Program Spotlight: TurnAround, Inc.

Apr 06th, 2023

This quarter we spoke to Amanda Rodriguez, the Executive Director of TurnAround, Inc., to learn more about the services they provide. Visit their website here.

What makes TurnAround's anti sex trafficking program and the communities you serve special?

TurnAround has been providing services to survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence in Baltimore for more than 40 years. In 2011, we were the first comprehensive victim service provider in Maryland to provide services to human trafficking survivors. Since then, we have served countless sex-trafficking survivors, including more than 1,000 children. Incredibly, there are better legal protections for adult survivors than for children. Our experts in sexual trauma and crisis response offer multiple layers of support, responding to our 24-hour phone and text helplines, securing temporary shelter and other basic needs for survivors, and collaborating with them to facilitate their long-term recovery through individual and group counseling, as well as legal guidance. As the Baltimore and Howard County provider in the state’s Regional Navigator care network for sex trafficked children, our crisis response team is often a child’s first connection to safety.

Tell us about TurnAround's current community prevention efforts.

Our most urgent efforts at the beginning of 2023 are to pass Safe Harbor legislation in the state house to protect child sex trafficking victims from facing criminal charges. Currently, children who have been trafficked can be charged with prostitution and other offenses. In other words, children are being charged for having sex — the very thing that makes them a victim. This threat of punishment prevents children from coming forward and receiving the services they need. As an adult survivor who was trafficked as a child recently told me, “Safe harbor would bypass so much unnecessary trauma.” 

Maryland’s Regional Navigator is a network of specially trained child sex trafficking service providers in nearly every jurisdiction in the state that are ready and capable of serving trafficked children. We know how to respond effectively to them. These simply do not belong in the juvenile justice system; they are victims, not offenders. New York passed the first Safe Harbor law almost 20 years ago and more than 38 states have passed some form of Safe Harbor legislation since. This law is long overdue in Maryland. Sex traffickers who exploit children should be punished. Their victims should not.

Why are you a member of MCASA?

All the work we do at TurnAround benefits from the state coalition leadership and coordination at MCASA. We believe collaboration across sectors, regions, and areas of expertise strengthens survivor care everywhere.  

What called you to your work?

As a former sex crimes prosecutor, I come to this work as an advocate for survivors. At TurnAround, we believe that developing a community safer from sexual violence and exploitation requires work at the individual level, the community level, and in the systems of government where substantive, permanent change is made. TurnAround has accomplished important legislative victories that make a difference in survivors’ lives. 

How has the pandemic and its aftermath affected this program and the survivors you serve?

As you know, there was a significant increase in reported instances of rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence during the pandemic. We had to move quickly to meet the increased need in our communities. We immediately pivoted to new service delivery models, re-imagined our community engagement program, added a text helpline to be more accessible to survivors, and expanded our capacity to provide mental health counseling. We are particularly proud of the program we developed with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Baltimore. Our outreach coordinators placed in the Clubs conduct educational sessions about sexual abuse awareness and prevention and are also trained to do onsite crisis intakes. Through this partnership we are not only able to educate children in the community but also provide them with the opportunity to disclose to a trained adult in a familiar environment where they feel safe.

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