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Shelter for sex trafficking victims in danger of closing

By Areeba Shah • Jul 30, 2018 at 3:00 PM

TOLEDO (TNS) — After being brutally attacked at a hotel in Bedford Township, she was left for dead. Police found her half-naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

The woman was rushed to a nearby hospital in January where she was in a coma for 10 days. After two months of recovery, she stayed at a nursing home for three months and found her new home at Butterflies 15, a Toledo shelter that provides services to female victims of human trafficking.

"It has helped me become structured and stable, and it's basically like my safe haven at this point," she said of the Christian-based facility she has lived at for the past 14 months.

Today, the 33-year-old woman's home is in danger of closing due to a lack of volunteers and funding. While the shelter has always struggled to keep its doors open, most recently, its desperation for volunteers has grown since it's unable to pay bills.

Struggling with a heroin addiction for four years, the woman became a prostitute to afford her drug addiction. During that time, she was abused by her pimps, eventually progressing to the assault at the Michigan hotel. The Blade does not typically identify victims of sex crimes.

The incident left her with a traumatic brain injury. Out of all the shelters she reached out to, Butterflies 15 was the only one equipped to help her deal with the trauma, she said.

"For me to leave, I feel like it would disrupt my pattern at this time," she said. "I'm a little fearful for that."

The safe house was established in 2015 and helps women get through substance abuse and trauma through its nine to 12-month recovery program.

Like a butterfly, the shelter's mission, as stated on its website, is to provide the cocoon that nurtures the individual to experience the beauty of a new life to not just become survivors, but thrivers. It empowers women through group meetings, self-defense classes, volunteering, financial coaching, and more.

Tina Robinson, founder of Butterflies 15, said while there are youth programs in place for teenagers, such as the Daughter Project, B15, as the program is also called, is the only shelter in northwest Ohio that helps older women through their recovery process.

A 2017 Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report highlighted that out of 208 potential victims of human trafficking identified last year in Ohio, 193 were females with 69 women between the ages of 21-29. This is the highest number of any age group.

"If we start with these women and help them, we can stop it from happening to the youth," Ms. Robinson said.

Having a past of drug abuse and trafficking herself, Ms. Robinson said she feels like she can connect with these women.

"I try to be a mentor to the ladies and show them what I went through," Ms. Robinson said. "I know what it's like to be down that road, so I do whatever I can to help."

Ms. Robinson works with the women through different recovery books to help them "get rid of their street-thinking minds," she said.

She added many women who come to the shelter struggle with anger issues and have trouble dealing with grief, like losing friends to prostitution.

"We help give them the tools so they don't relapse," Ms. Robinson said. "Relapse is a part of recovery, and it happens."

Over the years, B15 has housed 30 women. Most women stay an average of three months.

Ms. Robinson said they need help now more than ever as they are struggling to pay their monthly bills. If this continues, the shelter will eventually have to close its doors, possibly within the year.

In the past, B15 has held fund-raisers and organized tables at events to raise awareness on trafficking. The group also volunteers at concession stands during Mud Hens games through which 8 percent of the proceeds from food sales go back to the shelter.

"While human trafficking is a problem throughout the country, Toledo is absolutely ground zero in this crisis," Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said. "As a community, we've got to do whatever it takes to provide either that group or a similar group the support and resources they need to implement their programs."

Ms. Robinson said that people can donate to the shelter or volunteer with the group at the Huntington Center and Mud Hens games. Women are also welcome to volunteer at the shelter.

She added that the shelter is looking for a grant writer, a nurse, and a counselor to volunteer at the facility. She is the only one who works with the women and supervises the house.

"I just pour everything I can into these ladies and this house," Ms. Robinson said. "This is my life. I have nothing. I don't have a social life, I don't have friends. I pour everything into this ministry. Other than my family and God, this is what thrives in me."

For more information about Butterflies 15, visit butterflies15.org or call 419-386-1308.

Contact Areeba Shah at [email protected], 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @areebashah_.

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