Amirah House helps former sex workers recover and thrive

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BOSTON – Armed with faith and a small band of determined volunteers, one couple is preparing to hike New England’s highest mountain to raise money for an organization that gives sexually exploited women a second chance at life.

Stephanie Clarke is the executive director of Amirah, a faith-based non-profit outside of Boston that rehabilitates women who have escaped the sex trade. But it was her husband, Dave Clarke, an avid hiker and outdoorsman, who suggested the couple hike Mount Washington to raise money for the organization. His hope is that this more unconventional fundraiser will raise men’s awareness of the cause and encourage them to become more involved in a cause which attracts predominantly female support. So far, nineteen men and women have joined the “Hike 4 Hope,” which is scheduled for Aug. 27.

Amirah’s leadership is explicit about their strong Christian foundation, noting on the organization’s website that it is their unwavering belief in Christ’s unconditional and redemptive love that drives them forward. But they are equally clear that they are here to serve women of all faiths – or no faith at all –And Amirah places no religious burden on any of their staff members, volunteers, or program participants.

Stephanie herself is a former pastor from Boston’s North Shore who felt called to work with exploited women, joining the team at Amirah in the spring of 2015. She told NewBostonPost that many of the women in the program were lured into the sex trade by boyfriends exploited their emotional vulnerability, got the women addicted to drugs, and, ultimately, used their addiction to imprison them in the sex trade.

While the organization does provide practical addiction counseling, Clarke says the ultimate goal of Amirah’s program is to “pour love back into these women…so they can take the steps they need to take to become everything they were created to be.” The very name “Amirah” is an Arabic word for “princess” or “daughter of a king,” chosen to remind the women who come through their doors of their own innate strength and value.

As part of Amirah’s “whole-person” approach, every woman who enters the program is provided immediately with medical help for her physical needs, as well as counseling to address the host of mental and emotional problems that plague many survivors of sex trafficking.

Although many of these needs will require lifelong attention, the program’s second phase encourages participants to look to the future. Amirah provides career and life coaching, assisting the women in getting part-time jobs and helping them set up a savings plan, while also pursuing educational goals if necessary. This phase constitutes the bulk of time that women spend with Amirah. After completion, they transition to the third and final phase, which is starting their new lives outside of the program that’s sheltered them.

Founded in 2009, Amirah is not the first initiative in Massachusetts to assist survivors of the sex trade. In 2008, Mass General Hospital launched the Human Trafficking Initiative and founded the MGH Freedom Clinic. The clinic provides free, personalized care for victims of human trafficking, sexual or otherwise. However, Amirah remains one of only four safe houses in New England solely dedicated to taking in female survivors of sex trafficking. At eight-person capacity, Amirah’s house, which the organization purchased in 2015 after a successful crowd-funding venture, is the largest of the four, whose total capacity only includes seventeen beds.

At the moment there is a waiting list to enter the program. Stephanie hopes that the upcoming hike, which has so far raised over $12,000, will bring awareness to both the larger cause, and to the work of Amirah itself. All of the hike’s proceeds will go towards operating costs for the organization. Those wishing to contribute, or to join the hike itself, can find more information here.