You meet a woman on the street who is missing her front teeth, after being beaten by her pimp. What do you do?
If you’re Latisha’s House, a Williamsburg nonprofit, you try to help her. Latisha’s House is a long-term residence for women who have escaped sex slavery.
Many women who come to the home have a variety of medical issues, and more than one woman has had teeth missing, according to Elizabeth Ameling, executive director of Latisha’s House. This can really set them back, she said.
“One day a woman at the residence saw me and forgot she didn’t have front teeth,” Ameling said. “She smiled at me then immediately covered her smile with her hand when she remembered. She won’t really heal until she can truly smile again.”
Latisha’s House opened in Williamsburg in October 2014 after the creator encountered a prostitute on the streets of Chicago, according to the foundation’s website.
Originally, Latisha’s House was discreet, for fear of endangering the women’s lives with too much publicity, according to Ameling. Over the years, the foundation found that getting the word out actually helped because the community has been supportive.
At any given time, the residence houses five to seven women. The foundation provides medical care and dental care and teaches social skills; they’ve put three women through college to earn four-year degrees.
All of this takes money, though.
It costs more than $1,000 per month to cover medical and dental costs for the women, according to Ameling. And while the foundation has a lot of medical volunteers, it still isn’t enough.
To help offset some of those expenses, Latisha’s House will host its fifth annual gala on Jan. 27 at the Two Rivers Rotary Club in Governor’s Land. The theme this year is “Winter Wonderland.”
“It’s a great event to get people together and educate the community on the need for a trafficking house in the area,” Ameling said.
Last year, the event raised approximately $70,000 for the foundation. Since the first year, the number of guests has risen from about 125 to almost 200.
Still, the fundraiser costs almost $20,000 to put together, Ameling said. Typically the location is rented free of charge, but Latisha’s House pays for items such as food and decorations — and the foundation spends all year raising money to cover those expenses.
The cost is worth it, Ameling said. Each year, new people attend and some are doctors or other professionals who then decide to donate their time and skills to the foundation.
One year, Ameling said, they were lucky enough to catch the attention of a doctor with expertise in tattoo removal.
“A lot of people don’t realize how important tattoo removal is to the women,” Ameling said. “Most of the women have been tattooed by their pimp because it is an identifier. It’s modern day slavery, a claim to ownership.”
Individual tickets to the event cost $150 and include a four-course dinner, wine, champagne, live music and a silent auction. Also, stories from some of the residents will be read aloud to the guests.
Ameling hopes that hearing about the women who live at Latisha’s House, and their experiences, hopes and dreams, will shatter some stereotypes.
“There are lots of misconceptions about prostitutes,” Ameling said. “People believe it is the woman’s decision and that she can leave if she wants. But trafficking is not about prostitution; it’s about someone controlling another person for money.”
For more information on volunteering or donating, visit Latisha’s House online.