When the Lord called Allison Madrigal out of her corporate job, she knew He was also calling her to the anti-trafficking movement. She started observing a number of organizations that were involved in outreach and awareness with others offering long-term housing, however, no one was involved in the middle step: the rescue. “There was no effective way to get the victims out of their situation, assess them, stabilize them, and then place them into the best-care home for them.”
In 2014, armed with a dream and her years of business-world experience, Allison and a team of volunteers launched a 24/7 rescue hotline dedicated specifically to victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Recue Houston sought to fill the gap in the services already being offered to these survivors. The challenge of how to get the hotline number to those looking for help found a simple solution when Allison posed the question, “Why aren’t we just calling them?”
With telephone numbers provided via the internet through the victim’s sex ads, volunteers began making “cold calls,” offering a message of love and hope along with the number of the 24/7 rescue hotline. Law enforcement, healthcare organizations, and other strategic partners also began distributing the number directly to victims of sexual exploitation.
When calls from those seeking help began to come from multiple states across the country, because of the transient nature of the trafficking world, the need to expand beyond the borders of Texas became glaringly apparent. And almost overnight, Rescue Houston became Rescue America. Now, headquartered in Denver, the virtual ministry relies heavily on technology to assist the 12 employees and approximately 250 volunteers in maintaining a coast-to-coast reach.
Today, the organization includes 13 Rescue America outreach hubs located across the country. Theses hubs commit to meeting once a month for two hours, placing outbound phone calls to victims that have sex ads online. About 20 percent of the volunteer callers are men. “Men have a huge success rate calling these victims,” she notes, citing that the caller will stay on the line longer when they hear a male voice.
Some people still question the cold calling method, wondering if receiving a call from a volunteer might cause trouble for the women answering the calls. However, the ministry believes that “for a chance at hope and a way out, it is absolutely worth it,” noting the sad reality that those being trafficked can be “in trouble” with their traffickers’ multiple times a day. “We also cover these calls in prayer, and we believe in the message of love and choose not to be paralyzed with fear but rather to extend love.”
More than 700 victims of sexual exploitation, mostly women but some men as well, have embarked on a journey toward health and healing thanks to Rescue America’s commitment to filling the gap. “We are the broker from the street to the safe home. And we believe the power of the gospel is a key component in the healing process.”
When a victim reaches out via the 24/7 hotline, Rescue America’s Rescue-Revive-Empower exit strategy begins with a critical determination: is the caller ready to leave their situation? If the answer is yes, the exit strategist—likened to a 911 dispatcher—assesses the mental, physical, and emotional status of the victim. The “rescue” takes place when transportation is arranged to a safe location depending on the survivors needs, which can be a hospital, detox center, addiction recovery, hotel, or directly to an emergency care home safe home. Next, the focus is to “revive” with attention to the most pressing, practical needs of food, water, sleep, and safe keeping. After victims are stabilized and their mental, emotional, and spiritual needs are further assessed by the exit strategist, the “empower” process will continue at a long-term housing option that best fits each specific survivor.
"Our call is to rescue the victims of sex trafficking but equally as important, is to deploy the church to do it.
Allison bubbles with enthusiasm when the conversation turns to the Refuge. “We are so grateful for this partnership with Refuge for Women. We can’t do what we do effectively without places like the Refuge.” The new partnership between the equally passionate organizations has already seen one placement a month since March. The organizations’ services mesh seamlessly as the in-depth assessments that coincide with a Rescue America exit make it faster for places like the Refuge to make a right-fit placement.
Eleven organizations have earned “preferred partner home” status including Refuge for Women. This designation means the ministry’s program incorporates a faith component that recognizes the healing power of the Gospel paired with therapeutic, trauma-informed care. “When you combine both of those in the healing journey of a survivor, their success rate skyrockets.” Recent statistics prove the effectiveness of the faith-based, trauma-informed care approach as 70% of those placed by Rescue America in a preferred partner home are still there 30 days out versus only 18% of those placed in a domestic shelter.
Other partners critical to the mission include Southwest Airlines who will fly a survivor to a safe house, waving the requirement of an ID to board the plane. ReloShare’s non-profit arm, Safe Stays, utilizes hotel partners across the country who commit to housing victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking under an alias name, so they can’t be found. Again, no credit card or identification is required.
Rescue America answered the challenge of how to take something from a local level to a national level with passion and determination. But most importantly, they let the Lord lead the way. Allison marvels at how “God built the ministry piece by piece.” She chuckles when she admits it was easy to stay out of His way because she had no idea how to move forward. “I couldn’t get in the way because I didn’t have an agenda.”
Rescue America continues to seek leaders to launch new rescue hubs. And the ministry is actively building the exit team component with an emphasis on engaging more volunteers in the vicinity of their preferred partner homes.
“Our call is to rescue the victims of sex trafficking but equally as important, is to deploy the church to do it. For the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a very systematic, trained, and methodical way. Many people want to help—to do more than give money and pray—but they don’t know how.” Allison encourages anyone interested in partnering with Rescue America to prayerfully consider the opportunities outlined on the organization’s website.