The Friese Foundation is committed to supporting community-based social service organizations like ZOE Home for Youth in Los Angeles. ZOE is a faith-based safe haven for young people who have been the victims of human trafficking. The Friese Foundation’s 2020 gift helped finish the construction of a residential home on the ZOE campus designed to house survivors of child trafficking in the LA area while providing them with the chance to rebuild their lives in an atmosphere of healing and hope.
A new home for new beginnings
The purchase of 50 acres of land in the northern part of Los Angeles County enabled ZOE’s team to establish a short-term therapeutic program for young women who are the survivors of trafficking. The program is anchored in a trauma-informed approach to whole-person care, with the goal of facilitating the complete healing of body, mind, and spirit.
ZOE has spent many months preparing its new residence to serve as a refuge and place of healing for survivors. Thanks to the generosity of the Friese Foundation and other supporters, the international nonprofit has also been able to focus on hiring and training new childcare staff to provide round-the-clock services to the youth sheltered there.
The word “ZOE” means “life” in Greek. It is a word often found in the Greek text of the Septuagint, the earliest known translation of the Hebrew Bible. ZOE states its central purpose in its motto: “Reaching every person. Rescuing every child.” Its services emphasize prevention, rescue, and the restoration and healing of each young survivor’s life.
The power of commitment and faith
Founded in 2002, ZOE International is committed to helping end child trafficking, and to helping as many victims as possible in critical parts of the world. Founders Michael and Carol Hart put their values into practice by selling their home, along with most of their belongings, in order to launch the organization. The couple moved to Thailand, a nexus of the international trafficking in children and youth, where they felt they could be of the most help. The Harts worked boots-on-the-ground first in Thailand, then in the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Australia.
Partnering for change
ZOE’s team further increases its effectiveness by liaising with local and national government representatives in the countries where it operates. It also partners with other non-governmental organizations focused on similar missions.
In one highly effective partnership, ZOE worked with the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Using $500,000 in grant funds made available through this partnership, ZOE was able to build out its Enhanced Victim Protection Services program, which provides comprehensive vocational training. This work, noted by the State Department as a benchmark program of its type, focuses on helping young survivors prepare for and pursue their chosen careers. Other grant funding has supported top-level training for ZOE’s childcare workers.
ZOE’s 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week crisis response unit is also a contracted partner working with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Law enforcement officers who rescue a child from trafficking in the area can contact the nonprofit and receive a response with a 90-minute turnaround time.
Around the world, ZOE’s flagship projects include a new, $1.2 million child rescue center in Thailand, alongside a sustainable program of organic farming and conservation that benefits the youth. Other notable initiatives include the organization’s two-year residential leadership institute, which concentrates on empowering indigenous young adult leaders, as well as advocates for child welfare and evangelists committed to sharing the Christian Gospel.
The human cost
After drug trafficking and currency counterfeiting, experts estimate that the $150 billion human trafficking market is one of the largest illegal industries in the world. It is also among the fastest-growing criminal enterprises. Moreover, about one-third of the victims of human trafficking incidents reported in the U.S. are underage youth.
The mental, emotional, and physical trauma of trafficking and sexual exploitation often continue throughout a survivor’s life. Professionals who work with these survivors note that the abuse inflicted on these young people can result in a debilitating sense of guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, and other mental and emotional health problems. Most survivors of trafficking benefit from in-depth psychological care, presented in culturally appropriate contexts, designed to help them process and heal from trauma.
In Los Angeles, the need to provide hope and help for victims of child trafficking remains especially great. Los Angeles County is the most populous of all the nation’s counties. It is also an epicenter for human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children and teens in particular. Los Angeles, along with San Diego and San Francisco, is among the 13 metropolitan areas determined by the FBI to be among the most high-intensity locations for child sex trafficking.
In addition to its work of sheltering, healing, and advocating for young trafficking victims and survivors, ZOE serves as a source of information on human trafficking for professionals and the public. The organization conducts trainings for social workers, community and civic groups, and others interested in learning how to prevent and respond to human trafficking.
Through its yearly Rescue Walk and cycling events, ZOE promotes community connections to raise awareness and make the issue of trafficking more tangible for attendees. They often become motivated to help carry the message of prevention, rescue, hope, and healing even farther.
To report an instance of suspected human trafficking, contact the FBI-supported toll-free National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888, or text 233733. The NHTRC website also accept tips from the public.
Additionally, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children specifically handles information regarding child trafficking and can be reached at 1-800-THE-LOST.