Hoping to start the first certified group home for former victims of sex trafficking in Montana, Constance Neumann, founder and executive director of Safe Haven, has less than two months left to raise the $435,000 still needed to purchase the desired house.
Discussions with various law enforcement agencies and officials since launching the endeavor nearly three years ago led Neumann, of Kalispell, to the need for community awareness as well as a safe place for freed victims to restart their lives.
“They need a loving family environment,” Neumann said. “It revolutionizes their life. They go from captivity to freedom.”
Neumann said she first heard about the extent of human trafficking around four years ago while listening to a radio program.
“I just broke into tears, and I thought I’ve got to do something about this,” she said.
Through research and local connections, Neumann started looking for ways to help until a couple years ago when she found the perfect house to start a group home.
The location of the home remains undisclosed for security reasons, but Neumann said it sits on 5 acres of land and has six bedrooms and four bathrooms.
The need for funding for the project prompted Neumann to set up a nonprofit organization called Safe Haven, establishing a board of directors and connecting with local resources, including teachers, therapists, sex-trafficking experts, trauma victim-care specialists and volunteers.
Plans for the home revolve around protecting, caring for and rehabilitating victims following their removal from slavery by creating a safe and structured environment in which they can begin to heal.
“They’re slaves. They’re treated like slaves,” Neumann said. “They would need to learn how to trust again because their trust has wholly been violated.”
Upon entering the home, capable of hosting up to eight girls ages 11 through 17, the girls would join a family led by a housemother and housefather.
Therapy, Neumann said, would play a major part in the rehabilitation process, with specific plans varying from girl to girl based on their evaluated needs and experiences.
“The girls are obviously suffering from severe trauma,” Neumann said. “There’s a number of issues involved.”
In some cases, Neumann said, girls have been violated several times a day for years. Some have been forced into drug addictions as a method of control. Some have been tortured.
“This is the first step in freeing them from the slavery environment, but they’re still going to be slaves in their minds and emotions,” Neumann said. “That’s going to be a big part of the healing is to break through that captivity, slavery mindset that’s mental and emotional.”
Through Safe Haven, each girl would likely attend an hour-long session with a visiting therapist every day, five days a week, with incorporated group therapy and equine therapy. Residents would also take part in raising some of their own food and caring for animals on-site.
“Those things are very grounding and teach responsibility,” Neumann said.
Safety-wise, Neumann said the home will be equipped with cameras and a security system, and the house parents would live in the home full time to provide round-the-clock care.
“There’d be a lot of unconditional love at the same time helping them understand borders and boundaries,” Neumann said.
Neumann’s plan for the home outlines a two-year program. Girls would spend up to one year in the group home depending on their progress and would then transition into a foster or adoptive home for a second year of follow-up therapy.
A three-year projected business plan and budget would cost an estimated $150,000 the first year, starting with two girls living in the home.
Bringing in more, Neumann said, would cost an additional $20,000 per girl. Hoping to increase by two more girls, the second-year budget would come to around $190,000.
First, however, Neumann said, she needs to find funding to purchase the house itself.
The buy-sell agreement between Safe Haven and the nonprofit currently occupying the home ends at the end of February, by which time, Neumann needs to raise the $435,000 to purchase the house and pay for additional closing costs and fees.
After speaking with a number of former sex-trafficking victims, she said she feels confident in the role such a home would play in changing the lives of the girls it houses.
“The goal is to assimilate them back into the culture to be productive young women that can make a difference,” she said. “They’re able to function on a daily basis where they’re not slaves.”
Now in the second week of January, designated National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Neumann said she’s praying for what she calls “angel donors” to make large contributions in order to bring the project to fruition.
Whether she gets the needed funds or not, she said, failure is not an option. Whatever money she raises will go toward supporting the individual homes currently relied upon to house and care for trafficking victims in Montana.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity to really transform a life that has been destroyed,” Neumann said. “Every human life counts. This is a group that needs to know they’re more than slaves, and they need freedom.”
For more information or to make a donation, visit https://safehavenmt.org/ or call 406-426-2680.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.