THE BLOG

From Awareness to Action: Providing Housing & Support for Victims of Sex Trafficking

Feb 19, 2013 | Updated Apr 21, 2013

I've got a funny feeling -- like knowing it's going to rain when the wind picks up in a certain way and shows you the backs of silver maple leaves on a spring evening. The wind is rising as new books about women in the Half the Sky movement top the best seller lists and millions of people around the world dance on Valentine's Day to protest sexual violence against women. It is rising from countless local, national and international groups founded to end human sex trafficking. It is rising with the voices of brave girls and women who have survived sexual violence and are willing and able to speak their truth. And it is a prevailing wind, calling us to respond to all victims of trafficking, prostitution and addiction whom we are now seeing less as criminals and more as victims of cultures that hold the secret of sexual violence against children more dearly than a child's safety.

It's time to read the backs of the leaves before the rain falls. Sexual violence perpetrated against children feeds addiction, impoverishment and the criminal justice system. Victimized children who end up on the street may survive into adulthood, but they do not heal without economic independence embedded in counseling, safe housing and meaningful work. While public awareness in the US about the connection between child sexual abuse, human trafficking and prostitution has increased 100-fold in the past ten years, there are far, far less than 100 programs providing free housing and support for survivors. There are even fewer social enterprises where the ongoing wellbeing of the workforce is the primary mission and survivors are able to earn living wages while they work to clear their records and create new families.

This year Thistle Farms, a social enterprise run by the survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution that manufactures natural bath and body care products, is connecting with social enterprises around the world to launch a "shared trade" alliance and provide a means for women to leave the street and close the door on prison.

If you were to call Thistle Farms today, there's a good chance you would speak to Shana, who was sold into prostitution at 14 to a drug dealer. She would tell you about the past three years of her life and how it took a community of people -- at Thistle Farms, and its two-year residential program, Magdalene, at NA meetings, at Nashville's Sexual Assault Center -- to make it possible for her to get her own place, reunite with her kids, drive her own car and develop a serious set of work skills that make her proud and valuable.

Winds that are strong enough to turn the leaves, like the issues of sexual violence, are universal in nature, but are experienced uniquely on our individual bodies. The wind is loud enough now that we as a culture realize that for the majority of incarcerated women in this country, before they ever see the inside of prison walls they have already known the backside of anger, the underside of justice and the short side of what a loving community should be. Before the rains fall, let's move the conversation forward, beyond awareness to concrete action focused on long term housing, meaningful work and love without judgment. Let's feel the wind on our cheeks and work toward the healing of women and girls who have already endured enough. Let us remember that globally, we have asked that women continue to settle for bearing the burden of poverty, even as we hold them up as survivors. We can heal villages by healing the women. We can offer a shared-trade approach that holds women's social enterprise workers higher in the value chain. We can all come together before the rain falls.