Brianna Tarpey, College of Wooster
Brianna Tarpey of the College of Wooster participated in the 2013 Shepherd Internship Program. She served at Tapestri Inc. in Atlanta and worked with victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Take a deep breath,” I thought to myself as I struggled to stay calm as my client was on the other end of the line. “Please call 911,” I repeated over and over again knowing that my client didn’t understand much English. Finally I took matters into my own hands by hanging up the phone and dialing 911 on behalf of my client whose husband was violating her protective order.
Many of my clients feared this possibility, but here it was, the reality. For many of those with whom I worked, violence was a constant danger. Sadly violence often occurs in the places where you should feel safe. In many cases, such violence is perpetrated by those you know and love. Finally I heard back from my client. The police had arrived just in time. Everyone was safe.
This was one example of the kind of eye-opening situations I encountered as an intern at Tapestri Inc., a non-profit organization that serves foreign-born victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Tapestri provides each client with services from three umbrellas (protective services): safety, the basic needs, and legal advocacy. After a client intake, a safety plan is constructed for each client. The caseworker then ensures that the client’s needs for shelter, food, clothing, employment, and medical care are addressed. Finally, Tapestri provides legal advocacy, helping each client address both immigration issues, such as visas, and safety issues, such as filing restraining orders and preparing declarations of divorce.
As an intern, I was able to work one-on-one with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to make sure that their needs were met. I also shadowed one of the caseworkers to help her address the needs of victims of human trafficking.
Every day challenged me. Sometimes I was perceptibly frightened for my clients’ lives. The battles they face against the unknown shatter all sense of stability they have. The choices they must make are always in the context of fear that their abusive husbands, partners, or traffickers will return. Understandably they often seem unable to move on from where they are.
Women who were trafficked to the U.S were often in even more drastic situations than the women who experienced domestic violence. They had been reduced to the point where they had nothing. Sometimes they were still in love with their trafficker, who was often their husband. They did not always want to cooperate with the police. They sometimes wanted to return to their trafficker. Some were pregnant and had no way of knowing how they would take care of their child. They were isolated.
Each of these clients faces poverty that is perpetuated by a lack of stability as well as a lack of knowledge and access to the culture and system that surrounds them. I learned that each person has her own individual situation that led her to where she is today. I believe that, in order to help immigrants and refugees in poverty, we need to focus on creating a system that is easier to navigate. The policies in place need to reflect the populations for which they are intended, and refugees and immigrants should not be hindered by lack knowledge of the guidelines and laws pertaining to welfare. While Tapestri does a great job of helping its clients, it is unable to do more because of limited funding. In addition, immigration law hinders the ability of victims to get the access to the care and the resources they need. Tapestri’s mission, however, helps each individual while applying culturally sensitive means to each client. This kind of awareness and work is needed for these victims. While steps are being taken in the right direction, more needs to be done to address the needs of refugees and immigrants in the United States.