College of Coastal Georgia News
By Tiffany King
Students of Dr. Mary McGinnis' English 1101 class concluded their semester with a very special guest speaker. Sarah Casiano, community coordinator for House of Hope in Brunswick, addressed the class about the plight of sex trafficking in the state of Georgia. Dr. McGinnis' course focused on a social justice topic, with students doing readings and projects on the realities of sex trafficking throughout the semester.
McGinnis, an assistant professor of English, said the class chose social justice at the beginning of the semester as their central theme. To explore the topic, students have done different projects including rhetorical analyses, readings, and web-text projects analyzing visual media. The last section of the class was a service-learning project, in which students reinforced classroom instruction by applying what they learned in class to address a need in the community. They partnered with House of Hope to host a talk for students, faculty, and staff to raise awareness about sex trafficking.
Sarah Casiano, community coordinator for House of Hope in Glynn County, talks to students, faculty and staff at the College about the plight of sex trafficking in the state.
House of Hope is a faith-based, therapeutic, safe house with a 12-month program for girls ages 12-18 who have been traumatized by sex trafficking or are at risk of becoming sex trafficking victims. There are only three House of Hope establishments in the state of Georgia. In addition to her role reaching out to the community, Casiano is the floor manager of House of Hope in Glynn County. She is responsible for the daily care and supervision of the program residents. She partners with the therapeutic, educational, and life skills staff to meet organizational and individual participant goals.
Georgia is the second most prevalent state in the nation for sex trafficking, Casiano said. This is driven by Atlanta's status as a transportation hub. Casiano talked about the high demand for sex trafficking and those most at risk for becoming victims.
"It doesn't discriminate. Your average, middle class girl or boy can get caught up in it," Casiano said. "I've seen everything—girls who have everything, girls who are White, blonde, blue-eyed, Black, Hispanic, Filipino, every ethnicity. The only things that make you vulnerable are being young, being interested in romantic relationships, being bullied, lacking a father figure, and having a hole in your life."
She explained the tactics traffickers use to take advantage of vulnerable youth and how sex trafficking happens in small towns.
"We always hear about Atlanta because that's where [victims] are taken, but they are picked up in small towns like Brunswick, Vidalia, and Thomasville," she said.
Recently in July, nine men were indicted in Camden County on federal charges in a child sex-trafficking sting.
House of Hope is currently working with law enforcement at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to create key indicators to help identify victims of sex trafficking during arrests or investigations.
"We are training them to recognize some key signs of a girl who may have been trafficked and how to help," Casiano said.
At the end of her presentation, Casiano answered questions from students about how to stay safe, the need for more places like House of Hope in the state, and work being done at the state legislature to combat sex trafficking.
When freshman Kelly Studstill heard that the last part of class was a service-learning project, House of Hope immediately came to mind. She used her connections with the organization to bring in Casiano. Studstill works at Saint Simons By-The-Sea, an inpatient mental health facility and substance abuse rehabilitation for teens and adults. Through her job, she met Darcell Burandt, founder of House of Hope, who is also a therapist at Saint Simons By-The-Sea.
"I've sat in on some of her groups and heard how passionate she is. She's not afraid to talk about her own trauma in the past," Studstill said. "House of Hope was something she was driven to create."
Studstill teaches non-violent verbal de-escalation and intervention at Saint Simons By-The-Sea, and also teaches at House of Hope.
Those who attended the presentation walked away with more awareness about sex trafficking and the understanding of how kindness can make a long-lasting impact.
Two student groups in McGinnis' class also collected materials to support Safe Harbor, a home for children in need of a safe, loving environment. One group set out donation boxes for new underwear of all sizes—for both males and females— for victims of sexual assault or raped. The second group held a children's clothing drive for children and teens.
To learn how you can get involved with House of Hope and Safe Harbor, visit https://houseofhoperefugeoflove.com and https://safeharborcenterinc.org.