A New Emancipation Proclamation

Recently, I have kept returning to the idea of Emancipation. My hope for sexual assault survivors, who are willing to speak their truth amidst their pain and hard work, is that there is healing. Not just for themselves, but for this culture that would still rather keep the secrets of abusers than hear the cry of those assaulted.  

My prayer is that through their sweat and tears, there is a new emancipation for young women, and a greater sense of freedom for survivors. My unwavering belief is that always love is the most powerful force for change, and that today, we have to change to love the world more fully. As I was working on these reflections, it was announced that The Senate will hear from Dr. Ford. Whatever happens, her testimony has already had a profound effect.  

Rachel Held Evans recently wrote ,"The same religious leaders who told me as a teenager that premarital sex was a grave sin that would ruin my life forever have declared that no one can fault a 17-year-old boy for a little attempted rape." My wish in writing this reflections is that you join with me in my hope, my prayer, and my belief that if we can not grow weary of hearing the truth, our world can change and more women can find freedom.

The Emancipation of Slaves was a movement that cost folks their lives and livelihood, as well as fueling war and hatred. There are studies, articles, and heartfelt programs that have linked human trafficking of women as Modern Day Slavery. While they are not parallel issues, in some fundamental ways, there is a need for Emancipation of Women who have been raped, bought and sold, imprisoned, addicted, and told they are subhuman.

I have spent decades with women who are survivors, which means I get to work with women who feel the power and freedom of emancipation. They have suffered the universal issues of violence against women on their individual backs and borne the injustice and humiliation of a culture that tolerates the buying and selling of other human beings. In this humbling work, I mostly have to take a wide turn around political analyses and stay fairly close to the ground in order to witness what freedom looks like.   But over the years I have learned through legislative work, through news feeds, and being in hundreds of churches, that the the buying and selling of women has religious, political and economic fallout. 


have never met a woman walking the streets who has not been raped. Long before we criminalize those women inside of prison walls, they already have known the short side of justice, the backside of anger, the underside of bridges and the dark side of our country that still turns its back on child sexual abuse, criminalizes juvenile runaways, accepts the violence of the human construct of "poverty: those teenagers face, turns away as they find dates, resort to stripping, get trafficked, and then enter into the marriage of the sex and drug industries. 

I believe that until all women, especially young women are emancipated from that heartbreaking scenario, none of us will be free since all our freedoms are tied together. This hope for emancipation is why Thistle Farms has partners in more than 50 cities and partners all over the globe.  Without a more powerful network and a shared marketplace women will remain vulnerable to nameless Johns, abusers, and dealers. Economic freedom is critical to the emancipation of survivors.  

Shelia McClain, Senior Case Manager at Thistle Tarms and 2007 Graduate of the Residential Program describes the work we do beautifully. She spends her life helping women still trapped in the life and on the streets find a place of healing:

“We are part of a larger movement—locally, national and globally—to change a culture that believes in the buying and selling of human beings. Each day at Thistle Farms, we devote ourselves to the healing, empowerment and employment of survivor-leaders who have overcome trafficking, prostitution, addiction and abuse. Nationally, we support 50 survivor-led communities in 26 states as they offer sanctuary to an additional 180 survivor-leaders, and globally, we partner with 26  social enterprises that support the employment of over  1700 survivors around the world.”

–Shelia, Magdalene Senior Case Manager & 2007 Thistle Farms Graduate

Emancipation is like a vision of a mountaintop that keeps us all going on the paths in the valleys of struggle. What I am clear on is that the issue of slavery and the issue of human trafficking are linked by a complacent society that is willing to tolerate the way we treat our sisters because we either buy into the myths that they choose it, or that they are happy, or that things will change without our action.

None of the women that I have served ended up on the streets by themselves. It took broken systems, dysfunctional families, and complacent communities to help them get there. It makes sense that it will take those same communities, no longer complacent to welcome them home.

Women do find freedom.