Operation Underground Railroad would like to highlight the services of one of our partners, Holding Out HELP.
Holding Out HELP (HOH) is the oldest and largest polygamy outreach organization in the United States. HOH Executive Director Tonia Tewell founded in the organization after her personal experience housing a woman and her four children who had left their polygamous community. From that experience, Tonia learned about the tragic realities that some members of these communities face and wanted to make a difference.
Polygamous communities are closed off to the outside world. In such isolating conditions, members often face sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Child exploitation and labor trafficking also occur at high rates within these communities.
Individuals who are kicked out or choose to leave polygamous communities need support to adjust to their new environments and heal from past abuse. HOH coordinates with community professionals such as doctors, educators and lawyers to provide food, clothing, shelter, counseling, legal advice and life skills training to help clients become independent and self-sufficient.
The entire HOH staff has undergone cultural sensitivity training to provide safe, accepting environments where healing can begin. Since 2008, the organization has served over 2,200 clients.
A woman named Angela lived in a polygamist community, where leaders would often use God to justify their abuse. A 40-year-old man began grooming her when she was 13 and sexually exploiting her when she was 15. Two years later, Angela gave birth to a son.
The man, whom she had married at a young age, isolated Angela from her family and controlled every aspect of her life for years. She escaped after he beat her now 10-year-old son with a wet towel. She filed a police report but was sent back to her perpetrator due to her lack of education, finances or self-sufficiency.
At age 32, Angela and her three children escaped for good. They were connected with HOH and provided with a vehicle, food, clothes, counseling and an attorney. Angela completed her GED, found a job and now lives independently with her children.
Holding Out HELP (HOH) and O.U.R. strive to align resources to end human trafficking through education, prosecution and legislation. HOH has also shared many of its host home training and protocols with O.U.R. to ensure human trafficking surviviors find safe, secure housing while beginning their healing processes.
“Holding out HELP supports O.U.R. in the Rise Up for Children campaign because every child deserves safety, security and childhood,” Tonia said.
O.U.R. is pleased to coordinate with HOH as part of our Rise Up campaign. To learn more about Holding Out HELP, please visit the organization’s website or follow Holding Out HELP on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram.