COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mandie Knight trusted her friend’s boyfriend when he promised a quick way out of debt and an easy way to make money. Instead, her first experience of being trafficked for sex left her in a cycle of rising debt and dependency, with addiction to drugs making an independent life impossible.

What You Need To Know

  • Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that preys on women who are often isolated, addicted and without connection

  • Large athletic events bring people into town and often mask sex trade activity at area hotels and public attractions

  • Sanctuary House in Columbus is open daily and offers help to vulnerable women

Now, seven years sober and free from trafficking, Knight is dedicated to being a resource for women in similar circumstances as the operations manager of Sanctuary Night, a newly opened drop-in center in Columbus that offers meals, clothing and, most importantly, connection.

“Sanctuary Night is a safe place for someone engaging in sex work, and we would help somebody leave that lifestyle if that’s what they chose to do,” Knight said.

By providing the basics — clothing, a hot meal, showers — women are given an alternative to what they are often being promised by the trafficker. Even more important than the basics are the staff at Sanctuary Night, the majority of whom share a history of being on the streets, and can relate and emotionally connect to the women who come in seeking help.

“Connection is the opposite of addiction,” said Knight. “For a lot of people, doing sex work, in active addiction, experiencing homelessness, they are lacking connection. In the street life, it might not be healthy, but you do find a form of connection whether it be with your drug, whether it be with a trafficker.”

In contrast, Sanctuary Night provides a safe connection where women are offered love, are listened to, supported emotionally, and offered options for drug treatment, referrals to housing, and other services.

Knight points out that traffickers often use physical and verbal threats, emotional manipulation, control of drugs and basic needs.

“There are so many layers to why someone doesn’t ‘just’ leave," she said.

An important part of her organization’s mission is to help build up the self-esteem of the women who come in so that they feel they deserve something better and have the strength to make a change.

“Women come to us in the darkest, most hurtful place in their lives and we’re able to build them up and help them find the beauty within themselves and turn into someone so much greater than they ever thought they could be,” Knight said.

Founded with the goal of serving 150 women in their first year, Sanctuary Night has already seen 900 individual encounters before its one-year anniversary.