Categories for Survivor Support

Ugandan Boarding School Rescues Young Teen Girls From Forced Marriage

March 22, 2022

AMUDAT, UGANDA — Sitting at her desk in a classroom at Kalas Girls Primary School in this remote town of northern Uganda, 15-year-old Susan Cherotich narrated through tears how she had fled her parents’ home some six weeks earlier following pressure from her uncles and elders to marry before she completes her education.

The eighth-grade student said her parents were opposed to the idea, but the decision by the majority of her clan members to start a home with a man was more binding, a common practice in her Pokot tribe.

Susan said her uncles and elders wanted to sell her against her will into marriage for dozens of cows to an older man she had never met.

“I heard that the man had several wives, and he was willing to give out many cows,” she said.

“I left at night after realizing they were coming to marry me off.”

She took refuge at a police station before religious sisters took her to Kalas Girls Primary School in Amudat parish, run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix-Ggogonya. “My father pleaded with his brothers and elders to let me finish school, but they objected, saying it was the right time for me to be married off since schools were taking a long time to resume due to the COVID-19 lockdown.”

Susan is among thousands of girls in northern Uganda who have been rescued from marriages they did not want and taken to Kalas Girls Primary School, which is also sponsored by UN WomenUNICEF and the World Food Program. The boarding school provides hope and a haven for girls who have escaped genital mutilation and child marriage. At the school, the girls receive counseling and psychosocial support.

The East African nation is one of the countries with the highest rates of early and forced marriage, according to a 2019 report by UNICEF: The country of more than 45 million people is home to 5 million child brides. Of these, 1.3 million married before age 15, UNICEF reports.

The report also notes that child marriage results in teenage pregnancy, which contributes to high maternal deaths and health complications like obstetric fistula, premature births, and sexually transmitted diseases. It is also the leading cause of girls dropping out of school.

Read the full story by Gerald Matembu and Doreen Ajiambo on Global Sisters Report.

November, 2021 Monthly Reflection

November 4, 2021

The Beauty and Challenges of the Autumn Season

By Kathleen Coll, SSJ

The autumn season is a favorite of mine. Usually, the weather here in the mid-Atlantic is mild with cool evenings, Autumn can also bring cold rainy days with colder days ahead. We need to remain open to what the season holds. Yes, the burst of color surrounding us is amazing! Everywhere you look the trees adorn themselves with beautiful shades of red, orange, brown and yellow. Under the canopy of this beauty exists the reality of what one human being can do to exploit another to enrich themselves.

Commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) or sex trafficking is a serious form of modern slavery that does not discriminate. Along with labor trafficking, sex trafficking happens to children, women and men. Pope Francis said, “It is not possible to be indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold.” He calls it “a global economic system dominated by profit.” The Pope strongly condemns this new form of slavery urging people of all religions and cultures to denounce and combat it.

As director of Dawn’s Place, a house for women survivors of CSE or sex trafficking, I see them struggle daily to heal from the trauma caused by the extreme poverty, neglect, abuse and exploitation that they have experienced. Being open to what lies ahead; working through challenges, and keeping hope alive have been hallmarks of the residents of Dawn’s Place. I thought you might like to read a few of their reflections.

One of the residents writes: “I was lost for so many years feeling like I was destined for a life of abuse, drugs, and self-hatred. I just accepted that I deserved that way of life. I’m now working hard in therapy, with the steps in recovery and group work. Today I am becoming a different person. I’m finding a new way of life and my self-esteem is growing.”

Another writes: “As I progress through the program, I am learning not only how to take care of myself, but more importantly how to love myself. I am finding my self-worth. I also have something I never had before and that is hope. I now have hope for a brighter future than I ever would have dared to dream about before.”

One resident who recently returned to Dawns Place writes: “I am so grateful Dawn’s Place took me back a second time. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity for a better life then the life I was living. I’ve been learning a lot about myself and how to be a better woman. It’s probably the closest I’ve felt like home in a very long time.”

The mission of Dawn’s Place is to extend hope and healing from sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. By offering individual trauma-informed and group therapy, along with providing yoga and music therapy as well as life skills, Dawn’s Place works to support women in their journey of healing and becoming that new person.

Our desire for every woman who comes to Dawn’s Place is that she will find the courage to break the cycle of violence, recover from trauma, reclaim her dignity and go on to live as a healed, independent and productive member of society. Do we succeed with every woman who comes to Dawn’s Place? No, but we try. (ahomefordawn.org)
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Kathleen Coll, SSJ, a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, is a member of the USCSAHT Board of Directors.

Survivors of Human Trafficking Recount Experiences, Provide Advice

August 29, 2021

Human trafficking is a crime in which force, fraud or coercion is used to compel a person to perform labor, services or commercial sex. It affects all populations: adults, children, men, women, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and all economic classes.

The Combating Trafficking in Persons Program Management Office recently stood up a website featuring videos called “Survivor Voices of Human Trafficking.”

In the videos, eight survivors relate their experiences being trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and being turned into child soldiers. They discuss what they wish they had done differently and how others could have helped. Several of the survivors’ stories have a connection to the Defense Department.

For example, Kalei Grant tells of being purchased by military members in Hawaii.

“We would be driven to military bases and nearby bars where [our trafficker] would force us to look for the drunk military soldiers and proposition them. The transactions would happen everywhere — in barracks, in homes and apartments, on military bases in warehouses, in military personnel vehicles, in personal cars, and while service members were on and off duty,” she said.

In another story, Kumar, who prefers not to give his whole name, tells of being trafficked into forced labor by subcontractors in India who charged each potential worker exorbitant recruitment fees to obtain jobs with good pay. The subcontractors then used classic bait and switch techniques to force these food service workers into hard labor when they arrived in Afghanistan, which paid so little they could not get out of debt.

Read the full story by David Vergun on US Department of Denfense.

July, 2021 Monthly Reflection

July 4, 2021

SIMPLE YET COMPLICATED

Sister Michelle Loisel, DC

Kaleidoscope“Kaleidoscope” by docoverachiever is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When I was a little girl, I loved kaleidoscopes. I was fascinated by the colors and patterns. I loved how each time I turned the cylinder, the pattern would change. Sometimes, the patterns were quite beautiful; sometimes, not as much. It was striking how simple yet complicated it all was.

Being engaged in the work of ending human trafficking can be similar to looking into a kaleidoscope. At one turn, you see the 40 million global victims and the need to rescue those trapped in it. On another turn, you begin to wonder “are the people getting their nails done contributing to the $150 billion forced labor industry?” Another turn and you are marveling at the tireless efforts of professionals and nonprofessionals who fight day in and day out to eradicate this crime against humanity. Sometimes I’m visualizing those forced into sex trafficking. Other times, it’s those working in forced labor.

With all of the different forms of trafficking and views of these individuals, how does one help? One of the greatest tools I have when interacting with those forced into trafficking situations is myself. Being present with someone in their reality is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

So, I will raise my voice for and with the survivors.  Survivors’ voices play a huge part in pushing a story into the mainstream. The perfect example is “A Shield Against The Monster” written by Ann Marie Jones, a survivor of sex trafficking, and Carol Hart Metzker, an activist and an ally for survivors, together, they created a playbook to help parents, teachers, and community members—who cherish children—to protect kids and prevent new victims. I will give my time and energy working to combat victimization. I will be a responsible consumer and not support companies with unethical or unfair practices. I will remember that if circumstances were different, it could be me praying for someone to consider my suffering as if it were their own.

Those of us who know better have a duty to do our part. We should use our own strengths to fight for those who are trapped in human trafficking. It seems simple–you want to make a difference–but quickly becomes complicated. Some can donate money and other resources, while others can raise awareness. Some can encourage lawmakers and law enforcers criminalize human trafficking, while others can support those who provide services to those in recovery or in the healing process from trafficking. “When you know better, you do better.”

There is one thing everyone can do. Look around you. Often the victims of human trafficking are where you live. We often don’t realize that many of us are complicit in creating and maintaining the economies that allow human trafficking to be viable in the modern world.

If you see someone that you believe is being victimized, call the police immediately. Although there are usually no bars or fences, the victims are indeed prisoners.

 

First Sex Trafficking Shelter For Men In US Is Opening In Denton, Texas

June 29, 2021

DENTON, Texas — The first “safe home” established for young men will be welcoming residents the first week of June. “Bob’s House of Hope” is the first shelter in the United States that will house sexually abused men between the ages of 18-24.

This safe haven has been a dream come true for Bob Williams, the founder of the group home. Six to eight men will be able to live in peace surrounded by a support network of over more than 20 organizations that are hoping to bring back stability in the young men’s lives. For Williams however, the new home is a resource he once wished he could turn to.

“I tell everybody I’m one of the lucky ones, I was raped as a teenager,” said Williams. “When you’ve been through something like this and nobody knows how to help you, that’s the problem.”

At the young age of 17, his hopelessness turned into addictions, after being beaten and sexually abused in his hometown of Detroit.

“You go through this trauma, and you feel like everything has been taken from you,” said Williams. “You feel dirty, you feel like less of a man.”

​After hitting rock bottom, and living on the streets for a period of time, Williams decided to change his life. He learned to live as a survivor rather than a victim, and paved a path forward towards not only redeeming himself, but others too.

“I have no doubt that what happened to me then was God’s way of preparing me for the work that I do today,” said Williams.

The Denton County resident has a Texas-sized heart for those who have been sexually exploited.

In 2008, Williams’ nonprofit, Ranch Hands Rescue, was established as an animal sanctuary for neglected and abused animals. Through the healing and interactions with the animals ranging from chickens to horses, doctors and therapists have been able to help more than 1,000 children recover from their sexual trauma, in an unordinary fashion.

Read the full story by Chris Grisby on Spectrum News 1.

The State Of Ohio Vs. A Sex-Trafficked Teenager

June 27, 2021

The paperwork was signed, her belongings were stuffed into a plastic bag, and then, finally, it was time. She was guided down a long hallway. She stepped through a metal detector. A heavy door was pushed open, and Alexis Martin walked out of prison.

“Where am I going?” she asked her lawyers, hesitating on the sidewalk. It was April of 2020, the pandemic’s early days, when Ohio’s governor was going on television every afternoon to talk about shutdowns and masks and case counts — until the news conference when he had something else to announce. He was granting the release of a 22-year-old incarcerated woman.

“She was 15 years of age when she committed the crime,” Mike DeWine explained. “She is a child sex trafficking survivor.”

He was echoing what Alexis’s defenders had been arguing since the night in 2013 when the biracial 10th-grader was involved in a robbery that turned into a murder.

Prosecutors knew Alexis wasn’t in the room when the shots were fired, maiming one man and killing another. They still charged her with murder and demanded that she be tried as an adult, saying she was the one who led the robbers into the house of Angelo Kerney.

But as her case moved through the criminal justice system, little attention was paid to how the 15-year-old girl knew the 36-year-old man in the first place. Or what witnesses said he was doing to her. Or why she called him “Dad.”

A judge said Alexis was “working” for Kerney’s “escort” business and sentenced her to decades in prison.

Read the full story by Jessica Contera on The Washington Post.

June, 2021 Monthly Reflection

June 1, 2021

Compassion and empowerment are at the heart of relationships with survivors of human trafficking. They are essential elements for building trust and restoring one’s sense of self and dignity.

 From my years of working with survivors, it is my privilege to share with you the incredible story of Ansa who lived in a LifeWay Network safe house, the organization I founded in 2007. Ansa allowed herself the time to heal and grow through the pain, and then took the learnings of compassion and empowerment to the next level by creating her own nonprofit organization to help other survivors of trafficking.

 Empowerment Square is an apt name for Ansa’s work. Its mission is to help survivors of human trafficking rebuild their lives from the ground up through holistic life skills training, job training, job placement, and financial education. In the midst of a global pandemic, Ansa built critical infrastructure for the organization, recruited personal mentors for participants, and established a complete, virtual program platform. In her own words, Ansa shares her story, her successes, and her gratitude with us.

-Joan S. Dawber, SC

 

 

My name is Ansa Noreen and I come from Pakistan. I belong to a culture and society where women are supposed to live under the protection of a male or multiple males. They could be their fathers, brothers, husbands, or even their extended male family members. In return, women have to pay these men for “protection”, especially their husbands. More openly, I would say women have to pay for being abused by their husbands in the name of protection from other men in that society. So women have to choose between being abused by the men in their own family or by others. Trust me, it’s a very tough choice to make and it’s an ongoing pattern for hundreds of years. I see the intensity increasing at an unprecedented rate. How do I know it’s only getting worse? I work with other survivors not only from my culture but from all over the world through my own nonprofit organization called Empowerment Square.

I am a survivor of human trafficking. My so-called protector, my husband, was my perpetrator. Like most traffickers, he was preying on the vulnerabilities of young women. He did this in Pakistan in the name of marriage.

As a single mother in Pakistani society, even though I was a successful, financially independent mother of one, I was vulnerable. I was constantly reminded that unless I had a protector (husband), I was a bad woman. As a woman, I had no value or respect in society no matter how much I was contributing to society by raising a good child, by creating job opportunities for others through the business that I had, by supporting my siblings, by being there for my friends in times of need, and by being a strong role model for other girls and women. None of that mattered to fit the criteria of a “good eastern woman.”

As was expected of me, we started looking for an educated, good person for me to marry. As a divorced mother of one, it was believed that I would do my best to stay in this marriage no matter what happens to me whether I’m beaten day and night, kept a slave, or become whatever number wife of my trafficker husband. But I knew there was always hope out there and that I was not going to live as a slave, an abused woman for the rest of my life.

I figured out a way to defeat the circumstances and found myself in a safe house in New York City that was run by Catholic Sisters. I was a total stranger in this wondrous city, not having any friends or family here. Not speaking the language. Not trusting people. At that critical time, I found hope in the sisters’ community. They have become my new family in the US. I have lived with them and I cherish those times and fondly remember our conversations on the topics that I was passionate about.

During a conversation with Sr. Joan, I discovered a passion for creating new services to help women survivors living in the safehouse. Sr Joan invited me to join an advisory committee to design an economic empowerment program and since then that journey has not stopped. I am on multiple boards and started my own nonprofit organization to offer holistic education for women survivors of human trafficking to realize their full potential. It gives me much pleasure and a sense of accomplishment when I see my fellow survivors benefitting from our programs and becoming confident, independent women. Among 26 of our recent graduates, survivors were able to eliminate interpreters from their day-to-day lives, start new and better jobs, and start their businesses, all because they are now able to communicate clearly in situations where previously they would be intimidated simply by a lack of words. Now they can go back to school, prepare for citizenship exams, and much more.

I am entirely grateful for the experience that I had while living with the sisters because it taught me so much and broadened my viewpoint towards service to humanity without discrimination. When I initially moved into the community, I was highly skeptical of Christian sisters. I was not sure if they would try to secretly manipulate my religious beliefs and try to convert me to Christianity. As a Muslim woman coming from a country where we don’t have much interaction with our Christian brothers and sisters, I was not sure what to expect. But I must say, living with sisters has only made me a better Muslim and a better human being. I am so eternally grateful for this experience and as a thank you note to Catholic Sisters, I am writing this article so the world can see and know more about the most wonderful work that they are doing for humanity.

 

 

Unseen: The Boy Victims Of The Sex Trade, Part II

April 27, 2021

Jose Alfaro says he was perfect prey for a sex trafficker because of the color of his skin.

The Mexican American youth was 16 years old and homeless when he reached out for help on the internet more than a decade ago.

He joined a gay chat room and met an older man named Jason Gandy who offered him empathy and a place to stay.

“It seemed like a dream, and at the time, not having anywhere to go,” Alfaro says now.

But the dream quickly became a grim reality. Gandy told Alfaro he would have to work in the older man’s “massage” business, which was a euphemism for prostitution. Alfaro provided sexual massages to Gandy’s clients in his Texas home in transactions that escalated to sexual assault.

Gandy would go on to become the centerpiece of one of the most notorious male sex trafficking cases to be tried in a U.S. federal courtroom. Three of his four documented victims, including Alfaro, were Latino. But at the beginning, Alfaro thought Gandy was just providing a place he could call home.

Many young men have traveled the same path to homelessness and then to sexual exploitation — and young Black and brown men are disproportionately at risk.

“Race plays a major role in human trafficking,” said Alfaro, who is 29 and now works as a hairstylist on Boston’s Newbury Street.

Read the full story on WGBH.

Sister Eugenia Bonetti on Human Trafficking Victims: Nobody Does This By Choice

April 25, 2021

ROME — Coronavirus lockdowns have not led to a reduction in human trafficking, which primarily affects women and girls, but actually increased it over the past year, according to Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti.

“The different types of exploitation have changed, becoming more violent and, in the case of sexual exploitation, more hidden,” she says. “They have moved, in fact, from the streets to apartments or online sites.”

For over two decades, Sister Eugenia has served on the frontline of the Church’s efforts to combat human trafficking of women and girls — a ministry that began in 1993 when, as a missionary in Africa, she first saw women on roadsides waiting for clients.

Since 2012, the Italian sister has headed “Slaves No More,” a Rome-based association extending to 30 different countries and dedicated to fighting the scourge, which affects 27 million victims worldwide. The organization has collaborated extensively with the U.S. embassy to the Holy See during both Republican and Democratic administrations.

In this March 30 interview with the Register, Sister Eugenia explains more about her work to restore the dignity of trafficked women and girls, what the faithful can do to raise awareness of these acts of violence, degradation and exploitation against them, and how her conviction that we are one human family under Christ is central to her work.

Sister Eugenia, who are most liable to become victims of such modern slavery? How do they end up in this situation, and do they include minors?

The categories of people most at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking are undoubtedly women and young women and children.

Read the full story by Edward Petin at National Catholic Register.

Human Trafficking Survivor Partners With FBI To Help Others

April 20, 2021

DETROIT (FOX 2) – A human trafficking survivor is sharing her story after she said she was charmed and groomed into a trusting relationship that led to multiple sexual assaults.

Nicole Denson is a survivor and activist. She met the man who trafficked her on her 16th birthday. That was 21 years ago at the old Northland Mall in Southfield. While she’s escaped, she’s looking back and knows that it was her vulnerable state that led to her fall into the human trafficking world.

“One day really changed my life forever. I was in an accident with my father and he was critically injured, he died. He was killed,” said Nicole.

A vulnerable state

She grew up in a loving home on Detroit’s west side but it was complex. She says there was physical and emotional abuse. With the sudden loss of her dad, Denson remembers the things she found joy in were gone.

“I remember I just stopped loving doing all of the things that I was doing. I stopped dancing, laughing. I just felt numb,” said Denson.

She was ripe with grief when she met her trafficker and she said he approached her like any other guy and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

“He was very charming, he was charismatic. He really seemed like he wanted to get to know me,” she said. “It wasn’t like anything that would give a red flag like you’ve seen in the movies. It wasn’t like the movie ‘Taken’ which is like a movie that people think (when they think of human trafficking). It actually happened very gradually and very slow.”

The relationship changes

Eventually, he became her boyfriend but the entire time he was grooming her and gaining her trust. Then it all changed.

“I walked into this house. It was loud music, there was smoking and drinking and there were over 15 to 20 different men. I remember my heart started racing and I said ‘oh my goodness, what am I doing, what is happening’,” said Denson. “I was trembling. I’m even trembling as I tell this.”

Just like that, SHE was having sex so HE could money. For more than a year, he passed her around at house parties and hotels – all while she still went to private school and played her other roles as a daughter and friend.

“One of the most lowest points was when I was driven to his friend’s house and, unfortunately, I didn’t know that there would be a camera there. At the age of 16 I was sexually assaulted via camera,” said Nicole.

Now he had leverage to control her and to do the unthinkable. Then, suddenly, it just stopped.

“One day, I was supposed actually to go into a house and forced to do these acts. He had a change of heart and decided to drop me off instead, at home. He cried and said he was sorry and I said it’s okay. After that, I never heard from him again.”

Read the full story by Jessica Dupnack on Fox 2 Detroit.