LEWISTON — A vigil for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, sponsored by Safe Voices and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, was held Tuesday afternoon at Dufresne Plaza. 

Supporters from the community, police department, and district attorney’s and attorney general’s offices braved the blistering wind, standing in a circle as slippery sheets of ice stretched beneath their boots. 

The vigil honors survivors of trafficking in Maine, those who have endured abuse, and those still struggling to get help. Between 300 and 400 cases of human trafficking occur in Maine annually, according to Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network. 

Despite a string of previous collaborations between Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services and the Safe Voices organization, the event was the first outreach program dealing specifically with the issue of trafficking in the state. 

“I wish there wasn’t anything to report, unfortunately, that’s not the case,” said Megan Davis, executive director of SAPARS. “We are finding out that more people are coming out and disclosing what they are struggling with, whether it’s housing issues or they need to provide something as a means to (secure) housing, food, stuff like that. We’ve also seen an increase in numbers for child abuse cases, more and more children are being trafficked and exploited.”

Trafficking can be defined as the exploitation of someone who is forced or coerced into labor or commercial sex. “It could be for an exchange of anything: sexual favors, housing, drugs, anything that’s of value that they can have an exchange for,” Davis said. 

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Data from Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network’s website describes nearly 40% of police officers in the state having come across at least one trafficking case in the past year, while 71% were unfamiliar with any organizations addressing human trafficking in Maine. 

Both organizations work to provide support and response services to individuals experiencing sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as advocating on their behalf. SAPARS employs a human trafficking advocate who works in conjunction with Safe Voices, providing drop-in services at safe houses, accompaniments to hospitals, and other services to help victims secure their safety and reestablish themselves independently.

 In 2018, Safe Voices established the state’s first emergency safe house for those in immediate danger while fleeing sex trafficking, and works to connect victims of abuse with food pantries and health insurance through safety planning and emotional support. 

Gabe Johnson, an EMT with United Ambulance Service, attended Tuesday’s vigil and recognizes both the need to combat the issue and the prevalence in the state. “I think we need more organizations (like these) who work with the victims, and not only help them but help the community serve them better and get more opportunities out there for them. I see a lot of people who could use their services at my job.

“I’m here to support (Safe Voices) because I think they just do a great job working with survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking, which I don’t think people realize is a huge issue around here,” Johnson said. “But raising awareness, doing things like this so we can get some education out there for a lot of the people who don’t understand what those two things are, I just think its a great thing for the community.”


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