matter if it doesn’t change in my lifetime. I will still speak up until it changes.’ Because I have children who are coming next. I have daughters that could be sold,” Clark said.

Clark ended her discussion with a quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, who was targeted with violence for the work he had done. When asked why he continued to do this, he said “this just tells me that evil is threatened by ordinary people.”