SEX TRAFFICKING IS NO JOKE.
We may not always be aware of it, but it occurs a lot closer to home than we think. Erica Greve, founder/CEO of anti-human trafficking organization Unlikely Heroes, has dedicated her life to helping children who suffer a high risk of falling victim to sex-trafficking. Erica and her team have begun to raise the standards of restorative care around the world, ensuring that at-risk children receive protection and care across the world while fighting social injustices. She has gained the support of many, including Natalie Backman, the founder of Imagine Fest — a yoga and music festival inspired by John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” Proceeds will go towards Unlikely Heroes’ first United States Restoration home for rescued girls. “Imagine Fest has been a collective creation by over 100 community members, all contributing their unique talent, time and energy,” says Natalie. “We are creating awareness in our community and creating a call to action by giving members of our community an opportunity to step off the side lines and get into the game. It isn’t impossible to be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Lady Clever sat down with Erica to find out more about her amazing organization, its accomplishments, and future goals it hopes to achieve.
What is Unlikely Heroes and when was it founded?
Unlikely Heroes is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing rescue homes and restoration to child victims of sex slavery worldwide. We currently have four homes in three nations—the Philippines, Thailand, and Mexico. And by the end of 2015 we will be opening our first restoration home in the United States! We opened our first rescue home doors on November 11, 2011 in the Philippines and since that time we have celebrated the rescue and restoration of hundreds of children from sex slavery.
What are the goals of Unlikely Heroes?
To the 27 million trapped in slavery, we are coming for you.
This is our promise to the 27 million people trapped in sex slavery across the world. Our vision is to see every boy and girl who has been sold for sex in America and internationally have access to the protective shelter and specialized services needed to stop cycles of victimization and provide them with the opportunities they need to move forward into recovery. Unlikely Heroes wants to see child sex slavery ended worldwide. We believe that everyone has a role to play in ending modern-day slavery. We’re thrilled to have rescued hundreds of girls already, and our goal is to rescue 1,000 children by 2020. We have the opportunity to protect the world’s most at-risk and vulnerable people: children, women, and the poor.
What inspired you to start this organization?
I first came into contact with children who had been sold for sex in America a few years ago, while I was completing my MSW degree from UC Berkeley. At the time, I was interning as one of the emergency department social workers, and my job was to conduct the initial interview of physically and sexually abused youths who were brought into the emergency department for treatment. My job was to capture the story of the child and/or parent/social worker who brought the child to the ER department, to provide the child with appropriate support services, and to develop an aftercare treatment plan.
Over the course of my internship, I began to encounter a few children brought into the ER either by parents, social workers, or police who had been sold for sex on the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area. During one of these emergency room visits, I met a mother and her daughter who were desperate for help. The mother explained to me that she was afraid that if she took her daughter home that her daughter would become victimized by her pimp again, but explained that they had nowhere else to go. The mother pulled me aside and began to tell me her story. We left her daughter in the small emergency department treatment room; I remember she was reading a book about horses. The girl was 12-years-old but it was clear that she had learning difficulties — she had slow speech and she appeared to function at more of an eight-year-old level.
When the patient’s mother pulled me aside that day, I had no idea that my life was about to change. The mother asked me to find a home for her daughter to live in where she could be safe and receive rehabilitation services. I tried to find a program for her daughter, but I was unable to find one. I simply could not believe that there was no help and no hope for these kids. I started to do more research and I found out that at that time — even though there were more than 100,000 children being sold on the streets of America — there were fewer than 125 in-patient treatment beds.
By the end of 2010, I decided to become a part of the solution. I said “yes” to moving forward with developing a non-profit organization that would build and create clinically-sound treatment centers and restoration homes for children who have been sold for sex both in the United States and internationally.
What has your biggest success been so far?
Our biggest successes have been each child who has come into our home to receive top-notch restoration care services including education, medical care, trauma counseling, life skills, safety, meals, and so much love!
One of my favorite rescue stories is of Baby EJ, who was a newborn baby found outside our home in the Philippines — naked, in a trash bag, still attached to his umbilical chord. Our rescue teams rushed him to the hospital where he received emergency medical services. His mother is believed to be a 14-year-old victim of human trafficking who worked at the local bars. Now two years later, Baby EJ just celebrated his 2nd birthday and is living happily and healthily in our restoration home. I would not know what would have happened to his life if our home hadn’t been there to provide him these services.
Are there any upcoming events or other exciting news you’d like to share?
We are so happy that communities in Southern California are coming together to end human trafficking. The communities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, and Malibu are teaming up together to put on Imagine Festival on September 26th at Peter Strauss Ranch! They are calling all people to come join this Yoga + Music Festival where proceeds are going to help us at Unlikely Heroes open our first US Restoration Home.