The worst part of Pam Pautz’s job is the referrals. They are sad, and they are constant. (At the time of publishing) Pam serve(d) as the executive director of the North Star Initiative, an organization created to help the victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in Lancaster County. The referrals for women needing help from North Star are not what Pam expected when taking on the job. “I realized trafficking was an issue,” she admits, “but I think it’s when you get the call from the state police and the girl is 19, and she graduated from a local high school, and played soccer on the weekends… and they’re calling because now she’s being trafficked and she’s strung out on heroin or K2. Being a mom with children that age, it’s gut wrenching, because that could be anybody’s daughter.”
It is difficult to imagine that the bucolic tourist area of Lancaster harbors such a deep and dirty secret, but Pam faces the evidence of sex trafficking on a daily basis. “That’s probably the number one question we get asked,” Pam says. “‘Is this really happening in Lancaster County? Are these women and girls who are actually local?’ The answers are ‘yes,’ and ‘yes.’” Lancaster’s tourism industry actually contributes to the problem of trafficking, Pam notes, because “it makes it very easy access for people to come in and leave and not really even be noticed.” Lancaster’s system of major highways and proximity to larger cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and New York also make it a prime stop for traffickers.
In response to the problem, North Star Initiative opened its doors in 2012 with a three-fold mission: to educate and make the public aware of the sex trafficking issue in the area, to develop alliances with organizations and law enforcement to aid in women being restored from trafficking, and to open and operate Lancaster County’s first restoration home for survivors.
“There is limited space across the United States for women coming out of trafficking,” Pam explains, “and many don’t have anywhere to go, except either to a homeless shelter or a domestic violence shelter. But that’s not really what they need. What they need is a holistic approach where you’re actually touching the trauma and offering a restoration to it… We need to heal these women and get them back into society in a healthy way.”
North Star’s group home, called The Harbor, became a reality in March 2016 when the organization purchased and began renovations on a large farmhouse property in Lititz. Beginning in October 2017, The Harbor will provide a home and care to ten adult female victims at a time. “We’re going to deal with their spiritual, mental, and physical well-being,” Pam notes.
“Basically, we’re going to take their world and turn it upside down. Their day will be very structured. They’ll have individual counseling therapy sessions; they’ll have group counseling sessions,” Pam says. The women will also learn valuable life skills such as cooking, staying physically active, and establishing positive relationships. They will have Bible study, art therapy, and other daily activities to help them deal with stress and trauma in healthy ways.
“We’re going to touch the education component,” Pam continues, “because some of these women don’t have their high school diploma, so we’ll have a GED program.” She also hopes to partner with local schools such as Thaddeus Stevens College to support women who might choose a STEM career: “The goal is to put the women on the road to having an earned income that will support them so they aren’t lured back into the sex trade.”
When asked about the future goals for North Star and The Harbor, Pam admits that while she can’t wait to hear success stories from the women going through the program, there is still more work to be done with other populations, such as adolescents and men affected by sex trafficking: “It’s daunting. This isn’t just a teen, or twenty-something girl issue. It’s a child issue. It’s a human issue. We’re trying to give a voice to people who absolutely do not have one. Just to give them a light… a hope… So we’ll do our small part.”