Harriet’s House Offers Hope to Exploited Women

This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

Julie Crain of Cambridge learned about the exploitation of women at a conference she attended in 2008. This issue struck her so deeply that she began doing mission work in 2009, specifically focusing on after-care programs for women who had escaped human trafficking in Cambodia and India. These experiences inspired her to get her degree and begin working at For All Seasons Behavioral Health and Rape Crisis Center in Easton as an advocate for women who were victims of sexual exploitation.

“Working for an organization like For All Seasons opened up my eyes to see a need and an issue that I wasn’t aware of before on the Shore. I also realized when I was in that position that Dorchester County is one of the counties that has the most sexual assaults,” Julie recalls.

“In my mind, I’m thinking okay, I live in Dorchester County. This would be a good place to start with an organization that would help women in this situation.”

In 2019, Julie and her husband, Jim, opened Harriet’s House, named after the conductor of The Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman. They planned to open a long-term restorative care program for women on the Shore.

“Harriet was a strong woman of God who looked to God for guidance and direction as she worked to set slaves free. In the same way, we are looking to God to guide and direct us as we fight to set captives free from human trafficking,” she adds.

Harriet’s House started as a drop-in center, providing resources, referrals, computer access, food, drinks, toiletries, clothes, and classes such as job interview and resume writing techniques, budgeting, parenting, etc. to all women. Screening for human trafficking is done and case management is provided for women who have been trafficked or sexually exploited.

“We’ve done classes on healthy relationships and just helping women to have boundaries. And it’s interconnected – especially with domestic violence and intimate partner violence. We’re finding that all of these things are woven together when human trafficking is involved,” Julie explains.

This June, Harriet’s House will officially open Mary’s Sanctuary, Harriet’s House Residential Program. The house was donated to the organization by local businessman Derek Wanex, in honor of his mother, Mary Calloway. Mary was a woman who loved to help others.

“We want this home to be a place of refuge, respite, and restoration for every woman who walks through the doors and is a survivor of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation,” Julie adds.

In the home, residents will receive comprehensive care physically, emotionally, educationally, and spiritually – all in the safety of a home with 24-hour staff in an undisclosed location. The home is equipped with a privacy fence and a security system with exterior cameras. Relationships have been built with local law enforcement, so they are aware of who is served at the house and the potential to need their services. The residential program, which focuses on safety, stabilization, healing, and new life, helps women learn life skills, and relationship skills, continue their education, form meaningful relationships, and heal from the complex trauma they have experienced.

The house has space for up to five residents at a time and the average stay will be 18 months. Two of the bedrooms will house two women at a time who are seeking a long-term program that will lead to a greater impact on their lives. The third bedroom will house one woman and will be a transitional room. Women coming into the program will be housed in a single bedroom while they acclimate to the house and the new life. The single bedroom, when available, can also be used for short-term or emergencies for women who need immediate housing but do not fit into the long-term program. All residents are screened and assessed at Harriet’s House Drop-In Center to make sure this program can meet their needs. Participants must be single, must not have any arrest warrants, and must have completed substance abuse treatment if they are facing addiction issues.

Harriet House Board of Directors, including Michelle Harding (left), Lois Elliott, Amanda Kidd, Rob Zlock, Derek Wanex, Julie Crain, and Jim Crain, receive keys to the Harriet’s House in February 2021.

A case manager will work with the women to set goals and help set appointments for dental, medical, and other needs such as obtaining an ID. The residents work through four phases. In phase one they focus on stabilization with an emphasis on safety, sobriety, and dealing with trauma in a group setting. In phase two they focus on attending one-on-one therapy, academics, and having a higher focus on their trauma and self-care. In phase three, they continue with one-on-one therapy and academics, while being introduced to job training, resume writing, and mock interviews and will be encouraged to get a job. In phase four, residents will continue all areas in the previous phases and will be encouraged to start saving money so they will have funds available when they leave the program. They will plan with their case manager the next steps and transition from the program.

Harriet’s House hopes to acquire a residence where they can offer a transitional home for graduates of the program for up to a year. Graduates will live with other graduates in an independent environment, paying for rent, utilities, food, and the expenses of living on their own. They will remain under the umbrella of Harriett’s House but will not have 24/7 supervision or staff in the home.

“We will offer graduates of our long-term program the opportunity to further their independence without losing their support system. They will be assisted with a safe place to live and help with transportation until they are ready to stand on their own,” states Julie.

Future goals of Harriet’s House include establishing trained outreach teams to go into communities where prostitution is seen. The goal is to establish relationships with sex workers, without judgment, to show love and acceptance, and to let them know the resources that are available to help them to see a way out of the life they are living.

According to Julie, the organization expects to get referrals from Homeland Security, local law enforcement, hospitals, and detention centers from across the state, as well as other states. Right now, the program is the only program on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

She marvels at how the whole project has come together. In addition to Derek, who felt led by God to donate his property following renovating it as an investment, Harriet’s House had an anonymous donor who has rallied others to help with operational costs.

Julie Crain gives Maryland Governor Larry Hogan a tour of Harriet’s House.

“I realized I had to do this and not wait for someone else to step up. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but he’s given us a spirit of power. And there is a lot of work to be done in our communities to help people understand this issue,” Julie states.

“The definition of human trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex. So, what that means is that if somebody is exploiting someone else, for their benefit, that’s human trafficking. It doesn’t mean you have to get paid in money, but you could get paid in drugs, or for a place to sleep, or even for food. We’ve heard cases of women having to trade sex just for a place to sleep for the night or just for a meal because they hadn’t eaten in days. It’s not necessarily that somebody was abducted in a van. It’s usually happening in a relationship – because somebody knows somebody else, and they want to take advantage of them. It even happens in families and that’s the big thing that’s being pushed underneath the rug in a lot of communities,” she adds.

“It’s been incredible just watching all that God’s doing and how he’s brought it all together. It’s been such a faith builder. You know, you can say you have faith, but I didn’t have as much faith as I thought I did. But now I believe him for everything that he’s going to provide for us,” she concludes.

As Harriet’s House is gearing up for the opening of its residential program in June, it is looking for volunteers to help in the home with the following activities: teaching a life skills class, leading a group study, teaching cooking skills, planning and facilitating field trips, teaching crochet/knitting/painting/jewelry making, etc., teaching nutrition, leading an exercise class, teaching gardening skills, driving clients to appointments, and helping with case management. The next Volunteer Orientation will be held on Saturday, June 4 at 9 a.m. Volunteers will need to complete this orientation, other training, and pay for and pass a background check to volunteer with Harriet’s House.

To volunteer, contact Julie Cain at 443-786-1843 or julie@harriettshouse.org. To donate to Harriet’s House, send donations to Harriet’s House, P.O. Box 586, Cambridge, Maryland 21613. Harriet’s House is a 501(c)(3) organization. Harriet’s House Drop-In location is at 409 Muir Street, Cambridge on Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with additional hours available by appointment by calling 410-330-7538.

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