Her Song strives to restore human trafficking victims to meaningful lives

  • This woman graduated from the Her Song program and is going to college and working full time. (photo submitted by Her Song)
    This woman graduated from the Her Song program and is going to college and working full time. (photo submitted by Her Song)

The belief that human trafficking happens somewhere else is no long viable. The Beaches, in fact, are the target of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s  (JSO's) emphasis in its battle with this crime. Florida ranks third of the 50 states consistently in reports of human trafficking.
Sex trafficking is an underground criminal industry and economically motivated crime. Defined as, “when a dangerous predator, family member or a gang member controls a person compelling them through force, fraud or coercion to commit acts of sex.
Rachel White, LMHC, was working in her field as a licensed counselor when she first experienced a sex trafficking escapee. She saw the depression, PTSD.
“The issue took hold of me. I prayed and I became confident that this is what God intends for me.”
After a study including interviews with other service agencies, she found her direction.
“So few of these victims have a supporting family,” she said.
For those who are “rescued” by law enforcement, there is a lack of housing, follow-up support.
In 2013, White founded Her Song to address the gap in services in the Northeast Florida area for safe housing and trauma-informed programs for human trafficking survivors. Her Song started as a place where victims from Jacksonville find refuge.
The name, Her Song, was inspired by Psalm 30:11-12: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
“I felt a home for these ladies was their greatest need,” she said. “Bring them home to a safe, beautiful place where they could make a life. Give them choices. Restoration. This was the missing link where Her Song could come in.”
White’s organization has gone on to develop strong programs for survivor care, victim outreach and community education. In 2016, Her Song partnered with Duval County Public schools to implement middle school curriculum for students and teachers on the facts about human trafficking. In 2018, the curriculum expanded to high school. Currently, K-5 curriculum is being evaluated to be sure it is age appropriate. DCF reports the average age of a girl first being trafficked is 14 years old.
Her Song has assisted more than 875 victims with referral service, recovery support and programming. The first two safe houses in Northeast Florida have been established. Community-based programs are now offered in areas such as victim outreach, identification and referral.
“We want to see these young ladies thriving before they make their move back in the community,” White said. “Most come to us with health problems which must be addressed first. This criminal industry preys on vulnerable people and devastates their lives.
“Ladies that come into our program are resilient and have potential,” White said. “That’s what we’re all about at Her Song. We help these ladies realize all that potential.”
One of the  dreams of Rachel White and her coworkers is to purchase land, perhaps country property, to have homes and a research center in the Northeast Florida area. It would take victims out of the highly exploited areas and bring them to a place where they could have outdoor, green space, garden experiences.
“Restorative,” she said.
Financial support is critical. Her Song is seeking support for its residential programs as well as capital to purchase land for an expansion of the DCF-licensed safe homes for teen girls. This year, due to limited space, Her Song has turned away 275 verified trafficking victims who applied for the residential program. This financial support would also help to expand the staff to meet the referral service needs of 300 victims annually in this community.
Her Song has built strategic partnerships with the FBI, JSO, the State Attorney’s Office, St. John’s Sheriff’s Office, the judiciary and many other service agencies. Her Song chairs the service provider committee and serves on the executive committee  for the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition.
Rachel White said, “I think the one thing I would like people to know is that human trafficking is real in our community and it is destroying lives. I would also like them to know that it is possible for young ladies to overcome this tragedy and achieve their dreams and goals if we help them and don’t ignore them.”
Rachel White received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award in 2016 for her leadership and work in anti-trafficking in Jacksonville. She has been recognized for her pioneering work in this field. For more information about Her Song and ways to assist, go to www.hersongjax.org.