In 1997, a pivotal moment brought Co-Founder Merrie to the Rampart District of inner-city Los Angeles, one of the most dangerous areas in the United States at the time. During this time, she encountered a 15-year-old runaway in Hollywood, a young girl who had hoped to find stardom but instead found herself trapped in the harrowing world of human trafficking. Merrie and her team provided refuge, warmth, and nourishment to this survivor, who was five months pregnant and severely bruised. They welcomed her into their crisis care center, forming a mentorship bond. This journey was not without its challenges, though. The survivor ran away again, leaving Merrie heartbroken and questioning her ability to help. It marked the beginning of a long and profound lesson on the importance of tough love and establishing healthy boundaries in aiding survivors.
Years later, after completing her degree, Merrie embarked on a mission to Moscow, Russia, to work with street orphans and youth. It was on this trip that she met her husband and Co-Founder: Igor. Together, they instilled values of self-worth and provided opportunities to prevent these young individuals from falling into the cycle of trafficking. On this trip, Merrie remembers:
“After only being in my new Moscow apartment for two weeks, I stood on the balcony and looked down into the alley, where I saw young women standing in a row, illuminated by car headlights, while a pimp patrolled, inspecting them before their night’s work. At that moment, I knew someone had to intervene for these women.”
In 2015, Merrie and Igor returned to Russia after nine years of being away and met a grassroots organization dedicated to assisting trafficking victims. This encounter revealed the stark reality: human trafficking transcends cultures, races, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds, and it’s one of the fastest-growing global crimes.
A poignant moment occurred when Merrie shared what she had seen nearly a decade before of the young women and the desire to help them. What she could never have anticipated was the leader of this organization confessing to being the very pimp responsible for the girls in the alleyway. His transformation into a rescuer was nothing short of miraculous, reinforcing the notion that change is more than possible.
In Orlando, Merrie led a women’s mentoring program, where she encountered a survivor who had been trafficked across multiple states, enduring relentless abuse. This encounter ignited a fire within Merrie, leading her to realize that it was time to take concrete action against this pervasive issue.
Merrie’s journey serves as a testament to the power of personal experience and the potential for positive change. Her path, marked by compassion and determination, continues to inspire us to combat human trafficking and bring hope to survivors worldwide.
Harbour Hope International is dedicated to ending human trafficking by providing holistic resources and support to survivors during their journey to freedom.
Survivor Care Coordinator