At WodBottom, we strive to encourage and empower women to be strong emotionally, mentally, and physically. We support organizations that help domestic abuse survivors reclaim their lives. So, when we come across nonprofits doing incredible work, we want to highlight them.
When we heard about Brigid's House of Hope in New Hampshire, we immediately knew that theirs was a story worth sharing. Human trafficking is a very real, yet often overlooked issue in America. Every day, traffickers use force, fraud, or other coercion tactics to lure children, teens, and adults into unpaid labor or commercial sex work. It happens everywhere, in every state in the nation. Victims of trafficking can be any age, from any demographic.
Brigid's House of Hope is a New Hampshire nonprofit bringing healing to victims of trafficking. The organization provides safe, secure housing for female survivors, giving them a place to call home as they work through the trauma of being a trafficking victim. Brigid is a Gaelic word meaning "power, strength, vigor, and virtue," the ideal name for this place where women reclaim their power and find their strength.
We interviewed Jessica Humphrey, Program Director for Brigid's House of Hope, to learn more about this incredible organization and its impacts on survivors of trafficking.
Human Trafficking in the U.S.
Human trafficking is a reality in every state in the U.S. In many cases, the victims are targeted by people they trust. Traffickers promise to give the victims security, stability, wealth, and love. Though many people think that trafficking means moving victims from one place to another, that's usually not the case. Most trafficking victims are abused in their own hometowns, sometimes in their own homes.
According to the human trafficking nonprofit Polaris, it is rare for traffickers to kidnap and force their victims into servitude with violence. In many cases, victims are "groomed," often ending up in trafficking situations slowly and unknowingly. Many victims may even believe they are making their own decisions to work in the sex trade or provide unpaid labor. Their captors have essentially brainwashed these women into thinking they have autonomy.
In many cases, trafficking victims are from vulnerable populations. Those living in poverty, immigrants, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to be lured into sex or labor trafficking. Nearly all victims are women, but that's not always the case. Men and nonbinary people can also become victims.
Brigid's House of Hope: Support for Survivors in New Hampshire
As human trafficking awareness increases in America, more states are working to combat the ongoing issue. In 2016, the State of New Hampshire received Federal funding to help create a Task Force to combat human trafficking. During this process, one missing piece became glaringly obvious: female survivors fleeing trafficking had nowhere safe to go once they left.
New Hampshire already had domestic violence programs and shelters in place before creating the trafficking Task Force. But domestic abuse shelters don't address the specific issues that trafficking victims face. Without access to safe, secure housing, many trafficking victims would remain trapped in forced labor and sex work. The housing gap needed to be addressed – and quickly.
"Due to that gap, due to a lack of services and safe housing, a lot of victims stayed in their situations, and about 80% ended up being re-trafficked," says Humphrey.
Bethany Cottrell, the founder and CEO of Brigid's House of Hope, was part of the Task Force designed to address human trafficking in New Hampshire. Cottrell recognized the lack of housing as a significant obstacle for victims. When no other agencies stepped in to address the issue, she decided to take action herself.
The idea for Brigid's House of Hope was born.
"2018 is when our board was created, and we secured the most amazing property," Humphrey says. "I just love going there. It's so therapeutic, just stepping foot in this place. We have a wonderful landlord that was able to fully renovate this amazing house into four two-bedroom apartments specifically for [our clients]."
After many years of dreaming and planning, Brigid's House of Hope opened its doors to survivors in June 2022.
A Safe Space to Heal
From the start, Cottrell wanted Brigid's House of Hope to be a safe space where female survivors of human trafficking could reclaim their power and start healing from their trauma. The safe house is in an undisclosed location, giving every survivor a sense of security and calm. And unlike domestic violence shelters, where clients live in one common area, Brigid's gives each survivor a space to call her own.
Humphrey says this individual approach is designed to help women "start to make decisions in their own lives. They have their own kitchen, they have their own living room. They get to decide who comes into their apartment. They get to decide everything about their daily lives. That power and control is something that we want to give back to them."
"Meet the Client Where They're At"
When it comes to empowering and supporting survivors of human trafficking, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Rehabilitating these women is a complicated prospect that takes incredible patience, nuance, and skill. At Brigid's House of Hope, the staff meets each client where she is, providing whatever she needs in that moment to begin healing.
"Our goal is to meet the client where they're at the moment they enter into our program and assess and provide case management for whatever they need," says Humphrey. "Whether it be food stamps, social security, employment, mental health, substance use services, whatever that looks like."
The program takes an individualized approach with clients, allowing each woman to take charge of her recovery and reclaim her life.
Humphrey explains, "[We start] with basic needs and eventually working towards other coping strategies, life skills, employment, education, whatever that looks like."
Over the course of 12-18 months, clients can stay at Brigid's and develop skills to help them become independent. Support includes information about proper nutrition, physical health, emotional health, and healthy coping strategies.
Brigid's House of Hope also incorporates various fitness programs for women who are interested. For Humphrey, an athlete and WodBottom customer, exercise plays a huge role in her ability to cope with stress. "I've been able to support other groups of women, and across other jobs that I've had in that fitness journey, that's really worked to build the confidence. You see them take control back of their lives, and that physical strength equates to mental strength after a while. And it's a really fantastic journey to see."
But the assistance doesn't stop when the women leave the House of Hope. Humphrey says transition assistance is in place to help clients secure housing, find stable employment, and continue to seek counseling services as necessary.
Brigid's House of Hope is a self-refer organization. Anyone who comes to the safe house does so of her own volition, consciously choosing to escape the trafficking environment and seek healing.
There are two challenges when reaching out to victims: making initial contact and convincing them to leave.
Identifying victims of trafficking and making initial contact with them can be difficult. Brigid's House of Hope staff depends on a wide network of community partners like hospitals, law enforcement, people in the justice system, and other helping organizations to help spread the word to women who might be in trafficking situations.
"We try to target specific people within specific professions that we think may come in contact," says Humphrey.
Mentioning a nurse who treats sexual assault victims and is part of the human trafficking Task Force, Humphrey says, "Oftentimes these victims will present in a hospital type setting for various types of medical issues, whether it be some sexually transmitted diseases that need treatment, whether it be a physical abuse type situation and overdose, all kinds of different medical issues. And [this nurse] worked really hard to train other medical and nursing staff throughout this state to identify possible victims of domestic violence and/or trafficking. It's that rapport building in the hospital setting that can ascertain that information, is this a victim or not?"
If someone is identified as a victim of human trafficking, the next step is to tell them about their options and encourage them to seek help. But not everyone is ready to leave, says Humphrey.
"As we know, it's really difficult for somebody to leave that situation," Humphrey continues. "At least you're planting a seed. And once that seed is planted, you know, hopefully when they are ready, they know that there are resources there."
What's Ahead for Brigid's House of Hope
Brigid's House of Hope is still in its early days, but this is only the beginning of their journey to help human trafficking victims in New Hampshire and beyond.
The House of Hope's safe house currently has four two-bedroom apartments with space for eight female survivors. In the future, Humphrey says, they hope to expand their reach and serve a wider population.
The safe house sits on about one hundred acres of property, with plenty of room for expansion and growth.
"We have secured funding to support other populations as well, understanding that this is an unfortunate thing that doesn't just affect women," she says. "We have secured funding to support women with children, men, as well as any transgender person."
Humphrey says the nonprofit is also looking at ways to provide pet-friendly housing to its clients. It's not uncommon for women in domestic violence or trafficking environments to stay in those situations simply because she doesn't want to leave her pet. Allowing these survivors to bring their pets would eliminate one more barrier, giving more women access to life-changing care.
Brigid's House of Hope continues to form local and national partnerships to expand their network of resources and support, giving the organization access to high-quality care for every survivor.
Recognizing the Signs of Human Trafficking
Would you know how to spot a potential victim of human trafficking? Here are some common signs to watch for:
- Scars or mutilations
- "Branding" or tattoos
- Unexplained bruises or other indications of abuse
- Drug or alcohol misuse
- Signs of poor physical health, including malnourishment
- Evidence of extreme control by another person
- Restricted communication
- Being prohibited from talking or answering questions when with a particular person
- Never being allowed to be alone
- Showing signs of fear, anxiety, or submissiveness
- Not having possession or control of their cell phone, ID, or money
- Not knowing what city or state they are in
- Sudden having new possessions or expensive items
If you believe someone may be the victim of human trafficking, you can contact the following:
- 911 or your local law enforcement agency
National Human Trafficking Hotline:
Text: HELP to BeFree (233733)
How You Can Help Survivors
If you want to learn more about Brigid's House of Hope, visit their website at brigidshouseofhope.org. If you are in New Hampshire or the surrounding areas, please spread the word about this organization and its work.
To learn more about human trafficking, its impacts, and how you can identify and help survivors, visit the Blue Campaign or Polaris Project.Finally, consider donating to Brigid's House of Hope if you can. The organization relies heavily on individual donors to maintain and expand its programs for survivors of human trafficking. Click here to make a donation.