Survivors of commercial sexual exploitation are ill-prepared to deal with the many barriers to a healthy recovery when they break free of their situation. These adult women survivors, both domestic and international, have complex physical and emotional needs that require specialized trauma-informed treatment. They often need legal assistance, addiction for mental health counseling, housing, and job training. Sisters from several Philadelphia religious communities became aware of the needs of these women.
Human Trafficking exists today because there are those who continue to regard women/children/men as a commodity, without worth and dignity. As director of Dawns’ Place, I meet women survivors of commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking who have survived severe and on-going trauma. They had to fight for a life they no longer thought they deserved but were desperate to have. Sr. Kathleen Coll
The Sisters’ Response
In 2004, a coalition of members from these Catholic religious communities sponsored a conference in Philadelphia on human trafficking. Over 200 representatives from local social service and criminal justice agencies were present. As a result of this conference the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition was formed by Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Coalition recognized the need for a residential program where women could have long-term healing and rehabilitative services that were specifically related to having been exploited for commercial sex work. However, no agency was able to address this need.
Three sisters from different congregations and two attorneys came together to found Dawn’s Place in Philadelphia in 2007, as a non-profit organization and residential program. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd donated a house to be used for a residential program for trafficked and commercially exploited women.
The reality is that when the women come to us they are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol while trying to heal from the experience of neglect and physical or sexual abuse during childhood, making them ripe for victimization. They are commonly forced or coerced into prostitution in their early teens. Their trauma is so severe that most struggle with mental illness and substance use disorder. Sr. Kathleen
In 10 years, Dawn’s Place has helped 100 women survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, of which 18 have been international survivors. Dawn’s Place provides ongoing After-Care. Dawn’s Place is a national model, incorporating and creating best practices for intensive interventions with those who have been commercially sexually exploited.
Funds Are Needed
Not all of these 100 women remain drug-free, sober, employed, and able to live independently. If the women could obtain a decent paying full-time job and housing in better neighborhoods that would sustain them and they would stand a better chance of surviving.
Funds are needed to pay the salary of a part-time social worker who would work with the women who get frustrated trying to find a decent paying job. The social worker would enable the women to identify their skills and help them obtain full-time employment. She would provide mentoring as the women move from Dawn’s Place to after-care to independent living.
Goals and Objectives
Provide nine women a year with intensive career development, job coaching and mentoring to enable them to maintain full time employment.
Immediate Charitable Response
$42,000 over two years to pay for a part-time social worker
The central task of Dawn’s House is to help women heal from trauma and re-enter society.