Watch CBS News

Pittsburgh Organization Looks To Help Victims Of Human Trafficking Get Back On Their Feet

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

It's a day to bring awareness to an issue that continues to happen across the country, across Pennsylvania and in Pittsburgh. One local organization is in the process of doing what it can to help human trafficking survivors get back on their feet.

Refuge for Women just moved to Pittsburgh. The organization is in the process of creating an emergency home where human trafficking victims can go when they get out or are rescued. It's the first-of-its-kind home to come to Pennsylvania.

Refuge for Women
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Theresa Golden is the executive director of Refuge for Women Pittsburgh. She gave KDKA a tour of the space the organization is converting into a home.

"We are a major city that's got railways, airport, major interstates that come through. It's a big hub for drive-through and drop-off," said Golden.

Golden said runaways between the ages of 12 and 14 are prime victims because they're most vulnerable. However, she said victims can also be adults, and both men and women.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Pennsylvania ranked number 12 in the number of human trafficking cases reported in 2020. That same year in Allegheny County as a whole, the hotline received information about 28 partial or full trafficking situations taking place.

It's a reality that Refuge for Women is trying to stop by helping victims find a place to go and recover.

The home has 10 bedrooms, a common area where women can eat meals and a detox room when they're first admitted. They will also have access to counselors, can stay up to 90 days and can accommodate up to 16 women.

Rebecca Mackenzie, who lives in Pittsburgh, used to work the streets as a prostitute in Buffalo, New York. She was 14 when she started, but eventually got away with the help of a relative in her early 20s.

"She was driving by and said, 'What are you doing? Get in the car,'" said Mackenzie. "One second can change your whole life, and I got in the car."

She said this home will be crucial for women in need.

"Introduction to shelter is so important because if you rescue someone, where do they go?" said Mackenzie.

Refuge for Women anticipates the home will open in March or April.

If you suspect human trafficking happening, Golden says to call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says some signs to look out for are:

  • Controlling/abuse relationship
  • Changes in appearance, mood or behavior
  • Isolation from family or friends
  • Signs of malnourishment
  • Tattoos or branding
  • Chronic runaway
  • Absences from school or work
  • View CBS News In
    CBS News App Open
    Chrome Safari Continue
    Be the first to know
    Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.