With Internships, Oakland Boutique Aids Human Trafficking Victims

By Marissa Lang
San Francisco Chronicle.

The customer hesitated for a moment at the window, studying the vintage yellow vest on display, as if trying to decipher what the small shop really was.

Regina Evans rose from the familial wooden table in the center of the store. She opened the door, and then her arms, wide. The customer, who had never been to the Oakland boutique, looked surprised. Evans squeezed.

There is no room for discomfort here.

Regina’s Door does more than sell decades-old garb. It acts as a steppingstone for victims of human trafficking and forced sexual labor.

Evans employs survivors, women whose history and trauma can make it hard to get or hold down a job. In the past year, according to partner organization Love Never Fails, about eight women have been hired as retail interns — learning the ins and outs of a small business.

To offer the interns a glimpse of what it takes to run the store, they’re charged with doing a little bit of everything: They stock the shelves, sweep the floors, schedule appointments with customers, go on shopping trips with Evans, assemble the window display and balance the books.

“To have that kind of experience is huge,” explained Vanessa Scott, founder and executive director of Love Never Fails, a faith-based antitrafficking group. “It shows them not only how to do something like this, but that they can. It’s so empowering.”

Retention is tough.
On average, women in abusive relationships will return to their abusers seven to nine times before they leave for good, according to statistics frequently cited by domestic violence awareness groups.

For women who have been trafficked, that number balloons threefold, Scott said.

That’s why it’s important to start victims in an environment where someone understands.

Evans, 54, was herself a victim of sex trafficking — a fact she’s not shy about discussing with customers.

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