Salvation Army program seeks to connect with sex trafficking victims in Sunset Park to offer help and hope
The Salvation Army says sex trafficking is on the rise in Sunset Park, and its team members are putting themselves at risk to offer help to victims.
The Salvation Army team members enter illicit massage parlors and strip clubs.
"Pimps are usually nearby, we've been followed," says Jennifer Groff, who has seen trafficking growing quickly on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park. "The situation is dire."
It's why they launched "Pearl Essence Program" in 2019 -- to help connect with possible victims they meet. They offer a simple gesture: nail polish, along with an invitation. In the victims' native language, they invite them to a soup kitchen where groceries are handed out on Wednesdays.
"It's a simple gesture of, 'I see you, I love you, there are other people who might treat you differently on the other side of these walls,'" says Maj. Margereta Invarsson, Women's Ministries secretary with the Salvation Army.
The program has reached close to 600 women.
"A lot of women are brought here from China thinking they're going to come here for the American dream and then having to work in these massage parlors because they're threatened," says.
The Salvation Army says victims don't have much, which is why the soup kitchen is so important. They say a trafficker can control a victim's movements -- but just may actually let them come to the kitchen for food because it takes the burden of providing a meal off of them.
Women like Carmen Rivera are joining the fight by volunteering to help trafficking victims. "Our hope is to uplift them and make them feel better," she says.
They're preparing to hit the streets again in June in the hopes of helping as many women as possible.