Safe and sound

Written by Jackie Mora

Rebirth Homes raises funds to open home for victims

An evening of dining, music and prayer brought members of the community in unison to shed light on the heinous crime of human trafficking that affects 35 million people worldwide.

When most people think of human trafficking, they envision exploited women in underdeveloped countries, but the ugly truth is that thousands of people are trafficked through Riverside every single day.

Debbie Martis, founder and CEO of Rebirth Homes, held a fundraising dinner for her non-profit organization on Nov. 12, in the Big Red Barn of an estate located in Riverside’s Historic Greenbelt.

In 2008, Martis learned the shocking statistic that 27 million people were enslaved in human trafficking. As a woman of Christian faith, she said she prayed for years.

In 2012, Martis believes God gave her the vision to rebuild abandoned homes in the city for survivors.

Not only will survivors have a place to lay their head, the homes will provide a 24 month program designed for spiritual, physical, emotional and mental healing. The survivors will also develop job skills so they can be ready to transition into their new beginnings.

“Many people don’t know that Riverside is a hotbed for human trafficking and as of 2014 there was more money made buying and selling people for sex than drug trafficking,” said Martis in a video posted on Rebirth Home’s Facebook page.

The despicable fact is that predators are looking to sell people because unlike drugs, they can be sold over and over again for continuous profit.

All types of people can become victims, but the average age girls are trafficked is 13.

Ann Rogan shared how this issue personally touched her life through her niece, Sara Kruzan.

“The most devastating thing to me about her story is how many people while she was growing up touched her life,” Rogan said. “How many people in the system touched her life, even myself, I didn’t realize how bad her situation was. I wish I had known more about human sex trafficking at that time. But nobody did. No one did.”

In 1994, Kruzan’s case was well publicized as she was only 16 years old when she killed her pimp in a motel room in Riverside.  Her trial was over in three days and she was sentenced to life without parole plus 4 years for the use of a firearm.

After a period of time, the media became interested in the issue of teen sex trafficking. Seven lawyers came together to take on Kruzan’s case pro bono publico.  Kruzan had support from her aunt, legal team and people such as Phillip Calvin McGraw, who profiled her case on his program “Dr. Phil.”

A 98 page writ was filed in Kruzan’s defense detailing all of the horrific physical, sexual and emotional abuse she experienced throughout her childhood.

After spending 19 years in prison, she was released after the attorney general looked at her writ and could not believe she was sentenced to life without parole.

Kruzan now advocates for sex trafficking victims, teen victims and speaks out against sentencing teenagers to life without parole.

“I’ve known Ann for almost 30 years and I knew Sara when she was a little girl and I used to do her hair,” said Rosalyn Kraut, family friend of Rogan. “So it became very close to me and of course to my friend.”

Kraut also shared that she has a niece of her own who is trapped in human trafficking. She wants to help support the cause as much as she can.

“As I got closer to this I thought yes, it’s a good thing they’re trying to start a home which I want to volunteer to help,” Kraut said. “I actually donated a whole bunch of furniture that they’re going to put in the house.”

Erin Murphy, who is a volunteer and grant writer for Rebirth Homes helped to coordinate the event. She said she feels encouraged meeting people like founder Debbie Martis who are so motivated to create change in the community and are willing to take big risks to do so.

“Once I realized how it affected our community, I never knew it existed before,” Murphy said. “So that was kind of shocking and the shock really never wore off. So that’s also motivating to be a part of something and to change something that a lot of people aren’t aware of.”

Advocating for teens and taking in the whole perspective of the issue is something Murphy believes will have the greatest impact.

“It’s changing the way the law enforcement looks at human trafficking because otherwise these girls are getting in trouble for selling themselves but really they were selling themselves because they have someone making them do it for a price,” Murphy said. “And out of that these poor victims are thinking that they’re getting love or a home because they never had that before and then they get addicted to drugs. It’s this whole reoccurring process.”

Amy Andrews who was once a teenage victim of human trafficking herself shared her devastating story which like many survivors includes a history of sexual abuse, living in multiple foster homes and entering into the court system.

“What that did do is set me up for a position where I was trafficked,” Andrews said. “I was trafficked out of Palm Springs at the age of 13 into Los Angeles.”

She advocates for survivors now and believes in the mission of Rebirth Homes.

“A home is a very, very crucial key piece in helping to restore the life of a human trafficking victim,” Andrews said. “And so that’s how love can come across to a victim through Rebirth Homes.”

Whether it is by force through pimping, false promises of love and grooming or threats, this crime is very real and growing.

Martis said she is excited that her vision is coming into fruition and the goal is to have the home opened in 2016. She described what she hopes survivors will experience living at the home.

“The biggest thing is love and safety,” Martis said. “Those are the two things we want them to know coming in that they will be loved, they will be cared for and they have a safe place.”

She urges those who want to get involved to pray, volunteer their time and talents or donate.

“I think it’s just that I can’t live with myself knowing that’s happening and not doing something about it,” Martis said. “I’m not going to close my eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist, I can’t.”