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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Healing from Human Trafficking

SAN DIEGO – In the faces of human trafficking survivors, Grace Williams sees the suffering of Jesus Christ.

Like Jesus, the female survivors Williams works with have been betrayed by those who claimed to love them, sold for money, stripped and dehumanized.

“It’s basically a Station of the Cross, seeing what happens to these girls,” said Williams, 30, a member of St. Anne Parish in San Diego.

In late 2013, Williams founded Children of the Immaculate Heart, which currently provides housing and rehabilitation for adult female survivors of human trafficking who have children. The nonprofit organization is also working to establish a residential treatment facility for minor girls who have been trafficked.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office describes human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery where perpetrators profit” – to the amount of $32 billion worldwide and $9.5 billion in the United States each year – “from the sexual exploitation and/or forced labor of men, women and children.”

Williams began volunteering with Mary’s Guest House, a safe house in San Diego operated by the Marist Missionary Sisters for female trafficking survivors, in early 2013. Nine months later, she founded Children of the Immaculate Heart “to serve survivors of human trafficking and bring them restoration in Christ.”

Focusing on victims of sex trafficking, Williams’ organization currently has three clients. Both are provided with a safe place for them and their children to live, case management, therapy, job training and education.

“It’s a long process,” Williams said, noting that programs for trafficking survivors often last two or three years because they must process severe trauma and wrestle with anger and trust issues.

Williams said many of the children who get trafficked went through the child welfare system or were placed into foster care, and were victims of abuse at home, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers in their teenage years.

“Imagine that’s what you’ve known your entire life – major sexual abuse which then ends up in a trafficking situation where you’re raped 10 times a day for money for somebody else,” Williams said. “It’s just so damaging that the healing process takes quite a while.”

But “a little bit of love can go a long way,” she said.

Williams said a major influence in her conversion to Catholicism about 10 years ago was her conviction that the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and the dignity of the human person were true. Through her organization, she believes that she is helping to bring “this particular aspect of the Gospel to a very broken part of our society.” She and others associated with Children of the Immaculate Heart may “talk about God a lot, because it is who we are,” but they do not force their faith on their clients. Rather, she said, they recognize their clients’ freedom and “respect the workings of grace in the souls of those we are dealing with.”

“We don’t have a catechism class we require, but we would be through-the-roof excited if one of our women wanted to be baptized and go through RCIA,” Williams said.

In addition to its adult program, Children of the Immaculate Heart is also working to open a residential treatment facility that would house six to eight underage female survivors of human trafficking. Williams said the program is being developed, a suitable facility has been located and approval from the County of San Diego is being sought. The shelter would offer in-house therapy, case management and education, and have a 24/7 rotating staff.

When it opens, Williams said, it will be the only facility of its kind for minor girls in San Diego, despite the fact that the FBI has identified San Diego as one of the top 13 high-intensity child prostitution areas.

Robert Moscato, a 51-year-old member of Our Mother of Confidence Parish, has served on the board of Children of the Immaculate Heart since 2014. Moscato has been active in detention ministry for more than 20 years, including the past four as a chaplain in the juvenile detention system. He said he was “shocked and horrified” by the firsthand accounts of human trafficking he heard from the girls he was ministering to as a chaplain, but he is grateful for the opportunity to help them.

“It’s humbling and it’s a grace that God would call me to do this,” he said, “and I am, through His grace, able to experience His love for these girls. And that’s the bottom line here. The bottom line is that that’s what ultimately is going to heal these girls” – the love of God.

Williams told The Southern Cross that people can help the organization in several ways.

“The number-one way is definitely prayer,” she said. But donations are also welcome to help cover the high cost of housing and therapy, she said, and volunteers can assist with administrative tasks or work directly with the clients.

In the future, Williams said she hopes that Children of the Immaculate Heart will be able to expand and operate multiple homes.

“I don’t expect that our work is going to bring an end to human trafficking,” she said. But, she added, “Everybody has their piece of the puzzle to play. … Our piece is serving survivors.”


Reprinted with permission of The Southern Cross.

2 Responses to “Healing from Human Trafficking”
  1. Janet Cook says:

    I would like to help with administrative or hands on tasks.

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