I have kept returning to the idea of emancipation. My hope for survivors of trafficking and commercial exploitation is that they feel emancipated. Women who are willing to speak their truth amidst their pain should find freedom and 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 unwavering belief is always that love is the most powerful force for change, and that today, we have to change to love the world more fully.
Rachel Held Evans 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 is that you join with me in my hope that if we do 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 and articles that link the human trafficking of women as modern day slavery. While they are not parallel issues, 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 buying and selling of women has religious, political and economic fallout.
I have yet to meet a woman who has survived trafficking who has not been raped.
Long before we criminalize marginalized 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 dehumanizing poverty.
I believe that until 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 100 cities in the U.S. and 30 partners all over the globe. We have opened a new office in Washington DC for advocacy. Without a more powerful network and a shared marketplace, women will remain vulnerable to nameless Johns, abusers, and dealers. Economic freedom, trauma informed legislation, and compassionate communities are critical to freedom for women survivors.
Shelia McClain, Senior Case Manager at Thistle Farms 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 100 survivor-led communities in 31 states as they offer sanctuary to additional survivor-leaders, and globally, we partner with 30 social enterprises that support the employment of over 1700 survivors around the world.”
–Shelia, Magdalene Senior Case Manager & 2007 Thistle Farms Graduate
The constructs that allow slavery and human trafficking hold in common 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, 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.