Vanessa Volz, Sojourner House Executive Director, wrote the following Op Ed for the Providence Journal:

Imagine you’ve moved to the United States by yourself, far from home and far from family. You’ve arrived without documentation, so obtaining employment is
difficult, and without employment there’s no money for food and no security deposit for housing. You’re at your most desperate, your most vulnerable, when somebody makes you an offer. Promises are made, guarantees given, and soon enough you’re working in conditions you’d normally find unacceptable.

You find yourself working long hours and being constantly belittled, but you think, “At least I have a job, I can work my way up from here.” Then your employer tells you they’re withholding your wages, to repay the “debt” you owe them, which is a debt accrued by accepting their offer of transportation and a place to stay.

Without money of your own, the cycle continues.

You’re forced to continue being reliant on your “employer” (for food, housing, transportation, medical care, etc.), accruing even more debt in their mind. Whenever you make moves to leave, to seek help, you hear the same threats:

“You still owe me. I’ll tell you when you’ve worked it all off.”

“Where are you going to go? No one will hire you without documents. I’ll call the police.”

So what do you do? Without money, security, protection – what options do you have?

This is the experience of many victims of human trafficking, and why we at Sojourner House provide tailored support to victims of trafficking, to provide them with options and guide them to freedom. January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a time where we ask our community to consider the experiences of trafficking victims and invite them to learn the key indicators present in most trafficking situations.

Sojourner House provides the only shelter and transitional housing program in Rhode Island for victims of human trafficking. In 2022, we celebrated the 6-year anniversary of our THEIA project (Trafficking, Housing, Empowerment, Immigration and Advocacy), which is a collaborative effort with Project Weber/RENEW to provide shelter, transitional housing, and supportive services to victims of human trafficking.

THEIA clients have access to safe housing, basic needs, support groups, immigration advocacy, recovery assistance, case management, life-skills training, and trauma-informed supportive services.

We’ve served a total of 166 clients since the program’s inception, welcoming 36 trafficking victims into the THEIA shelter this past year alone.

With our community’s help, we can reach so many more. If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in an activity and cannot leave, whether it is sex work, housework, farm work, factory work, retail work, restaurant work, or any other activity, call our helpline at (401) 861-6191 to access help and services.
There are many ways to support Sojourner House and the needs of our THEIA clients. At present, donations of grocery store gift cards, bus passes, and furniture are most pressing. Visit our website at for educational resources and information on volunteer and donor opportunities.

Vanessa Volz is the executive director of SojournerHouse.

Founded in 1976, Sojourner House is a comprehensive Rhode Island-based nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter, supportive housing, and trauma-informed empowering services to victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Just like many community-based organizations throughout the world, Sojourner House quickly adapted to the pandemic and changed the way they were doing things in order to reach some of our most vulnerable, including survivors who identify as LGBTQ+.

Sojourner House began answering its crisis hotline 24/7, and launched a texting line for victims to connect with an advocate in a safer way. Additionally, all services were provided virtually, including support groups for LGBTQ+ and male-identifying survivors, and a new support group was created specifically for folks who identity as trans or gender non-conforming. Free at-home HIV tests were made available through an online request form (, and then mailed directly to clients to test themselves safely at home. Sojourner House staff also became certified in 2020 to administer Hep C testing, expanding their sexual health advocacy and support for victims of abuse at a critical time.

In addition to expanded services for LGBTQ+ survivors, Sojourner House adjusted to ensure that all victims of abuse throughout Rhode Island had access to what they needed to stay safe throughout the pandemic. They answered 40% more crisis calls, gave out 150% more basic-necessity supplies, provided 100% more sessions of service, and served 23% more clients in 2020 than they did in 2019, indicating that community-based services were vital during the pandemic.

Most astonishing was the amount of rental and utility assistance Sojourner House paid out directly to survivors. In a normal year, Sojourner House pays approximately $26,000 for rental and utility assistance for victims. Since the pandemic began, they have paid out over $500,000 to victims so they could stay safe and not have to make the difficult choice of returning to an abuser or becoming homeless. Although the pandemic is not over and the future is still uncertain, Sojourner House stays committed to ensuring that LGBTQ+ survivors of abuse feel safe and regain hope. For information on Sojourner House’s services or our LGBTQ+ program, please call our Drop In Center at (401) 861-6191, or visit our website at For crisis support, please call our 24 hour hotline at (401) 765-3232.