The Power of Community
Walking among the more than 150 attendees at the 2019 Event Toward New Life, it’s obvious the LifeWay Network community is thriving. After more than a decade collaborating to end the scourge of human trafficking, they are energized about the vital work they are doing and the growing impact of their efforts. The smiles and hugs are genuine, and so is their determination. This is a community on a mission.
Expanding the Community
With a relatively small group of dedicated volunteers and staff, LifeWay Network has made an outsize impact by building a sincere and passionate community working to end human trafficking. To date, the organization has reached 14,000 people through its education programs and assisted more than 100 women in its safe houses.
Anne Green, President of the LifeWay Board, observed that while the spark for LifeWay Network began with Sister Joan Dawber, it now includes “a proud and expanding sisterhood of LifeWay alumnae and survivors, the incredible hosts of our safe houses, the tireless volunteers, the extended network of like-minded organizations and this wonderful assembly of faces, all so caring and engaged, seated before me right now.”
Empowering the Community
Freedom Awardee: Lauren Hersh, National Director, World Without Exploitation
“In honoring Lauren tonight, we are also honoring the community that she and the World Without Exploitation represent. By combining the voices of hundreds of anti-trafficking organizations and activists, World Without Exploitation is amplifying the vision we share, a world in which the inhumane reality of trafficking is ended forever,” Sister Joan said in her introduction of the Freedom Awardee.
As a prosecutor in the King’s County District Attorney’s office, Lauren once shared the common misconception that sex trafficking involves foreign-born victims smuggled into the U.S. The reality was eye opening. “The majority of victims were American-born women and girls and they were being exploited right here in our back yards, in every single one of our neighborhoods. These were women and girls, mostly of color, often poor, who were lured into prostitution by someone who promised to love and care for her and then sold her, repeatedly, to anyone who would buy her.”
Lauren prosecuted a wide range of cases affecting women and girls and led the charge to create one of the first Sex Trafficking Units in the country. As Co-Chair of the New York Anti-Trafficking Coalition, she worked to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act in 2015.
She forcefully refutes the adage that prostitution is a victimless crime. “Friends, in nearly every single sex trafficking case I have worked on, the harm has been devastating and the violence has been extraordinary. And this is really important: there would be no sex trafficking if there were no prostitution. There is nothing victimless about it.” Lauren is adamantly opposed to the current movement in New York to decriminalize pimping and sex buying and urged everyone to act:
- Call state lawmakers. Pimps and buyers must be held accountable for the harm they cause.
- Call schools. Children must be educated about sex trafficking, consent, healthy relationships and online safety.
- Support organizations, like LifeWay Network, that are fighting to end human trafficking. “Your donation is a lifeline for a person who needs your help now.”
Extending the Community
Voices of Freedom: LifeWay Network Alumnae
This fall, the power of community will extend to a new mentorship program. WINGS (Welcoming and Inspiring New Growth as Sisters) will help ease the transition to independent living and accompany survivors on their journey. Three alumnae of the safe housing program who are members of the mentorship planning and design team, shared their thoughts on why WINGS is an essential component of the healing process.
Jenna* (*name has been changed)
“Survivors have a very difficult time finding their way back to being normal. LifeWay does a wonderful job making these women feel safe and welcomed back to society, however, it is just the beginning. The WINGS program will give them the opportunity to grow, to connect. These women need a community to walk with them through the journey to freedom.”
“We need someone to guide us through some of the everyday things that are not simple to us after we are free from abuse and violence and trauma. When we live independently, we are responsible for what and who we want to be. And that’s the time when we need someone to say, ‘you can do it. You’ve already managed something huge, so now this is a small thing that you can deal with.’ ”
“This program is very close to my heart and I have been so passionate in doing everything I can to make it successful. Through the program, [survivors] would be learning and having mentors one-on-one who have the experience and they will guide them step-by-step. It’s a very good platform to build a community that the residents and survivors need the most. Because when you are leaving the house, you are jumping back into this world that has done a lot of damage to you. You don’t feel very comfortable. You need continuous support from someone you trust.”
Changes within the Community
Sister Joan Dawber announced she would transition from Executive Director to a new role at LifeWay, working more closely with the safe house residents and alumnae. Additionally, Sister Melissa Camardo decided to step away from her position as Director of Development to focus on her role in the safe house host community. Their years of dedicated service and stewardship have positioned LifeWay for continued success. Sister Joan concluded, “I am profoundly proud of all that we have already accomplished and I am so excited to be part of everything to come.”
Guest blog post by Cyd Averill