Empowering Survivors of Trafficking

WHEN ABBY FABIASCHI ’98 decided to leave her high-stress corporate job, her boss said it would be the biggest mistake of her life. She took the risk anyway and hasn’t looked back since.

Fabiaschi turned her sights toward writing a book, taking care of her two children, and becoming a human rights advocate. A few years later, she’s now a published author and cofounder of Empower Her Network (EHN), a nonprofit that collaborates with survivors of human trafficking to help them on a path toward independence.

Operating in several large cities and regions throughout the U.S., EHN helps break down barriers for victims of human trafficking. “Domestic survivors of human trafficking go into immediate aftercare services,” Fabiaschi explains. “When they’ve exhausted those services, there’s a handoff to society, and that is often unsuccessful. So these women are at very high risk for re-trafficking and for homelessness due to a lack of viable alternatives. They often leave aftercare services in the same vulnerable circumstances that led to their initial exploitation.”

That’s where EHN comes in. The organization works closely with victims of human trafficking to ensure the handoff to society is successful. EHN advocates begin by taking time to get to know each participant and her specific needs in order to create a 12- to 18-month individual “empowerment plan.” The goal is that after completing the plan, participants will have reached fiscal independence and ultimately end the exploitation cycle. In short, their life will have been transformed.

The biggest barriers for these women include housing, education, and steady-wage employment. Fabiaschi shares examples of how EHN steps in to help overcome these barriers.

“Most women have no credit, or very poor credit if their trafficker used their credit. So in those examples, we have relationships with landlords who work with our survivors on a special case, taking their application even though they have this barrier,” she says. “The women then pay full rent, and two years later, they do have credit and a landlord who can be their reference.”

Fabiaschi also describes an example of how the organization assists with steady wage employment. “We have survivors who are ready and would love to go back to school, but they have to work two minimum wage jobs—because a minimum wage isn’t a livable wage. Our partners pay a minimum of $15 an hour. And we get these women into jobs where they can go from working 80-hour weeks to making just as much money in one 40-hour a week job…then we can talk about school.”

Prevalent in all 50 states, human trafficking is a $28 billion industry in the U.S. alone. At EHN, 40 percent of victims are American-born (often runaways or children placed into foster care), while 60 percent are immigrants who were lured to America with the false promise of a better life and a job.

Despite the unimaginable hardship these victims have been through, Fabiaschi emphasizes that these women are capable, hardworking, and ready to rewrite their narrative. EHN is currently helping 40 women and will be adding 70 more this year pending funding.

What is most amazing is that the women who complete the program want to give back and be part of the solution. “To get through what they’ve gone through and then be thinking about other people is pretty humbling,” says Fabiaschi.

—Hillary Dooley