HopeWorks of Howard County has hired Charlee Borg as the county’s domestic violence center’s first full-time anti-human trafficking coordinator, part of a growing set of actions across the county aimed at tackling the problem.
Borg, 28, came to the county from Denver, where she worked in trauma therapy and crisis services. She received a master's degree from the University of Denver in International Disasters Psychology. She was hired by Hopeworks to create and implement new strategies to meet the unique needs of human trafficking survivors.
Borg began serving in the new position as coordinator in since March, after HopeWorks secured a one-year grant to fund the job.
Borg is leading HopeWorks’ efforts to more accurately identify human trafficking survivors when they come to the nonprofit, as well as how to better serve them.
“Really we have a very strong model for providing services for survivors of gender-based violence,” Borg said, “and [HopeWorks] really hope[s] to broaden that umbrella in a very natural and technical way, so that they can service this population. Because they have the skills, they have the resources; they just need to build their capacity.”
The efforts are some of the latest steps taken in the area to battle human trafficking, a problem that both county government and nonprofit groups have struggled to get a handle on in the past.
The increased strategies go alongside a still-growing prevalence of human trafficking in the area. In 2016, county police investigated 17 cases of human trafficking; the county is on track to surpass that number this year as they’ve already investigated 17 cases to date, with 19 known adult female victims and four known juvenile female victims, according to Howard County police.
In August, police arrested a man in Laurel near Route 1 for the trafficking of four women in Howard and Prince George’s counties. Motels in the Route 1 area have been a common region for human trafficking cases.
HopeWorks Executive Director Jennifer Pollitt said she wanted to bring on a full-time coordinator to help create a more informed program for helping survivors of human trafficking, and that the group plans to request county funding to maintain the position beyond its first year.
While HopeWorks already had resources in place for human trafficking survivors, Hill said they needed additional help in looking strategically at how best to serve them, in particular how to create more individualized services rather than a “one size fits all” approach.
HopeWorks offers several forms of support for survivors of multiple forms of gender based violence, including residential housing, crisis intervention, counseling and case management services. The way in which they’re administered and the services they connect survivors with change, however, depending on which trauma they’ve experienced, Borg said.
One of the key strategies Borg said she has implemented at HopeWorks is a more informed screening process for when individuals come through the door, often following a referral from local law enforcement.
Borg said she has worked to train HopeWorks’ staff in what types of questions to ask individuals to help more accurately determine if they have been a victim of human trafficking.
Since the strategies were implemented in in July, HopeWorks has housed 10 human trafficking survivors in its residential housing, compared to six people in the past two years, according to Hill. She said staff had “suspicions” before the changes were implemented that they were not asking the right questions to accurately screen them.
“Our clinical team has had some stories of realization where, ‘Wow I have a client who was trafficked, and I didn’t understand that before,’” Borg said. “And they were telling me these things, but you can see the puzzle pieces on the table and not see the picture.”
Another major aspect of Borg’s work has focused on bringing a trauma-informed approach to working with survivors. One of the main focuses of this strategy is on initial interactions with a survivor; Borg said it is vital to make the survivor feel in control of their situation, a feeling which has often been missing from their life.
“Individuals who experience trauma, it physiologically changes their brain chemistry,” Borg said. “It changes the way they interpret different things in their environment, the way that they respond to individuals around them. So [we are] gaining that understanding from when they are in our waiting room and when they’re at the front desk, on the phone, all the way to these assessments.”
As more survivors come through HopeWorks, Hill said, it has been a struggle at times to meet all of their needs compared to the majority of the clients. HopeWorks typically helps clients find new housing, employment and documentation. While most clients may need help with one or two of these services, human trafficking survivors often need all of them, Hill said.
“The intensity of case management that’s needed for those clients is 10 times that for what is required for our traditional clients,” Hill said.
As HopeWorks continues to roll out its new strategies, the county’s Department of Community Resources and Services, which County Executive Allan Kittleman announced earlier this year would be adding a full-time human trafficking prevention manager, has chosen a candidate for the position and will be announcing the hire in the coming weeks, according to director Jackie Scott.
The coordinator’s key responsibilities will include collaborating with other local agencies and officers on prevention efforts and working with the community on outreach and awareness.
The hiring of the manager also pushes forward the county’s establishment of a new human trafficking task force. The task force includes leaders from law enforcement, HopeWorks, Howard County General Hospital and others, including space for representatives from the survivor community, one of the few spots on the council that have yet to be filled, according to Scott.
Scott said she anticipates the council will hold its first meeting in early November. The coordinator she said will serve as a “spoke in the middle” to support the work of local partners and the task force. Hill, who will serve on the task force, said she wants to see the group map out its resources to help determine where gaps in service are.
Across the county, Borg said those gaps exist in a number of ways, ranging from a lack of resources for male and youth survivors, to the challenges of providing agency services for victims who aren’t county residents, which often bars them from utilizing services.
“With the screening, there’s this popular concept of ‘build it and they will come.’ And I believe in that, but what I believe in moreso is adding this lens and seeing that they were already there in the first place,” Borg said. “Even if we had all the resources available and our partners were not county bound, and we were able to utilize services wherever, the nature of sex trafficking is in itself constantly a challenging battle.”