Let me tell you about “Emily“… I met Emily years ago as Hepzibah House was first taking shape. She is extremely intelligent, articulate, gorgeous, has an infectious laugh, and a business degree.
Her dad was an upper level executive in a Fortune 500 company. He was respected in the community and at work… He was also a pedophile – abusing Emily as a very young child. He must have thought it wouldn’t matter since she was so young? Perhaps he thought she wouldn’t remember? But she did. Not initially, but later memories and images began to edge their way to the front as we worked on trauma.
Typical for this kind of family dynamic, her mom was suspicious. She resented Emily and was extremely harsh, demanding and exacting. Her older brother, on the other hand, was the golden child. Dad coached his little league team, supported his every endeavor, while Emily lived in her brother’s long shadow.
Her brother picked up on it and joined his parents in verbal and emotional abuse. But she still respected him. He was, after all, her older brother-hero. When Emily found her dad doing porn and confided in her brother – a youth leader in their church – he sided with his dad leaving her hurt, confused and questioning if God was even real.
No one was really surprised when she started going off the deep end in high school – doing drugs and skipping school. They just didn’t know what she was so desperate to escape from. Drugs led to stripping, drugs and stripping led to trafficking. This story is so familiar.
Change the name, a few details, and you have the classic story of a woman caught in commercial sexual exploitation. NO five year old girl says, “Hey!!! I know what I want to be when I grow up!! I want to be a hooker!!!”
There is ALWAYS a sad story of abuse, betrayal and abandonment behind the woman that most of us will never know.
Our mission at Hepzibah House is to hear their story, care about their pain, and gently support them as they move beyond the trauma towards a new start in life. You can help by praying, volunteering and supporting HH financially.
A LETTER FROM A HEPZIBAH DAUGHTER
Thanks to you, and others at Hepzibah House, my children and I don’t need to be on constant guard or worried about having to return to the traffickers any given day. We don’t feel compelled to choose between extreme violence and quiet compliance (unless ordered to comply with the traffickers by the court); and we are able to enjoy being at home, free of violence and abuse. Although I am still being forced to co-parent with my traffickers, I am able to do this at a safe distance from the traffickers who have obtained our previous locations from corrupt officials and done horrible things.
Because of the gifts, donations, and time Hepzibah House and others have sacrificed for us, my children and I celebrated the Christmas season in a safe and loving place – a well-furnished home, complete with ample food and presents. The children have met new friends; are attending one of the best schools in the state; and they are finally comfortable enough to explore their boundaries by trial and error – instead of by abuse. I am farther away from support, but I am as close to safety as I can get right now and I am enjoying watching my children grow without experiencing fear and daily abuse. They have been breaking all of the “rules” we had while we were in immediate reach of the trafficker (i.e., eating dinner, getting dirty, crying, putting their tiny little feet on the sofa, and even talking back); and I can actually tuck them into bed at night, and comfort them when they have nightmares, without any fear of the trafficker hurting us for it.
We have fun exploring and immersing ourselves in the culture here; and it is providing a safe home-base to rear my children; work on my own healing; research, write, and reach-out to help change the lack of protection to survivors and their children who are forced to co-parent with their traffickers.
This isn’t just a house, it’s not even just a new home – this is a new beginning, a fresh start. It’s an opportunity to live as we have not been able to live: We are safe here! We are still working on our daily routines, and I am struggling with overcoming my past trauma, finding employment, therapy for the children, and child care, but the hope that comes from looking around my home and seeing the love you have all poured into us encourages me – daily.
Not long ago I was in a very dark place with my children. My children were abused as a means to control me when I became numb to the traffickers’ abuses. My son was even thrown into a wall because the floor had sprinkles from cookies on it after my son had gotten into the cookies while I was working. My children have been illegally taken from me by void and/or false orders from a court biased in the traffickers’ favor. I had been sneaking off to school learning how to get away from my traffickers (who claims parental rights as a means to maintain control); putting make-up over bruises; going to the ER; hiding money from my trafficker; contacting my husband and family in secret; eating onion and beef broth soup; squatting in abandoned apartments; running from the trafficker; constantly working; constantly answering to him and his mother, who has instructed my children to call her Mommy, and who has been using her son’s paternity claims to further her agenda in her ongoing attempts to obtain my children and keep them as her own. I have even had to protect myself and my children from malfeasant and misfeasant officials with whom his mother has relations.
I don’t need to worry about any of that here! I know for a fact that we would have been forced back to the traffickers had Hepzibah House not helped us! Our new home, furnishings, books, food, clothing, gift-cards, and many gifts have been constant visual reminders of how much my God loves us, and how truly blessed we have been: We have beat the statistics! [Roughly 1% of individuals being trafficked actually escape.] Every morning I wake up to the sunshine kissing my cheeks through beautiful sheer drapes. I drink my coffee, made from the same machine gifted to me by my H.H. “volunteer” Mom. Our pantry is full and we even have olive oil! At night, I read devotionals and tuck the children into their own beds in their bedrooms; and I lay down in the most comfortable bed I have ever owned, and I don’t have to worry about the trafficker banging the door in or showing up with false orders.
Thank you Becky, Lynn, Paula, Alisa, all the volunteers and other survivors who pour their hearts, energy, and efforts into Hepzibah House, Beta Sigma Phi, and all of the silent angels who have blessed us through Hepzibah House. Please know that I am not only thanking you for the end result: I am thanking you also for all of the heart, time, and energy you have gifted us by sacrificing countless hours to plan, organize, reach out, obtain and provide the resources that continue to bless us with this amazing, comfortable, and safe home.
Because of all of those involved in blessing us through Hepzibah House: We feel safe; we feel cherished; we feel loved. From the bottom of my heart, Thank you.
With all of my love and appreciation,
A very blessed one-percenter and her children
Joanna was born into slavery, in California, in 1985. Exploitation was the only life she had ever known. The traffickers harnessed her rage and profited by putting her into women’s boxing. But when she began to lose, they “turned her out” on the street. It was understood that once she quit making her quota, they would harvest her organs and dump her body in the wilderness. This much we could verify, because the trafficking ring who held her was busted and several dozen perpetrators were arrested and convicted.
Safety was foreign to her. As the relationships began to build, so did Joanna’s anxiety. This is typical for individuals struggling with Reactive Attachment Disorder. WebMD.com defines Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as “a condition found in children who may have received grossly negligent care and do not form a healthy emotional attachment with their primary caregivers — usually their mothers — before age 5.” As an adult, it means when emotional intimacy or safety rises to a 3 on a 10 scale, their anxiety taps out at 20…
There had never been anyone trustworthy in Joanna’s life – so she never learned how to trust. It was never, ever modeled. To try to learn this as an adult is extremely difficult. Stories like hers are why we are determined to get a horse farm. Equestrienne Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) has been proven to be very effective in working with highly traumatized individuals. Outdoor activity is helpful in addressing depression, the rhythmic gait of horse riding can help the limbic system to reframe traumatic experiences, and horses serve as living “biofeedback” machines. This can be hugely helpful, facilitating and encouraging self-regulation skills, self-awareness and personal insight. Developing a relationship with an animal can be an early step in the pathway to learning how to trust – and developing a trusting relationship with a human. This is critical to the healing and restoration process!
If you happen to think about it, please pray for Joanna. That isn’t her real name, but I’m sure God can sort it all out.
Felicia was our first Hepzibah House client. I met her at our inaugural barn dance in 2011. We had gone to the same church for three or four years – so I knew who she was, but knew nothing about her. She approached me at the dance and said, “You know why I am so passionate about this issue?” I had no idea, and said as much. She said, “I was trafficked from 13 to 17 years old and you are the first person I have ever told.” Wow!! Felicia was my age – so she had kept her secret for 30+ years…
Her parents divorced when Felicia was 5, leaving her mom with five children to raise on her own in San Diego, CA. Her mom remarried when she was eight, but mom and step-dad were “checked-out” parents. Housing, food and clothing were provided, but parenting was not, leaving the kids to raise themselves.
Their house became the neighborhood party house and her parents never asked what they were doing in the backyard fort. Her older sibs introduced Felicia to heroin when she was ten, about the same time they began abusing her. In fact, her older brothers were her first traffickers – bringing their friends over to “hang out” with her and get high. (This is nauseatingly common.)
Felicia’s saving grace came when her friend’s mom took her to a Billy Graham Crusade when she was 11. She accepted Christ then, and always leaned into that resource in the tough years to come. When she was thirteen, tired of dealing with the abuse at home, she decided to run away with a friend thinking things could not possibly get worse. But she was very wrong. The plan was to hitchhike to L.A where her friend had family they could stay with. But the first ride they got turned out to be two traffickers. They separated the two girls and Felicia never saw her friend again. Her trafficker took her to a brothel to break her in – then brought her to L.A. and turned her out on the streets there.
Felicia can’t remember how many times she was arrested and booked – and that isn’t counting the times she was arrested and abused instead of being booked. The traffickers tried to get her addicted – but she couldn’t tolerate the drugs and almost OD’d twice. So her years on the streets were done mostly sober! It wasn’t until her trafficker decided to force her to pass bad checks that she got free. A perceptive bank teller noticed Felicia’s shaking hands and perspiration and alerted the FBI – who were the first ones to do a background check, discover she was an underage minor, and send her home.
Between the abuse and neglect of her family of origin and three years of chaotic and treacherous life as a sex trafficking victim, Felicia lacked the skills for adaptive living. She gravitated to gangs for a time, but eventually bought a one-way ticket to New York to start her life over. She got her cosmetology license and then came back to her faith – but instability followed her everywhere she went. She made poor choices in spouses, in other relationships, she could not stay in any one place more than a year or eighteen months. These things all began to shift once she came in for counseling and we began to address the accumulated trauma.
Several years ago she bought her first house ever!! AND she bought a bed! I know that seems like a strange mile marker… But she had been sleeping on the floor for all those years so she could pick up and leave at a moment’s notice if needed.
This is what we do at Hepzibah House: help survivors move beyond the trauma to healthy/adaptive living! It requires listening to their stories, caring about their pain and losses, walking with them through the process of healing – even when it means watching them make mistakes, hoping/praying they will recover quickly. There are no shortcuts. Mercy and compassion coupled with therapeutic tools and interventions are the necessary components for restoring dignity, hope and destiny to survivors. And you can help, too! You can volunteer, pray and support Hepzibah House financially. Please consider helping us help them in any or all of these options!