COLUMBUS, OH – To assist in the healing of women who are survivors of human trafficking, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and Theresa Flores, founder of S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), a human trafficking survivor, national speaker and writer, provided a New Beginnings Survivors Retreat for 20 victims of human trafficking from across the country. The retreat took place at the St. Therese Retreat Center (Columbus, OH), from January 1 to 3, 2016. The female attendees traveled from California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio and ranged in age from the early 20s to 40s.
Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States and globally. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Each part of the retreat was designed to lift the spirits of the women attending and gift them with positive images of themselves.
The retreat began with Washing of the Feet, an act of love led by Sr. Carol Davis, a Dominican Sister of Peace and substance abuse counselor and retreat leader from Niskayuna, NY. “I believe this retreat is important for healing,” Sr. Carol said. “Survivors can claim their voice, speak their truth and connect with others who understand.”
Maria Durant, a news reporter from ABC-6 Columbus, offered tips on how to be interviewed, especially for survivors who want to tell their story.
Two female Highway Patrol Troopers from Michigan, Mary Capp and Tressa Duffin, provided instruction in self-defense and nutrition. When the out-of-uniform troopers introduced themselves, some of the women initially reacted negatively. “I was often treated as a criminal by the police,” one woman said. “I’m so glad you two understand.”
Art therapists, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart and Lyndsey Archer, (Ohio), guided the women in creating their personal LIFT books. (LIFT stands for Listen and Know, Inspires, To Fly Free and Trust.) Both Mary Helen and Lyndsey work with Hope and Liberation Coalition, which is dedicated to creating awareness and preventing human trafficking via the arts.
Dominican Sisters of Peace Noreen Malone, OP, introduced the women to “the Real Woman at the Well” in John’s Gospel. “From her we learn that God is not in the mountain but in our thirst. God is not in the temple but in the stream of our desire,” Sr. Noreen said.
Pastor Bonnie Laudeman, chaplain with the Investigative and Forensic Services Department of the Oakland County, Michigan, Sheriff’s Office spoke about “the Bad Girls of the Bible.” “We don’t transform ourselves God does,” she said. “We can’t forgive ourselves. God forgives us.”
Katerina Rosenblatt, PhD (Florida), participated in the retreat. Like Flores, she survived trafficking as a teen and now speaks nationally. Through her foundation, There Is H.O.P.E. for Me, Rosenblatt helps women trapped in sex trafficking.
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