There are some things that are just too dark and too evil to talk about. So, we keep silent, and during that silence, the “thing” becomes darker, and the pain it causes becomes deeper and broader.
The “thing” is human sex trafficking. It’s a multi-billion-dollar crime industry that is growing at unprecedented speed. It’s a low-risk/high-profit enterprise where traffickers sell their “products” over and over, frequently going to the highest bidder just like any other auction.
The estimates differ as to how many women are trafficked right now. Today. Some say 100,000 women. Or more. Some say less. The number doesn’t matter since, in reality, one is one too many.
None of the stories coming out of sex trafficking survivors fall into the Pretty Woman genre. There is no Julia Roberts shopping on Rodeo Drive, and there’s no dashingly handsome Richard Gere to the rescue.
For the most part, trafficking manages to keep a low profile and keep its disgusting head just below the radar. We don’t talk about it in polite conversation, so, as noted above, it proliferates like a field of out-of-control mushrooms under cover of our silence.
Fortunately, there is someone who talks about trafficking. A lot. Every day. It’s Refuge for Women, was founded fourteen years ago in Kentucky by Ked Frank and his wife Michelle. It is a non-profit, faith-based organization that provides long-term care for women who survived, and escaped, the horrors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Refuge for Women was established as a direct result of Frank learning that women who wanted help in escaping had no long-term, safe havens available. That meant without employment, money, and other basic resources needed for survival, they would be pushed back into the life they’d escaped.
“The majority of us has no idea of the degradation these women go through,” said Amy Germer, executive director of the North Texas location. “The trafficker strips them completely of their identification. They destroy birth certificates, driver’s licenses – anything that says who they are. So many of us think these women choose that life. No. There was no choice involved. I cannot tell you how serving these women has humbled me and opened my eyes and my heart to so much.”
Refuge for Women expanded from that original Kentucky location to houses in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Texas Gulf Coast, and North Texas.
The first stop after escaping is emergency housing, where they are safe and secure. They’re provided food, clothing, hygiene items, medical care, psychosocial and therapeutic support, education, and skill building.
The location of the emergency housing is hidden, allowing the women to begin healing without fear. As noted, the organization is faith-based, but attendance at religious activities is voluntary.
First and foremost, survivors of trafficking and/or sexual exploitation must heal from the staggering trauma they’ve experienced. They do that in a loving, therapeutic atmosphere. They are surrounded by love, acceptance, and safe relationships to help rebuild trust. They have a structure to promote recovery, including a daily schedule.
“One goal is to give these women hope for the future,” Germer explained, “while teaching them they were created for self-worth and a list of beautiful things. Most of them were initially trafficked by people they know, often family members. For some, the horror began as young as four years old. Building trust under those circumstances requires time. Many suffer from substance abuse, which is another method of control over them.”
Upon completing Phase One of the program, the women move to another home to begin Phase Two. This is where they receive tools and training to lead a strong, healthy, self-supporting life. This includes computer education, mock job interviews, resume preparation, and much more. Everything is pointed toward a safe, stable future. There is constant, compassionate, 24/7 staffing, and a team of counselors is there for every step of the journey.
“This is difficult, often overwhelming work,” Germer admitted, “but it’s impossible to describe the feeling we have when we see the sparkle return to their eyes and skin.”
Refuge for Women serves nationwide in ten homes spanning six metropolitan areas. The organization’s commitment is to strengthen current sites and to open new sites across the United States.