Foster youth is a sector of the population that is particularly at risk of being victimized by perpetrators of sex trafficking. This vulnerability stems from several factors, including a history of abuse, a lack of support system, a need for relationships, and more. It is taken advantage of by traffickers who are experts at grooming and preying on those without resources.
Ashley Hill, in acknowledgment of the life-destroying impact of commercial sexual exploitation, founded in 2018 a non-profit organization called Magdalena’s Daughters, which aims to fight against sex trafficking and serve as a safe space for foster youth ages twelve to eighteen.
Ashley is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist as well as a state-certified human trafficking advocate, who has worked with the foster youth population, managed their cases and provided them with therapeutic services.
As a result of providing care for foster youth for five years, she has identified a need for services for survivors and those at risk of sex trafficking. One of the most significant barriers against safety in San Bernardino, California, in particular, is the lack of bed availability and residential placements that specialize in providing a place for victims of sexual exploitation.
In establishing Magdalena’s Daughters, Ashley hopes to give this population a home that offers a family-style environment and physical protection that maintains a harm-reduction perspective, banks on advocates as mentors, and delivers trauma-informed care. Although it currently does not have any homes yet, it is in the midst of providing housing and increasing bed availability for the County of San Bernardino.
Magdalena’s Daughters believes in the importance of facilitating a sense of safety for its residents so that they are able to heal from trauma and find hope in the future. It also plans to promote empowerment by having mentors who have themselves suffered from the horrors of human trafficking but have survived and obtained freedom. And by modeling healthy relationships, this care institution wants to equip the youth with knowledge and skills that they can put to use when they become adults.
At the core of Magdalena’s Daughters is the goal of reducing the rate of sex trafficking among foster youth. Coupled with that vision is the provision of opportunities for moving forward. These opportunities will come in the form of safety-centered education that will teach survivors the necessary skills to prevent future revictimization, exposure to various careers, soft skills training, and more.
The approach Magdalena’s Daughters will take to addressing the issue of commercial sexual exploitation is multi-pronged. Not only will it offer residential and therapeutic services, but it will also emphasize the importance of conducting more research to establish how human trafficking impacts the foster youth population, with the resulting data informing and guiding the structure and model of residential placement and their services.
Right now, Magdalena’s Daughters is raising funding for a study on CSEC and increasing the general population’s awareness about human trafficking, especially in the face of COVID-19. It is working on shedding more light on the traffickers’ use of the lockdowns in hiding their operations, increasing engagement in online sexual abuse, and making it difficult for authorities to identify a victim.
Human trafficking is a hundred billion dollar industry whose scope is global and can occur in people’s own backyards. With their efforts on providing care for survivors and raising awareness, Magdalena’s Daughters is encouraging everyone to join the fight against this modern-day slavery.