Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Mentor team volunteers from Rebirth Homes on a retreat. (Photo courtesy of Rebirth Homes)
By REBECCA K. O'CONNOR | The Community Foundation
PUBLISHED: September 7, 2018 at 2:45 p.m. | UPDATED: September 7, 2018 at 2:45 p.m.
An organization based in Riverside County is tackling the local epidemic of human trafficking.
In 2008, when Debbie Martis, CEO and founder of Rebirth Homes discovered the staggering statistic that 27 million people were being trafficked around the world, she couldn’t stop thinking about solving the problem.
“I kept trying to walk away from it, but everything kept coming back to human trafficking,” she said. “Then in 2012, I was noticing boarded-up homes in Riverside and had a God-given vision of taking them and doing something for good with them.”
She wrote a five-page plan, began reaching out for direction, and quickly learned there were few resources for adult survivors of human trafficking. Women who have extricated themselves from their abuser need a safe place to live and get back on their feet, but there are fewer than 50 homes across the country open to help adult women in this situation, Martis said.
In September 2017, Rebirth Homes opened the first home for adult survivors of human trafficking in Riverside County.
“The first issue is breaking away from the trafficker,” Martis said. “It’s very complex and every story is unique. The trafficker could be a family member or boyfriend or a girlfriend and a lot of the women and kids don’t even realize they are being trafficked until they are told.”
The home, which houses about eight women, offers professional counseling. Women also receive help with life and job skills as well as assistance with food and transportation.
“Our mission is to journey with the women as they become empowered to become all they were created to be,” Martis said. “Over time, after they have been there for a few months, they start to dream and have hope.”
Martis says she has watched women blossom after arriving unable to interact with others because of their trauma. After counselling, attending school and graduating, they have found jobs and reunited with their families.
Rebirth Homes also educates the community about human trafficking, which she says is prominent in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Martis noted that many of the “johns” are unaware that the women are being trafficked. Eliminating demand through community education is a crucial part of combating the problem.
“We’re defined a hotbed for human trafficking because of the number of freeways that connect from here throughout the west,” Martis said. “In the last four or five years, gangs have moved from selling drugs to selling people. They can make $180,000 off one victim each year.”
Recently, Rebirth Homes received a Community Impact grant through The Community Foundation to help it grow. The organization plans to use the funds to create governance for its board of directors, offer board training and create a long-term vision.
The organization is also always looking for volunteers and funds to help it continue to grow.
Martis believes the need for Rebirth Homes’ work will continue to increase. She stated that the number of people victimized by human trafficking is up to 40 million and is increasing by a million a year. Her ultimate goal is to have houses around the world and to redeem and restore one million lives.
“If we don’t do this, the numbers will continue to rise and the tide won’t turn,” Martis said. “Think about the one person and if that person was your daughter, sister or mom. If we don’t reach that one person, she’s forever enslaved.”
The Community Foundation’s mission is to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.
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