By Kristy Grimes
Photographed by Laurie Szostak
Here amid the beauty and bounty of the Hudson Valley, with its rustic farms, trendy distilleries and charming towns, it is difficult to imagine that the terror of human trafficking could be transpiring in businesses and homes behind closed doors. Yet as Courtney Albert knows far too well, labor and sex trafficking exists in every type of community throughout our country—including right here in the Hudson Valley.
Courtney Albert, who resides with her family in Millbrook, has dedicated her professional career to helping victims of the most heinous, terrible crimes a person could imagine—including rape, assault, domestic violence and human trafficking. She has seen first-hand the horrors of trafficking around the world—having helped survivors in Thailand, Africa, London and here in the United States. Her graduate work, research and one-on-one counseling with sexual-assault, human-trafficking and torture survivors inspired her to create her own private operating foundation, Give Way to Freedom, with close friend and foundation director, Edith Klimoski.
In researching the issue of trafficking, Courtney identified a real need for comprehensive trauma-informed and holistic services for survivors. “Traffickers often prey on the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society. It is important to identify the needs of each individual survivor, meet them where they are at and support them through their journey of recovery and healing,” says Courtney.
Give Way to Freedom provides training, outreach and direct services to potential victims, as well as funds for international and domestic projects, in an effort to enhance the services already being provided. “One of the main goals of my foundation has been to identify where there are gaps in services and then take steps to fill those gaps so that victims and survivors do not fall through the cracks,” she explains.
“Human trafficking is a crime against a person that involves compelling someone to perform labor through force, fraud and/or coercion,” she elaborates. Trafficking happens in every industry, including manufacturing, agriculture, domestic work and the sex industry. Traffickers use a variety of methods, including and especially psychological coercion, to control victims. Human trafficking is a human-rights issue, a public-health issue and an issue of child abuse when it involves minors. It is also a huge criminal enterprise.
Courtney is hoping by heightening awareness of this issue, people will be better equipped to identify and respond to trafficking situations. She says, “Working together as a community, across disciplines and within and between agencies, we can have an impact. All people have value and are deserving of dignity and basic human rights. The violence, intimidation and trauma that often characterize human trafficking can be devastating to victims. As awareness in our communities increases, we have seen increased reporting and referrals of potential trafficking victims.”
Victims of trafficking often do not self-identify, and it is important to look beneath the surface for indicators/red flags of trafficking—because when people have been traumatized, they may deny that they’re in trouble, shut down cognitively or emotionally or act out in an aggressive manner. The cycle of trauma and violence makes this a particularly challenging group of people to identify and to help.
Courtney is also a licensed mental-health counselor with a private counseling practice in Poughkeepsie, is on the steering committee of the Dutchess County Taskforce Against Human Trafficking and heads its trainings committee and chairs the Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse (CASADA). Her foundation is a member of the Freedom Network.
She encourages people who suspect human trafficking or think they may be in a trafficking situation to contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.373.7888 or text BEFREE anytime, day or night. For a list of indicators, resources and other facts about human trafficking, visit the GWTF website at www.givewaytofreedom.org. █