Samaritan House breaks ground on housing facility to help youth human trafficking survivors

Posted at 6:28 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 18:28:35-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - News 3 Investigates has been taking a deep dive into human trafficking happening in Hampton Roads.

Samaritan House, a Virginia Beach-based group, is taking action by creating more resources for youth trafficking victims.

After Va. Beach pastor arrested for solicitation of prostitution, human trafficking in Hampton Roads investigated

“I call it Samaritan house 2.0,” Courtney Pierce, Anti-Trafficking Outreach and Direct Service Coordinator for Samaritan House told News 3.

For years, the group has answered the call to help survivors of human trafficking in Hampton Roads.

“We want the scourge to be gone from this city, and from all of Hampton Roads,” Robin Gauthier, Samaritan House Executive Director said.

Thursday, the organization broke ground on "The Hallow.”

It’s a facility, News 3 is told, that's unique to Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia

It’s designed to help trafficking survivors under 18 years old as a safe, extended stay, secure residential facility.

“This really is modeled after the work that we’re already doing,” Pierce said.

Tuesday, News 3 got an exclusive tour of the site ahead of the groundbreaking where "The Hallow" will be built.

“This is a facility that will bring much needed support,” Pierce added. “Education, vocation, possible volunteer opportunities [and] working on their mental health.”

The facility will be on two acres at an undisclosed location in Virginia Beach’s Lynnhaven area. Initially, it will be able to have up to eight people and will be staffed 24/7.

“It will feel more like a home,” Gauthier said. “Every trafficked youth will have their own bedroom. There will be a recreation area, an education classroom. Anything to help regulate them and help them deal with their trauma symptoms. We’ll have lots of activities for them that are trauma-informed.”

“We want to make sure that the furniture lends to being comfortable and calm,” Gauthier added. “We want to make sure that the paint color chosen for the walls, and the things that are in their rooms all lend to someone healed from trauma.”

News 3 previously introduced you to Tanya Gould.

Gould, a Hampton Roads human trafficking survivor, now serves at the state level as Director of Anti-Human Trafficking for Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares.

“I do this because I remember what it was like to try and find resources, to try and find help, to try and find a way out,” Gould told News 3. “I remember how it felt to feel ashamed, and to not feel like I could come to community members or families to say, ‘This is what happened to me. I need help.’ I didn't see anybody else doing that.”

When it comes to helping survivors, she believes there needs to be more of a victim-centered approach and an emphasis on trauma-informed services.

“If you're working in this field, you need to make sure that your programs, the programs that you're working with, are truly and deeply trying to inform,” she said. “A survivor comes forward, there's so much care that has to be considered when taking care of survivors.”

Recently, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order addressing human trafficking by creating the Human Trafficking Prevention and Survivor Support Commission.

The commission will coordinate with cabinet members to accomplish three goals.

First, increasing enforcement by, in part, coordinating with law enforcement, increasing targeting of illicit massage businesses, and ensuring all law enforcement are trained in identifying trafficking cases.

Next, empower survivors by teaming up with nonprofits and the private sector to raise resources addressing mental and behavioral recovery, empower survivors towards a career path and help victims with housing.

Finally, there’s enhancing education. This will be through raising awareness of signs of potential trafficking, requiring schools to provide online safety training, and expanding awareness of resources, including the National Trafficking Hotline.

Meanwhile, Samaritan House is looking ahead to continue helping survivors in Virginia alongside the new administration.

“This is one of the most exciting moments for me as executive director,” Gauthier said. “To know that we’re building a facility that’s going to change the trajectory of lives of trafficked youth.”

You can reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 by calling 1 (888) 373-7888. You can also text 233733.

Related: Hampton Roads survivor, FBI agents speak out about human trafficking