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Mainers working to rescue kids from trafficking abroad and at home

Stop Trafficking US and Maria's Safe House are on a mission to save kids from being sexually exploited.

MAINE, Maine — The National Human Trafficking Hotline, which works with law enforcement and other providers to help victims and survivors, has identified 341 victims in Maine since the nonprofit was founded 16 years ago. Saving children from predators is a long-time mission for several Mainers living worlds apart.

Bob McClure and his wife Karin are working to open a safe house in Peru for young girls rescued from human trafficking. These are children who have been snatched off the streets or sold to traffickers by their own families, who couldn't afford to care for them.

"So they can get the medical care that they need and the psychological care to help them understand that they have value. You don't need to return to this life," McClure explained. 

Maria's Safe House is in Oyotun, Peru, Karin's home country. It's a long way from Portland, where McClure spent 18 years serving as a chaplain for the Sea Dogs. 

Currently, the home has four beds for girls 11 to 14. The nonprofit is still raising money to furnish the house for 12 girls, who will receive medical care, tutoring, and possibly a chance to attend community college. The couple is also working on strategic planning with an elder from Covenant Family Fellowship in Windham. 

A national nonprofit, Safe House Project, which provides a safe haven for victims of human trafficking, is expected to assist with training staff at Maria's Safe House, about the different levels of trauma survivors go through.    

"Making sure they will be equipped to handle some of the trauma and situations these girls have been through because we are going to have different levels of trauma and issues these girls are dealing with," Bob explained. A former school property in Lima was also donated to the nonprofit. The hope is to open a second safe house and after-school program.

Back in Maine, Catherine Ann Wilson, a sex trafficking survivor, founded Stop Trafficking US more than 10 years ago. 

The nonprofit advocates for children and adults experiencing sexual abuse by providing tools and education for teachers, medical providers, prosecutors, church leaders, and law-enforcement officials. Last summer, Wilson was honored with the Myra Kraft Community MVP Award, in memory of the late wife of Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. 

The award included $10,000 for a statewide training conference at St. Dominic's Academy in Auburn in October 2022. The conference drew more than 300 students who learned about staying safe online.    

Wilson is working with Homeland Security on an upcoming fall conference addressing the trauma first responders experience when rescuing children. Wilson says keeping kids safe starts in your own backyard.

"How we do that is limit access to our kids, whether online or in person," Wilson added. 

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