SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) —
“Love can translate into a lot of things. As a ministry here at Eastpoint, we are just about loving.”Nancy Gallinaro started the “just love” ministry at the Eastpoint Christian Church in South Portland after working in a safe house with minors who’d been trafficked for sex in south Florida.
On a fall evening inside the church, Gallinaro is sharing the goals and the joys of “just love”, as well as the challenges of reaching young victims in need of such love.
“It’s about loving them unconditionally, not being judgmental because they could tell if you said something and kind of bristled up about it, they’re like ‘See! You’re just judging me. You’re not here to help me, you’re here for yourself…like everybody else…trying to use me for something.”
She teaches her congregation about sex trafficking and the seemingly arbitrary number that transforms a victim into a suspect. “Anybody who’s under 18 is considered trafficked. Anybody over 18 has to prove they’ve been trafficked.”
In the audience are victims, some who don’t want to be identified and others who find healing by talking about their past.
Tricia Grant was a teen mom who says she came from an unstable home and was sexually abused by a family friend.
“I was trafficked when I was 15 years-old in Auburn. It took me 16 years to realize that that was what had happened to me.”
Grant says she was scared that her son would be taken away from her if she told someone what was happening to her so she never did.
“I was broken. I was very broken. I was confused, I was terrified.”
Grant and a friend were at a restaurant, having a private conversation when they were approached by a men who had been listening to their conversation and would later become their traffickers.
Grant says the men had private details from listening to her conversations, that were "needed to trap" her. The traffickers told the women about an opportunity at a nearby building. Grant and her friend went and were trapped.
“I was being forced to do things I didn’t want to do which was the same situation I was in before,” Grant said.
Nearly two decades later, Grant is working with at risk youth in Lewiston trying to prevent them from ever heading down a path similar to hers.
“We’re working with a group of nine at risk girls who could be at risk for being trafficked. Just to educate them and to let them know that this is a reality, it happened to me, it’s happening to people around you that you might not notice. We don’t want this to happen to you.”
And thanks to a grant, she’s taking the message to the classroom in the form of a ten week anti-trafficking education program.
Nancy Gallinaro is also working on a program connecting her church with law enforcement to shine a light on the gaps that too many young girls slip through.
“As a church, we have the belief that where there is light there can be no darkness and I think anybody would agree with that and that’s really what we want to do.”