Nonprofit Peace Promise in Mechanicsburg provides assistance for women involved in sex trafficking and exploitation. Board member Jennifer Parsons took time for this month’s Q&A:
When was the organization founded, and what are the primary services you offer?
Jenn Parsons, Peace Promise Board Member: Founded in 2008 to serve the Harrisburg metropolitan region, Peace Promise is an all-volunteer, grassroots organization that assists in recovering hope and strengthening the lives of those impacted by sexual exploitation in our community.
Peace Promise addresses the complexities of sex trafficking in central Pennsylvania by focusing on four key service areas:
1. Outreach & Intervention for women involved in commercial sexual exploitation.
2. Support & Training for women leaving the adult entertainment industry.
3. Education & Awareness for our community about the dehumanization and identifiers of sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.
4. Social Enterprise for women seeking new employment opportunities.
What is the major source of funding for your organization? Do you have a sizable paid staff, and is there a need to expand?
Peace Promise accomplishes its work through a volunteer team of committed and dedicated individuals who represent many different faith communities located throughout Cumberland, Dauphin and York Counties. Fundraising events and donations are its primary funding sources. As an all-volunteer organization, there are no paid staff members.
There is a need to expand outreach and intervention services. Most all of our volunteers balance their Peace Promise volunteer involvement with full or part-time employment. Peace Promise would like to raise enough funds to hire its first Executive Director/Director or Outreach in order to meet the growing needs of the women we serve.
Is there a way to measure how significant of a problem sex trafficking is in this area?
Pennsylvania is widely known as a “Pass-Through” State in which traffickers utilize its many highways to move victims between trafficking locations in neighboring states and to connect with the I-95 corridor in which victims are moved along the Eastern Seaboard. In central Pennsylvania, highway interchanges are popular locations for exploitation. Other locations include: strip clubs, erotic massage parlors, and through escort services and online prostitution.
It is difficult to get an accurate number of trafficking victims for two reasons. First, many women do not self-identify as a victim of exploitation. Pimps are frequently a boyfriend or husband. Secondly, the crime goes underreported due to shame and the extreme violence surrounding the industry. The average life span of a person being exploited in prostitution is seven years. The most common causes of death are drug overdose, suicide, and murder.
Do we know how the affected women became involved in prostitution? Is poverty a factor?
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) , human trafficking generates 150 billion dollars a year. Sex trafficking is the most profitable sector earning 99 billion dollars annually. It is an industry that exploits the most vulnerable members of our community.
Poverty certainly contributes to the possibility of exploitation, and yet there are other significant socio-economic factors to consider. Women who are exploited typically experience one or more of the following vulnerabilities: little or no protection from family or friends, believe they have low personal worth or value, possess an education deficit preventing gainful employment, are living with a mental health condition, and/or have a history of childhood sexual abuse.