May 28 – A Berks County nonprofit that raises awareness about sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is excited about its new drop-in center in the middle of downtown Reading.
A year and a half ago, FREE (Freedom and Recovery for Everyone Enslaved) opened a drop-in center in the 100 block of South Sixth Street to allow sexually exploited women, including those involved in prostitution, to leave the street and connect with the resources while getting some breathing space.
Recently, the Visitor Center moved to a new and better storefront at 5 N. Fifth St., off Penn Square, said General Manager Andrea McHenry.
“We’re a non-profit organization that does work against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, so we’re really here to serve this population of women,” she said. “It is a place where women take to the streets to meet certain basic needs: feminine products, personal care items, food.”
While sex trafficking and exploitation are the focus, the center is not turning anyone away, McHenry said.
Getting women off the streets, even for a short time, gives staff the opportunity to do a quick needs assessment, such as the person’s need for safe housing, drug treatment, or a room. valid identity.
“We help them get ID assistance if they need ID,” she said. “We really want to give them a safe place to rest where they know there are people there to help them.”
Sex trafficking is more common than people realize, McHenry said.
“We have recently had cases of human trafficking in Berks County,” she said. “What we really want people to understand is that someone who prostitutes themselves may not voluntarily prostitute themselves. Statistics tell us that nine out of ten female prostitutes are supported. This is really how we see it all. this together. “
FREE is in the process of opening a safe house in an undisclosed location in the county. It is going through the zoning process right now, and when it becomes available, it will help vulnerable women escape the clutches of their exploiters.
“We want to continue providing direct services to victims and survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation,” McHenry said. “A few years ago, in our education, we were only just beginning to see the critical need for available services, especially for victims of trafficking.”
The organization wants other agencies in the community to be informed about FREE and its services so that they can make the referrals they deem appropriate by calling its number, 610-743-4243.
The doors of the drop-in center are open on Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon and the first and third Saturdays of the month from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Other hours will be added in the future.
More information about FREE is available at www.freefromht.org.