Local shelter for human-trafficking victims planned

Laconia Police Officer Eric Adams and Bethany Cottrell are part of an newly formed organization that is working to establish a safe house and treatment facility in the Laconia area for women who have been victimized by human trafficking. Fundraising is already underway for Bridgid's House of Hope. (Michael Mortensen/Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — The state’s first shelter and treatment facility for women who are victims of human trafficking could be opening in the Laconia area, perhaps by the end of next year, according to two people who are behind the initiative.

The fundraising phase is now underway to establish Brigid’s House of Hope, which would serve as a safe house for human trafficking survivors and would also offer an 18-month residential, individualized, trauma-informed, whole-person program designed to help victims to get their lives back on track.

Laconia Police Officer Eric Adams and Bethany Cottrell, both of whom serve on the newly formed Bridgid’s House board, said the goal is to provide a place where women will receive services to help them work through their physical, mental, emotional, social, and vocational trauma. The house would take in women from all parts of the state.

“We have chosen the Laconia area because it it centrally located,” Adams explained. The facility would have six or seven beds for women going through the 18-month treatment and rehabilitation program, with another one or two beds for emergency cases. There would be a minimum of three full-time staff members. Social service professionals already serving the area would help to run many of the programs.

Fundraising has already begun, Adams and Cottrell said.

This Saturday there will be an event called Bridgid’s Boutique where new or nearly new women’s clothing will be on sale between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Unwind Day Spa, located at 1934 Lakeshore Road (formerly B. Mae Denny’s restaurant) in Gilford. All the proceeds will go to the Bridgid’s House fund, Cottrell said. More fundraising events will be taking place in the coming six to eight months.

The aim is to get Bridgid’s House up and running in a year’s time.

“This can be done,” Adams said, referring to the goal.

Adams, who spends much of his time working with the city’s drug users, said sex trafficking in the Laconia area and elsewhere in the state is not as easy to spot as it is in more urban areas.

"For the most part you’ll see things through websites or on the dark web. It’s hard to track,” he said.

“We don’t have strips (where prostitutes hang out),” Cottrell added.

She said there is widespread misconception that most women caught in the web of human trafficking are from other parts of the country or even from foreign countries.

“The majority of the people reaching out for services (here in the state) are New Hampshire residents and New England residents,” Cottrell explained.

And Adams emphasized that not every woman involved in human trafficking is a prostitute.

“It can be child trafficking, labor trafficking, as well as sex trafficking,” he said.

Adams and Cottrell said a safe house is critical if efforts to help rehabilitate victims are going to have a positive effect.

A safe house is crucial to tackling the issue because the women who want to leave the lives they have been leading need need a place to live where they will be protected from from those who have been victimizing or trafficking them.

But beyond a safe place to stay, Bridgid’s House will provide counselors and other social service workers who will mental health, substance-abuse, and medical, dental services. In addition residents will receive life-skills training, education programs and job training during their 18-month stay. Having the whole range of services available in once place is key to the program’s effectiveness, Cottrell said.

Adams stressed that community support is critical. “Education is as key here with any kind of human service program. This is no different,” he said.

“The more it’s identified the more people understand the problem,” Cottrell added.

“The biggest issue is to get the word out about what we are trying to do,” Adams said.

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