These are not stories of trauma. This is about how trauma-informed care helps trafficking survivors regain their sense of dignity and worth as they reclaim their lives of freedom. We are constantly amazed by the courage, strength and joy we see in the women survivors of human trafficking who spend time with us at LifeWay.
Note: The stories are real, but we have changed the names to protect privacy and safety.
Belinda’s Survivor Story
LifeWay’s safe houses are dedicated to providing safety and support for survivors of trafficking. Oftentimes survivors enter the program unaware of pregnancy due to the barriers they face in accessing quality health services, financial resources and social support. Additionally, the traumas they have endured may have clouded their ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of pregnancy.
When a survivor becomes aware of her pregnancy, the immediate concern is often centered around housing. Many survivors lack stable housing options beyond the safe house1, making this question exceptionally difficult to answer. Even for those who may have some social support in the community, the fear of homelessness looms large.
According to a study by Polaris, 64% of survivors cited a lack of affordable and safe housing options as a barrier to escape and recovery.2 Victims of sex trafficking face an increased risk of pregnancy due to the exploitation they endure. Sadly, they also suffer from delayed or nonexistent access to medical care.3 The horrors of commercial sex highlight the urgent need for organizations such as LifeWay to provide crucial support and resources to survivors.
One such survivor, whose name has been changed for privacy, recently experienced a life-changing event within the safe house. Belinda, a mother of small children, had lost custody of her kids due to the exploitation and trauma she endured. Despite her struggles, Belinda remained determined to succeed, although her intellectual challenges made it difficult for her to hold a job.
Belinda’s world was turned upside down when she discovered she was 26 weeks pregnant. Overwhelmed by the fear of housing instability, she contemplated terminating the pregnancy. However, the compassionate and nurturing relationship between Belinda, the house manager and the coordinator shone through.
The team at LifeWay Network sprang into action, assuring Belinda that her well-being and quality of care were the top priorities. They empathized with her fears and concerns, going above and beyond to connect her with the necessary resources. Their unwavering support reaffirmed that her condition was more important than housing concerns.
Ultimately, thanks to the barrier-free support system at LifeWay Network, Belinda will soon move from the safe house to a specially designed home that will provide her with the necessary support she needs. Her story serves as a testament to the dedication and commitment of the network in ensuring that survivors feel empowered and valued throughout their journey.
The strength and resilience survivors possess are awe-inspiring, and it is through organizations such as LifeWay Network that survivors can truly thrive and reclaim their lives. By providing safe housing and support for survivors of trafficking, we can help break down barriers and create opportunities for healing and growth.
1 United Way. (2022). The Intersection Between Housing Instabiity and Human Trafficking. https://www.unitedway.org/blog/the-intersection-between-housing-instability-and-human-trafficking
2 Polaris. (2018). A Roadmap for Systems and Industries to Prevent and Disrupt Human Trafficking. https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/A-Roadmap-for-Systems-and-Industries-to-Prevent-and-Disrupt-Human-Trafficking-Housing-and-Homelessness-Systems.pdf
3 Anjali Garg, Preeti Panda, Mandy Neudecker, Sara Lee. Barriers to the access and utilization of healthcare for trafficked youth: A systematic review, Child Abuse & Neglect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014521341930314X
Art Therapy Workshops Receive Support
LifeWay’s safe housing program is not a shelter — it’s a safe space to heal over the course of a year. And one of the ways that the survivors here heal is through art. The Talitha Kum Network, an international network against human trafficking, helped provide art therapy classes for the women who call LifeWay home.
Healing With Nature
When days grow short, worries tend to settle in. A flower-arranging workshop provided an opportunity to explore the effects of the seasons changing. The topics of conversation included seasonal depression, feelings related to COVID, anxiety and the importance of community and connection. With light jazz music playing in the background, each woman selected a vase and created a dried flower arrangements that she was encouraged to place in her bedroom. The residents said that the workshop allowed them to escape into their own world and have tactile contact with nature. The environment while conversing about these difficult topics remained calm and light, as the activity provided a safe, serene atmosphere for the women.
Growing With Gardening
With help and guidance from Sister Joan Dawber, founder of LifeWay Network and an avid gardener, a survivor recently transformed an overgrown plot into a flower garden. Participating in peaceful, restorative activities such as gardening provides time for reflection, expression and autonomy for survivors of trauma. Sometimes gardening serves a practical purpose too. The backyard garden also provides homegrown vegetables enjoyed by everyone in the house.
Offering a Welcome
We recently welcomed a new woman to LifeWay House. She came in feeling understandably nervous and worried about not being accepted by the other women residing in the house. After seeing her new room and bed, she was overwhelmingly relieved and grateful. One guest began helping her bring things to her room and told her about the neighborhood. Another guest baked a beautiful loaf of bread for her, brought it out on a platter with some honey and announced “Welcome home!”
The very first woman who came to reside with us at LifeWay, a victim of labor trafficking, burst into tears when she saw her very own bed, where she could sleep without worrying that someone would abuse her in the middle of the night. “Oh my God, this is beautiful,” she said, over and over again.
Going to College
When a woman at LifeWay was accepted into college, we were fortunate to find a supporter who offered to pay for a few of her classes. When she heard the good news, she wrote us a thank you note: “I am writing to express my sincere gratitude to you for making my dream of pursuing higher education possible … You are giving me the opportunity to spread my wings and fly!”
Celebrating the Holidays
The women residing at LifeWay House, along with the host community and staff, enjoyed an evening together decorating their Christmas tree and singing carols. Two of the women said this was the first time they had ever trimmed a Christmas tree! What an honor it is to share these holiday traditions with them in the house as they embrace being part of the LifeWay community!
We celebrate many birthdays at LifeWay, along with a wide variety of holidays specific to the religions and countries from where our women originate. We also enjoy celebrating milestones when women leave us to transition to live independently. Although we miss each of them as they leave, we are thrilled to celebrate these healthy transitions!
Feeding the Soul
In addition to being an opportunity to spend time with each other, cooking and baking are also empowering moments for survivors as they reclaim their independence. Food deprivation is one of the abuses trafficked persons are often subjected to. As our house manager shared, “They get great pleasure from learning to prepare their favorite recipes and sharing them with each other and the staff. Often they spend time with me in the kitchen trying new recipes and creating their favorite tastes. One of our newest house members loves blueberry muffins and spent a morning with me learning how to bake them. This brought a great sense of accomplishment and a priceless smile to her face! It was so wonderful to see!
During the Thanksgiving season, the women residing at LifeWay’s safe houses expressed their thanks to LifeWay’s volunteers by creating beautiful handmade origami cards and hearts on which they wrote “thank you” in their native languages. Many hearts — many thanks!
Birthdays at LifeWay House
Not long after LifeWay House opened, we had a birthday party for one of our first residents. And this woman was in tears at her own birthday party. It was the first time anybody had ever acknowledged her birthday, much less had a party and cake to celebrate her.
We came to learn that this story was not an isolated case, this is often the story of the women survivors of human trafficking in the LifeWay House community.
KJ’s Survivor Story
One of the surprises is that I never knew about these safe houses or that these protections existed. They give you protection, order and a home, and you will be safe in this type of house. Because in my country, they don’t have these systems—we don’t have any idea what labor trafficking and domestic violence are so we don’t know this exists. Mostly, people who live here know it. I heard about shelter for the first time in my life, so safe housing is a big thing for me.
My favorite part about living here is protection. They’re caring, like a mother. They give an environment like a home. The staff pay attention to emotions, they ask, they do care. It’s not only in the house; it’s about the team. Mostly they care wherever they are, they pay attention. If we come late, if we are going somewhere, they ask if we are safe, our comfort zone, what we are doing. They make sure everyone is safe. If we come late, they worry if we are late, like a mother. The staff are the same. They ask, have you eaten? Did you sleep? Is everything good? Is work good? Feels like a home; I don’t feel alone.
In the LifeWay house, I learned a lot of things. Sleeping disciplines, cleaning disciplines, schedule time tables. I lived here to learn about disciplines: manners, sitting, talking, how to communicate with other persons. Dining table disciplines. I learned a lot of good things. I want to apply all of these things to my life and grow up more.
I learned English better, how to understand everything, and good confidence—speak confidently. They prepare me for a job also. How to dress up, how you can answer. This is a good thing. Because in our education they teach us, but they don’t teach us how to do an interview. Which dress is better for you, which questions they will ask you. You have to seek this out personally. But in the house they teach me what dress is better, how you can apply for a job. They help in the house with everything. How to travel in the train routes. I travel one hour; they teach you which one is express, which one is local, how to use the MTA. They teach everything step by step. They make your life easier. I studied 16 years, but my eight months here is better than my 16-year education.
I read a lot of books in my school and university; I completed my master’s in education. But they are not teaching what you are teaching in the house for eight months.
My personal dream: I want to be a part of this organization when I am a rich person. I wish to help this organization for the future—they saved my life. I wish when I am an established woman I can support this type of organization. I can support other women—this is my personal wish.
I am thinking about going for my nursing assistance. And learning more and more. Maybe with time I can be a doctor and get better opportunities. I spoke to (another resident); she walked me through the process.
LifeWay gave me a safe place. They just polished my life to give me these important things. They help with surviving in this country. They give me acknowledgement, to make my life easy. They provide everything inside the home. The food, the clothes—every need.
The best thing about the safe house is we can make long-term plans in a short time period. We utilize this time and work hard, and our future life is better and safe if we don’t waste that life. If we work only one year, then our next years are safe—if we work only one year in the house. These types of organizations save your life.
KJ is a survivor of labor and sex trafficking. She was a vibrant young woman in Pakistan who had recently graduated with her master’s degree in art education when her family decided to send her to the U.S. She arrived to stay with a trusted family friend who promised her family to look after her. She had big dreams of living in the Big Apple, finding work in her field or in the tech industry. Her dream suddenly became a nightmare when the family friend held her captive in his home, preventing her from leaving and forcing her to work, exploiting her for his gains. This survivor story is about broken trust, exploitation and betrayal.
But it’s also about overcoming. Our incredible community of supporters gives women like KJ the platform from which they can do the work to rebuild their lives. Feel safe. Heal. Learn. Launch.