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Day One: Helping young victims move forward with their lives
More than 70% of the clients served by Day One, which supports and advocates for Rhode Islanders affected by sexual abuse and violence, are children. An increasing number of them are victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
“Sex trafficking is happening in every community in Rhode Island,” exclaims Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One.
The organization has, through the years, initiated several efforts to deal with the growing problem, bringing together key community partners to create the CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) Task Force and offering programs and services through its own Children’s Advocacy Center.
Peg is especially proud of the organization’s mentor program for girls from 12 to 18 who have been sexually exploited. “They are the heart and soul of the program. They’re amazing,” she says of the program’s mentors, Pamela Doss and Meagan Nuñez. “They help girls who have been sexually exploited move forward with their lives. The girls who come in (through referrals from the Department of Children, Youth, and Families) are really, really hurt and they resist at first, but through Pamela and Meagan’s love and guidance, the girls come around and start to heal.”
“Building a relationship with the girl is the most important thing,” Meagan says, explaining that after meeting with the family and being part of the formal in-take process, she starts to build a rapport with each girl. “One of my girls who had been living on the streets with her mom had never been to an arcade. When we went, she was just so bubbly,” Meagan recalls.
She and Pamela have many stories to share. For her birthday, one young girl wanted to go out to dinner with her family to enjoy food from her native country. Living in a group home and with no relatives nearby, she called Pamela, who she thinks of as family, “We celebrated her birthday together, and she had a great time,” Pamela recalls of their outing for dinner and ice cream after.
Through the relationship building – both informally and through such Day One programs as My Life, My Choice and the Be. Program – Meagan and Pamela earn the girls’ trust. One teenage girl repeatedly said nothing bad had happened to her. But when Meagan told her own story of being a victim, the girl began to open up. “Hearing my story was what it took for her to remember the trauma that happened when she was as young as five. The girl called DCYF to report the person who had abused her,” Meagan shares.
She continues, “Some of these kids are just looking for love in all the wrong places. When they have someone buying things for them that they otherwise wouldn’t have, they think it’s love. But the person is just grooming them for other things. If a guy’s selling drugs, once he makes the sale, the drugs are gone, but with a girl, you can sell her over and over.”
“As mentors, we teach the girls the signs to look for, give them the tools to handle situations, and let them know they still matter,” Pamela states.
The Foundation has long-supported the work of Day One. “The Foundation has helped lay the groundwork and seed new programs. I see the Foundation as an essential partner as we identify unmet needs – or badly met needs – in the community and work to create programs to meet those needs,” Peg shares.