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From Trauma to Healing: Inside a Trafficking Shelter

Saving people from sex trafficking is important, but what happens afterwards? One shelter opened its doors, offering an inside look at what it takes for victims to heal from trauma, recover human dignity, and move on to ... ... Read Transcript

HEATHER SELLS: For 13 years, sex traffickers

tricked, manipulated, and sold Hannah.

She endured until it became clear they might kill her.

I came to realize that, um-- the people didn't love me

nor care about me.

As matter of fact, they would have traded my life

to protect their own lives.

HEATHER SELLS: She arrived at this Christian trafficking

shelter both scared and excited.

I immediately felt safe.

I immediately felt like I was in a part of a family.

HEATHER SELLS: But Hannah is the first to admit

her months of recovery have been painful.

This program hasn't been easy.

Victims of trafficking have usually experienced

major and persistent trauma.

It's comparable to what we know as PTSD.

So because their injuries are so deep and sustained,

the rehabilitation process is lengthy.

She has already been living an unstable and traumatic


Then you add the trauma of being trafficked,

the violence, the neglect, the deprivation, the coercion

and that creates a complexity of trauma.

HEATHER SELLS: Four years ago, Jean Allert

began The Samaritan Women, a Christian shelter

for survivors of sex trafficking.

She and her staff provide around the clock intensive care.

We're dealing with the threat, the history, her skills

or lack thereof, maybe medical issues, and mental health


And it's really the whole person and her whole life.

So when people say, what are your services?

Not so facetiously, we say everything.

HEATHER SELLS: The latest national estimate show

around 50 shelters providing care for trafficking victims.

Roughly 2000 beds exist, not nearly enough

for the tens of thousands who need them.

Experts say money is one of the biggest obstacles.

The programs that are really doing the best job

cost a lot more than the programs

that may not have specialized services

to survivors of trafficking.

HEATHER SELLS: And research is the other hurdle,

enduring both fund raising and program effectiveness.

An American psychological task force recently

found no reliable estimate of the trafficking

of women and girls in the US.

It also found that providers need systematic,

high-quality research to determine what works

and what does not.

These challenges have taken a toll on trafficking shelters.

At least five have permanently or temporarily

closed in the last year.

There's a lot of burn out.

We have a lot of people who want to help, don't know how,

and then it's frustrating for them.

HEATHER SELLS: In just four years,

The Samaritan Women organization has learned a great deal

about what it's women need.

At first, it's all about making them feel safe, both physically

and emotionally.

She has to know she's going to eat every day.

She has to know she's not going to be

violated while she's sleeping.

HEATHER SELLS: Then women must learn who they are.

That's because traffickers usually lure young teens

and literally stunt their psychological development.

Even though, chronologically, she's in her 20s,

we're starting at 14.

And we're picking up on the lessons

that you learn during those stages of your life.


HEATHER SELLS: The final step, women must decide what's next.

For many, that means working on their education.

For others, career goals.

Hannah loves to mow the shelter's large property

with the hopes of becoming a forklift operator someday.

She credits relationships in the shelter

with giving her the strength to press on.

I know that they would do anything in their power

to see me succeed.

And knowing that, it keeps me strong.

HEATHER SELLS: The APA Trafficking Task Force

is calling for survivor informed research

to help pave the way for women like Hannah.

It also wants to explore the role of faith

in the recovery process.

It's an enormous challenge, but as Allert notes,

providers can also build off a core resilience

shown by survivors.

She's already survived through a lot.

So we've gotten an individual into our care

who's already proven that they have tremendous strength.

So for us to treat her with complete kid gloves

as if she's unable to care for herself, I think,

disrespects the fact that she's already

demonstrated that she might be stronger than you are.

HEATHER SELLS: Picking up the pieces of these broken lives

is expensive, complicated, and emotionally draining.

But providers add that doing nothing

puts young souls at stake and adds long term cost to society

for those who never heal.

Heather Sells, CBN News.

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