Featured on White Paper: CSE Institute Report on CSE in Pennsylvania Pg 24
Formed in 2010, The Valley Against Sex Trafficking is an anti-trafficking coalition located in the Lehigh Valley. The VAST was co-founded by Heather Evans and Beck Sullivan, who are both licensed social workers. Evans and Sullivan saw the need for an organization designed to combat human trafficking in their local area. The VAST’s mission statement emphasizes that the organization is a collaborative effort among community members, service providers, businesses, law enforcement, and other organizations.
The VAST employs a four-part model, highlighting the following priorities: awareness, prevention, action, and aftercare. Raising awareness of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, includes holding community meetings every other month, hosting public campaigns and fundraisers, and arranging educational panels for the community to attend. In March 2015, the VAST coordinated a panel with a Bethlehem Township Police sergeant, a Pennsylvania Homeland Security agent, Evans of the VAST’s aftercare team, and a representative of Truth Home, a victims’ services provider in the Lehigh Valley. More than seventy people from the local community attended the panel discussion.
The VAST’s prevention aspect is two-fold; it includes education on issues of demand as it relates to the commercial sexual exploitation and trainings on how to identify at-risk populations. One of the VAST’s key prevention goals includes reaching out to victims in need. Currently, the
VAST is developing a human trafficking curriculum that is ageappropriate for middle school aged children. The VAST also frequently connects identified atrisk youth with mentors, who are volunteers from the community. The VAST has clear goals for their action outreach plan. They work closely with law enforcement on issues of human trafficking. These efforts include receiving victim referrals from law enforcement, and conducting trainings with law enforcement on victim services and identification as well as other issues. The VAST also encourages community members to get involved on issues of human trafficking as part of its action outreach plan.
Finally, to address the VAST’s priority of aftercare, they provide direct services to victims and survivors. These services include shelter, food, clothing, education and vocation training, social support, legal services referrals, and counseling. The VAST relies heavily on community volunteers to assist with meeting the needs of trafficking victims. Through all these efforts, the VAST has had great success in uniting people on issues related to human trafficking in the Lehigh Valley. In fact, their success has been so noteworthy, the CSE Institute is documenting the VAST’s best practices, so that those practices can be passed along to coalitions doing similar work. The VAST is eager to educate other communitybased coalitions and hopeful that successful efforts to combat commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking will continue throughout Pennsylvania.