COMPASS Launches the EAST Project to Combat Human Trafficking
On January 4, 2021, COMPASS launched the EAST Project (Embracing change, Acknowledging self-worth, Surpassing obstacles, Transcending circumstances), a move to formalize the programming and services to victims of human trafficking that it has been offering for the past four years. This program’s name symbolizes a roadmap that will be adapted to each participant’s needs. The EAST Project will be housed under the Community Services program and serve youth involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF). While the EAST Project will serve all victims of trafficking and exploitation, its primary focus will be combatting the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Amanda Kelley, a seven-year veteran of COMPASS, has been named the Project Manager; she has been spearheading this work at COMPASS for the past four years. “I am extremely passionate about this work,” says Amanda. “I am looking forward to COMPASS expanding its capacity to serve these vulnerable youth.” As the EAST Project Manager, Amanda will be responsible for the implementation of the program by engaging in internal and external opportunities to further this work. Amanda will continue to serve on multiple CSEC regional task forces, be a liaison with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for CSEC-related cases, take on CSEC cases of her own, and strategize and implement a workforce development program for these vulnerable youth.
CSEC is defined as any sexual activity involving a child for which something of value is given, exchanged, or promised. Due to the hidden nature of the crime, the exact number of youth affected by CSEC in Massachusetts is unknown; however, the lack of exact figures should not delegitimize the need for urgent action. All youth are at risk of being exploited, but there are certain populations who are at disproportionately higher risk due to their vulnerabilities. These include adolescents who have been abused, neglected, or exposed to family violence or addiction; youth involved in the child welfare system (e.g., DCF); “runaway” or homeless youth; and LGBTQ+ youth. COMPASS is proud to take the lead on providing necessary services to affected youth who are referred by the 19 DCF offices with which the organization works. This program aims to create a solid foundation that these youth can take with them as they transition to longer-term support systems.
To combat the ongoing injustice of CSEC in Massachusetts, the COMPASS Community Services program and its regional partners in Greater Lowell and Greater Worcester have been raising awareness among employees, service providers, communities, parents, and youth about the dangers and warning signs of CSEC. Four years ago, COMPASS served as a founding member of the Lowell Taskforce to End Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in conjunction with several local service agencies. More recently, COMPASS has also begun to partner with–and have a strong presence on–the Worcester CSEC Task Force, an association of twenty-three Worcester County-based organizations committed to protecting the County’s exploited youth and raising awareness about risk factors for exploitation. Both of these groups provide opportunities for training, awareness, and outreach in addition to a place for local service providers to expand their collective impact in their catchment areas.
According to Amanda, “creating opportunities is the first step to systemic change. This program’s holistic approach will give youth access to the necessary preparation for success in the workplace and/or in post-secondary education, key elements in breaking the chains of the CSEC cycle.”