CLAYTON, MO - A big league fundraiser this weekend will have a big impact on sex trafficking victims in the St. Louis area. In its third year, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and his non-profit, Big League Impact, will host a karaoke event to support local charities.
This year, Waino's World Sing-Off will benefit Crisis Aid, a charity that has been saving lives around the world since 2002. In St. Louis, Crisis Aid has provided a holistic safe home for more than 175 sex trafficking survivors.
Crisis Aid also partners with local law enforcement to fight sex trafficking and support survivors. Inside the St. Louis County Police Department headquarters in Clayton there is a new place where people trying to escape sex trafficking can get help.
The room has warm lamp-lighting, comforting scents, and inviting decor. It was designed to make survivors comfortable.
"It's a little bit more than just saying, 'You're in a safe environment,'" said Cindy Malott, Director of Advocacy Services for Crisis Aid. "We want people to feel like they were in a safe environment."
In St. Louis, Crisis Aid supports local women, girls, and boys who are being trafficked and sold for sex. In partnership with the Human Trafficking Task Force for Eastern Missouri, Malott used her years of experience working with trauma victims to help create a comfortable place for investigators and victims to speak.
"Oftentimes, the victim wants to speak to law enforcement, they're simply afraid, so this kind of opens that door," she said.
The task force includes investigators from St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, Bridgeton, Maryland Heights, the FBI and Homeland Security.
Sgt. Adam Kavanaugh with the St. Louis County Police Department and a member of the Human Trafficking Task Force said before, they interviewed victims at desks and tables in what he called a "cold environment." He and fellow officers are already seeing the benefits of having this new satellite office to conduct victim interviews.
"It's hard enough on the victims, to begin with, and for us, having them sit at that table is really hard," said Kavanaugh. "A lot of those victims, unfortunately, have been abused and been through a lot, and it's nice for them to have an area where they can sit and just relax a little bit.'
Kavanaugh has been investigating human trafficking for more than 18 years. He said human trafficking is "prolific" in St. Louis because it is located in the crossroads of major hubs where trafficking is happening.
Many of the victims they work with are young girls from the area or from small towns in the region.
"One of the sad things we're starting to see now is a recruitment within our schools and outside of our schools," said Kavanaugh.
Malott said older traffickers often target younger victims. Traffickers make the victim believe they are looking out for their best interest by promising them things like money, shelter, and love.
"We see victims of trafficking from every background, every socioeconomic background, every area from across the state and the region," said Malott. "It's really about someone getting connected with someone who is going to manipulate them into a really horrific situation."
They have worked with 20 people in the new satellite office since it opened in November, said Malott. Some victims may be referred on to the Crisis Aid Refuge Safe House, a local home in an undisclosed location that provides immediate safety, medical and psychiatric care, advocacy, therapy, and life skills to trafficking survivors.
According to Malott, 177 women and girls have stayed at the home since it opened in 2012, but they have also had to turn away just as many due to lack of space. There are eight beds available, and they hope to add four more this year.
Crisis Aid funded the furniture in the new office. After purchasing the furniture, Slumberland on Barret Station Road donated ten Tempurpedic mattresses to the safe home so survivors will have a safe, comfortable place to rest.
The safe home will also benefit from Wainwright's fundraiser this Friday, Jan. 18 from 6-10 p.m. at Dave and Busters in Maryland Heights. Tickets are still available and start at $30.
The Brown Sisters Foundation will match all donations to Crisis Aid in 2019.
To donate to Crisis Aid, visit crisisaid.org/usrefuge or text 314-582-0432.
If you are being sex trafficked and need help, call or text Crisis Aid at 314-714-8229. Help is available 24 hours a day.