Refuge for Women Pittsburgh’s Emergency Home is OPEN!

October 18, 2023 | Duquesne University Power Center | Refuge for Women Pittsburgh and Duquesne University present “Need to Know: Sex Trafficking in Pittsburgh,” a free community event featuring an expert panel with representatives from the FBI, Pittsburgh Law Enforcement, a Survivor, a Therapist, and Refuge for Women.

We are honored to share with you that Refuge for Women Pittsburgh’s Emergency Home is OPEN!

On September 11, 2023, after two years of work, Refuge for Women Pittsburgh opened an Emergency Home in a 10,800 square foot building, located at an undisclosed City of Pittsburgh location.  Here, we can provide 10 women with emergency housing, care and comfort and intensive treatment and stabilization services, including detoxification support, for up to 90 days/each as soon as they are identified and/or referred to Pittsburgh’s Emergency Home. We project that we will serve 30 women in Year 1 of operation and 60 women in Year 2 of operations.

“We are overwhelmed with gratitude for those who have followed their hearts and helped us to reach this monumental goal of opening this home,” said Theresa Golden, Executive Director of Refuge for Women Pittsburgh.

Why an Emergency Home in Pittsburgh?

Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are working to free survivors of trafficking. However, in Pennsylvania, there are few places where they can place survivors after they are identified. Emergency housing provides a much-needed service that allows frontline organizations, law enforcement, medical facilities, crisis centers, etc. to have a place where women can be housed and treated. Providing emergency housing at no cost can keep these women safe and give them a way out of their dangerous circumstances with the 24/7 support necessary to begin healing physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Sex Trafficking in the Pittsburgh Region

On June 22, 2022, local Pittsburgh news stations reported that a Polish Hill man faced 81 charges across six rape cases because of a months-long investigation by City of Pittsburgh Police and the FBI. The man assaulted, raped multiple women, and forced them into prostitution – including incidences when the women were unconscious and filmed – by supplying them with drugs and threatening violence and denial of access to basic needs. Based on evidence discovered in the man’s home, authorities are estimating there are now at least 31 female survivors of this one alleged Pittsburgh sex trafficker.

This is just one example of human trafficking – a problem of epic proportions, and one that is significant here in Pennsylvania. Safe House Project’s 2023 Annual Report  estimated that only 1% of trafficking survivors are identified and estimated that 19,200 people in Pennsylvania are victims of trafficking. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received – nationally – over 275,000 contacts relating to more than 63,000 cases. These cases represent over 134,000 survivors.   For Pennsylvania, the Hotline received 6,588 contacts from 2007 through 2020 representing 1,705 cases and 3,646 survivors. Pennsylvania state government does not maintain independent statistics on all reports of human trafficking cases, so data does not tell the whole story.

Meanwhile, trafficking goes unrecognized and underreported every day in Pennsylvania.

How is Pittsburgh’s Emergency Home different than other organizations?

While there are several organizations in the area that work with women in these situations, the overall resources are very limited. Some provide clothing, food, toiletries, and referrals to services as well as possibly a day or two in a hotel. However, they do not offer emergency residential housing, nor do they provide intensive, in-house services for the emotional and therapeutic needs of trafficking survivors. There are other organizations can provide transitional and long-term housing, the wait for admission spans days to weeks, leaving the women no immediate escape from their desperate situation. Also, homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters provide safety but lack the intensive trauma care that a sex trafficking survivor needs.

We continue to develop working relationships and partnerships with existing service providers who we collaborate with to help sex trafficking survivors. These include multiple anti-human trafficking task forces, and more than 25+ agencies like Women’s Center & Shelter, PAAR, Familylinks, The Red Door, and Light of Life Missions.

How are women served in the Emergency Home?

Our evidence-based, trauma-informed program is designed to address specifically the types of traumas associated with being exploited or trafficked. Our licensed therapist and a registered nurse will assist with mental health and medical needs while social workers, a case manager, and other support team members round out the staff.

Women enter our program voluntarily. Weekly, residents follow a schedule that includes classes about behavioral health and life skills, groups for addiction recovery, and appointments for individual therapy and medical care. Residents make and share meals together with food from our pantry, participate in music and art therapies and craft and cooking classes, exercise and join group outings, and attend devotionals and worship services.

For their safety, all residents are required to follow house rules, including monitored use of telephones computers, and electronic devices. If a resident must attend appointments to address legal, medical, or other issues, they are accompanied by a staff member or volunteer.

(Please note that Refuge for Women Pittsburgh does not require a woman to profess faith or participate in faith-based activities.)

History of Refuge for Women in Pittsburgh

For the past four years, Refuge for Women (RFW), a national, faith-based nonprofit with 10 sites in 5 states has been working in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, providing services and support to sex trafficking survivors. From work with law enforcement officials, RFW identified that Pittsburgh would be a site to expand its evidenced-based, trauma-informed program for a much-needed Refuge for Women Emergency Home (RFWEH).

Over the past two years, a dedicated team of local board members, staff, and volunteers have worked to open the Emergency Home.  A building, at an undisclosed location in the City of Pittsburgh, was purchased in December 2021. This beautiful maintained, three-story building – with a full basement, ten bedrooms, and nine bathrooms – is perfectly suited to Refuge for Women’s mission of offering hope and healing to survivors of trafficking and sex exploitation.  The building has been decorated and arranged to be a HOME, not an institution, where residents will receive care and comfort, along with evidenced-based, trauma-informed services.

While we were working to open the Emergency Home (September 2021 through September 2023), we provided services to 60 women (not all sex trafficking survivors) since September 2021.  We are continuing to work with the City of Pittsburgh Police and FBI to assist those survivors of the sex trafficker identified in Polish Hill (please see the beginning of this overview).  Since June 2022, we have placed 7 survivors of the Polish Hill Sex Trafficker at other RFW sites.  In addition to this case, we have received calls from women survivors who are hearing about us from our nonprofit partners and seeking support.

For the past two years, we have provided extensive education and outreach to hundreds of local community leaders, nonprofit providers, government agencies, education institutions, faith-based organizations, and members of the public. Our goal is to explain the severity of this issue in our region and how we all can help women who have been sold for sex and want to leave “The Life.”

Partners and Resources are Needed to Support Survivors!

“Once the Emergency Home is operating and financially supported, we plan to add long-term housing, and transitional housing to Pittsburgh. With the Emergency Home, these three residential treatment programs will provide a two-year continuum of care for the women completely free of charge,” explained Theresa Golden.

Over the past two years, we have worked to create a diversified revenue stream and raise funds to support our work with survivors.  We are applying for licensing so that we can bill Medicaid for services at the Emergency Home, and pursuing federal and state government funds that we can bring to our area. Finally, we are enlisting the support of foundations and individual donors who are dedicated to rescuing and supporting sex trafficking survivors.

We are actively seeking partners – volunteers, funders, allies, and ambassadors – to help us support survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation and increase local prevention and education efforts targeted for vulnerable populations.

To learn how you can help us with this critical need, please contact our local office at 740-792-7394 or email Executive Director Theresa Golden, RN at or Development Director Michele Margittai at or 412-519-0269.

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