R. Evon Benson-Idahosa: Creating New Paths for Survivors of Sex Traffickingby Radiant Health
Published: December 21, 2017
R. Evon Benson-Idahosa was a partner at a law firm in the United States, but her heart was home in Edo State, Nigeria. While reading one weekend in October 2013, she was struck by a line of poetry that focused on the purpose of life. That Monday, she submitted her resignation.
In December of that same year, Evon was home for the Christmas holidays, and that was when “Pathfinder” became more than just the nickname her evangelist father gave her at the age of nine — it also became the name of the Pathfinders Justice Initiative, dedicated to helping survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, and trafficking find their path in life.
The first case Evon handled involved a father who was sexually molesting his four daughters. Their mother, 10 years younger than her husband and also a victim of psychological abuse, was aware of the situation but felt helpless. Pathfinders helped rehabilitate and relocate the daughters.
“It showed me the intensity of the work ahead,” says Evon. “It was also a reflection of the worst — and an opportunity to show the best — of humanity.” Since then, Pathfinders’ work has focused on prevention, sensitization, and raising awareness about domestic violence and sex trafficking.
Edo State is notorious for having the highest rates of sex trafficking in Nigeria. Evon points to a “toxic combination of extreme poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and an erosion of values” as the primary reason that many mothers encourage sex trafficking. She believes it is important to remove those factors that push people into dire conditions just to get into Europe.
To make this change a reality, Pathfinders is at the forefront of initiatives such as #Not4Sale, an anti-trafficking campaign; #TakeMeOffMute, a campaign against child sexual abuse; and #SheSaidNo, an anti-rape campaign. Pathfinders also provides education scholarships, vocational skills training, and business support grants for survivors.
Pathfinders rehabilitates survivors — in particular women and girls repatriated from Europe — through its Personalized Action to Healing (PATH) plans. The plans include free medical, legal, and counseling services, as well as self-development and vocational trainings. Ultimately, however, each woman decides her own path to a new life; Pathfinders only guides her along her chosen path.
In 2017, the organization launched The Anchor, a safe house designed to provide shelter to approximately 24 survivors. Four years after its first case, Pathfinders has helped over 200 women, and its programs have reached close to 100,000 first- and second-party beneficiaries. There is more work ahead, but Evon is encouraged by signs of progress.
“I see multiple coalitions throughout Africa led by survivors who are championing the cause,” she says, steadfast in her commitment to breaking the physical and mental chains of modern-day slavery.
Learn more about Pathfinders at www.pathfindersji.org.
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