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What's Happening


What came before this is unimaginable. A victim of human trafficking approaches a car, looking back over the days, months, or years she is leaving behind. She is moving onto another place but the trauma she has endured stays with her. Perhaps she carries the physical bruises on her body, like Tamara who had black eyes, a fractured jaw and cheekbone, broken ribs, and internal bleeding when she recently escaped from her trafficker. She most certainly carries the mental, emotional, and spiritual scars that a life of slavery and dehumanization will leave on her.

She doesn’t know what home or family looks like, but she hopes to. She longs for a place to be safe.

The Uncaged team has been instructed on what to say to her to help her feel cared for from the moment she steps into their presence. She steps into the car, accompanied by staff who have been trained in trauma-informed practices. Gentle music plays on the radio as she watches the landscape change. The tree-lined road bends toward a barricade that lets her know she is protected inside the walls erected just for her.

The gate swings open to reveal orchards, the fruit hanging on the limbs in early spring. She drives past the new pony standing next to his mother and watches the dogs play in the yard. She sees quaint cabins, a swing, a pool, flowers blooming, and a garden lovingly tended. The first survivor who arrived on the property saw the roses covering an archway and gasped, “All these roses are for me.”

Staff approaches the car with a snack and a warm drink. They greet her and guide her toward one of the cozy cabins and tell her, “Welcome home.” They hand her a bag filled with a robe, slippers, toiletries items, and a journal. It is all hers.

She tells the staff the same thing the girl before her said: “I don’t deserve this.” She keeps saying, “I can never repay you for this.” The thing is, she can’t imagine someone gifting her anything. The life she left behind came with the condition of always being in debt. She had to pay for everything she had with her body. Her trafficker, her clients—they only took from her. She couldn’t even imagine a warm bed, regular meals, or a safe place. A free gift is not something she understands—yet.

She will settle into her room feeling protected, knowing she has gentle supervision 24 hours a day. Now she needs time to rest, to begin to heal and feel safe. The first concern that will be met is her physical well-being. She will receive any medical care she needs in the coming days and time to recuperate. Her new life is just beginning!

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“You aren’t going to believe this. One of our team members was sitting at home this afternoon eating lunch with his entire family. All of a sudden, their front door burst open and there was a girl there,” the man told our European director. This man was the owner of an ophthalmologist’s office who treated Annabelle last year when our team at The Sanctuary realized she was legally blind.

Our team stayed in touch with this gentleman and got a call from him a couple weeks ago. “I feel really strongly that you need to come and train my team in anti-human trafficking strategies so they can identify traffick victims when they come across them,” he told our European Director, Beni.

Beni told him he was very busy and about to go to the states. The man insisted. “I really feel like this needs to happen as soon as possible,” he said. Beni was able to make time in his schedule to train the staff and went onto his trip shortly after.

Shortly after this Beni received the call that connected us with a young woman in desperate need, we will call Tamara.

The owner of the business mean told Beni the girl who arrived at his team member’s door was beaten and battered. She was soaking wet and terrified. The family got her inside and calmed down. They were able to talk to her and realized she was a trafficking victim who had escaped from her trafficker just a couple buildings away. Because of the training he had received, the staff member knew what to do when Tamara arrived at his doorstep!

Beni called our team in Romania who launched into action! The family hid her in their apartment for a few hours until our team got there. She was badly beaten—black eyes, fractured jaw and cheek bone, broken ribs, and internal bleeding. Our team took her to five different hospitals for treatment. They got her some medication and clean clothes and took her to a safe place where she collapsed and slept the entire next day.

Her physical pain is healing slowly and she has a long way to total healing. But she is safe and secure now. She is free!

While the primary mission of the Sanctuary is bringing healing to survivors, we know the training we do aids this mission in ways we may not see for days, months, or years. One person trained can translate into identifying and caring for dozens of survivors!

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“Yesterday was the best day of my life,” I heard her say. I was sitting in the dining room of the Sanctuary as survivors were telling their Resident Specialists about how they celebrated Easter the day before.

Easter in the Orthodox Church is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon after Passover, a different day than protestant Christians celebrate the resurrection. I was excited to be visiting Romania during the time of Easter and to get to experience my first Orthodox celebration. The survivors who were at The Sanctuary that day asked if they could go to the nearby Orthodox church for midnight mass on Easter Eve.

We went into the village and through the doors of the church. The whole town was packed into the little building. Everything was new to me, but to these girls, they were returning to their roots. They held my hand and guided me through the service.

The people were chanting prayers in Romanian and it was so beautiful. The Priest lit our candles and we, in turn, lit the candle of the person next to us until the room was full of light. The congregation walked three laps around the church, the girls arm in arm with me.

It was a truly precious moment for me when they excitedly asked what I thought of the service. They shared this little part of their culture and history with me. Back at The Sanctuary the next day they were just as excited about sharing the day with me. “Going to church with Kim was the best day,” one of them said.

They then asked if they could also visit another church in town. It is amazing to see survivors who have seen the darkest of humanity now desire to connect to their spiritual roots and to God. They are open and they want to explore.

This choice to explore—to connect to who they are and figure out their own way forward—is so important for healing. Choice-based therapy means giving survivors the ability to make their own decisions. They haven’t known what it is like to have a choice or control over their own lives for a very long time. They need to go where they feel comfortable and safe. They need to be empowered to make their own decisions.

This is all part of the healing trafficking survivors experience at The Sanctuary, and I am so grateful to be a part of it. Will you be a part of it, too?

Be the key to choice, to empowerment, and to transformation!

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