My name is Sister Michelle Loisel Director of a safe residence and therapeutic program for both international and American women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation. Dawn’s Place is in Philadelphia, in the US. The name “dawn” was chosen for its meaning “the beginning of a new day”.
Frequently, sex trafficking is thought of as something that happens to foreign, underage girls who are sold into the slavery of prostitution. The US media often portrays young girls in high heels and skimpy dresses standing on street corners as persons who want to prostitute themselves. The reality is far from the truth. Most young girls and women are violently controlled by pimps and sex traffickers, who leave them little choice. Many enter street prostitution at the ages 12 to 14 and even before. Sex trafficking within the United States is as much a reality as it is in Thailand, Italy or anywhere else.
Trafficking is a world-wide problem. The United Nations estimates 2.4 million people are being trafficked at any one time. Eighty percent are trafficked for sexual exploitation, 17 percent are traded into forced labor. Two out of every three victims are women. Only one out of every 100 trafficking victims is ever rescued. The root causes of trafficking are poverty, gender-based violence, war and political conflicts. It is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
Dawn’s Place tries to offer a safe place to mitigate the suffering that sex trafficking has brought into girls’ and women’s lives. The effectiveness of Dawn’s Place is evident in the compassion and deep caring bonds the women form, even when they do not share a language, culture or ethnicity. The residential program works to bring the “beginning of a new day” to these women through counseling, the supportive environment, and providing education and job training. The women are helped to understand the cycle that resulted in them being sexually exploited. With help, they are able to empower themselves to emerge from the poverty, and exploitation they have experienced.
My background in nursing in different countries in conflict and my formation as a spiritual counselor have helped me to understand the trauma of our modern day slaves. They are sent to us to begin the healing process and to recover from their experience of physical traumas and the emotional and mental suffering associated with the loss of control of one’s life.
In this ministry to which I have been sent by the Company, I feel blessed to be at the service of women deprived of their human rights and freedoms and reduced to a commodity that is bought and sold.
There are many challenges in this service. However, I draw strength from our Constitutions. C. 24, Statute 8c, “They openly affirm respect for and the defense of human life in all its stages… They denounce situations that exploit and exclude people.” C.24e “They commit themselves to work for social transformation to change the unjust structures that cause poverty.” Truly the charity of Christ crucified urges us to both service and advocacy for and with these women!
Prayer: Jesus, help me to see as you do. When I look into their eyes, may I see your suffering and agony. Help me to take them down from their crosses and give them your love to nourish and give them back their dignity. Help me to walk with them down the long road of recovery May they begin again to believe in themselves and in your love. Help them to develop the courage and faith to start a new life of trust and freedom. This we know can happen in your presence, in your time and with your grace. Amen.