The reality is thousands of vulnerable women are trafficked through illicit massage businesses (IMBs) every year. Restore has served more women trafficked through IMBs than any organization in the country, and over 65% of women from our Economic Empowerment program pilot group were trafficked through IMBs.

One woman from the pilot group, Sarah*, came to Restore after escaping from her trafficker. This is her story.

Before Sarah ran away, she was trapped, exploited, and coerced to sell her body. She was referred to live in our Safehome from a partner organization, and as a resident, she began trying to find work.

For Sarah and so many others that Restore serves, finding a job is one of the most challenging barriers to living independently after leaving their trafficker. Because of the trauma they’ve experienced, limited English skills, and immigration challenges, securing sustainable employment is often impossible without training and support.

In response, Restore launched an Economic Empowerment program in 2016 to begin addressing this reality. Sarah was one of our first participants in the Economic Empowerment pilot group and attended weekly supportive services. Here she learned about workers’ labor rights in the United States, how to cope with workplace stress, and skills to communicate with a manager. She wrote her first resume and successfully applied for a position at a food business in NYC that partners with Restore.

Now, Sarah is employed, follows a budget, and uses a savings program. Through our ESL class, her English developed to an intermediate level and she is on a path to live independently. She dreams of helping other women who have similar experiences learn skills and find jobs, just like her Economic Empowerment coach helped her.

Recently, Sarah sat down with one of our staff and showed her a painting she made during her time at Restore. She pointed on the canvas to the butterfly resting on a flower and said she never painted a butterfly before coming to Restore. She pointed to the butterfly and said “this is me.”

We believe that in partnership, we have the possibility to end sex trafficking and continue creating new opportunities for survivors.