Moderated by Rick Badie
Atlanta ranks as one of the major human trafficking and child sex exploitation centers in the country. It’s been estimated that, on average, 100 adolescent girls are sexually exploited on any given night. Several groups battle sex trafficking in the city. Today, the founder of a nonprofit writes about efforts to rescue girls and young women. I interview a woman who recently broke free from a cycle of sex and drug abuse.
Woman finds help to flee sexual abuse
By Rick Badie
Tania was 15 when her parents divorced, leaving her mother to fend for two children. The north Fulton family had been accustomed to a particular lifestyle that required more money than came into the fold. Male friends and acquaintances of Tania’s mother would offer to repair the washing machine, fix an unhinged door.
Tania, coerced by her mother, occasionally became a source of payment.
“It was very sly,” said Tania, who asked that her last name not appear in this column. “She would leave me at home alone with them. She would say things like, ‘Mr. Thomas has done a lot for us around the house.’ I was given alcohol and drugs to relax. I take responsibility on my end, but as I grew up, that was my mentality.”
Those adolescent years fueled a horrific cycle of alcohol, drugs and sexual abuse in adulthood. Tania stripped at several clubs throughout metro Atlanta. A marriage lasted 13 months and produced a now-adult son. She returned to the stage as a primary income source, but waited tables and tended bar, too. She bounced in and out of relationships, sometimes shacking, occasionally spending weekend getaways with club regulars.
“It was like being a hamster,” she said. “You are on the wheel going ’round and ’round. There was this voice inside that said, ‘You are better than this,’ but no one else ever told me that. I would do anything. After a while, I just had had enough. I got tired of the lifestyle. The prostitution.”
Tania, then in her 30s, joined a women’s group at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta. One day she opened up about her dreaded past. Someone gave her a book: “A League of Dangerous Women: True Stories from the Road to Redemption,” by Mary Frances Bowley, founder of the nonprofit Wellspring Living, which helps survivors of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation.
Tania read about young women who had been sexually exploited as children. Who had lacked hope and self-esteem. Who were like her. Broken.
“I was in tears,” she said. “The hurt and pain. You can’t fake that, and you can’t make up these stories. These stories are really horrific.”
A phone number was listed in the back of the book. Tania called and eventually enrolled in Wellspring’s free year-long residential and transition program. It marked the start of her recovery.
“Each girl’s walk is different,” she said, “but I transitioned very well back into society. It was like peeling an onion. I had to go through some deep wounds from my past and I had to forgive myself and my mother.”
Tania, now 40, is studying to become a certified nursing assistant. A woman from her Bible studies class pays the tuition, and someone else plans to pay for her state board exam.
“Now I have a life,” she said. “And I am grateful for it.”
Join us in helping victims
By Mary Frances Bowley
Did you know that, at 27 million, there are more slaves on earth than at any other time in human history?
In the United States alone, more than 100,000 children are forced into sex trafficking each year, according to FBI reports. And Atlanta is one of the major hubs for human trafficking and childhood sex exploitation in the United States.
My name is Mary Frances Bowley, and I serve as founder and president of Wellspring Living. More than 11 years ago, after learning about a woman in my own community struggling against the storm of human trafficking, Wellspring Living was born.
Initially, the vision was to rally the faith community to help restore the forgotten and restore hope to this community of hurting women in Atlanta. Our goal quickly shifted to establishing comprehensive programs that involved the entire Atlanta area in the restoration of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
We serve more than 100 women annually through three types of healing programs: Wellspring Living Girls, Wellspring Living Women and the Empowered Living Program.
Each of these programs focuses on the holistic restoration of survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking. They include residential treatment with opportunities for counseling, group therapy, education, life skills and vocational training. Our primary goal is to move these women into a healing process and toward a healthy lifestyle so that their future is bright and very different from the circumstances in which they came to us.
As a founding member of the Governor’s Task Force for CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children), we are also passionate about our Empowered Living Program, which provides residential, therapeutic, educational and career guidance services for young women who have been identified as CSEC victims. Our hope is to foster holistic change in young women so that they can become self-sustained and empowered through community, education and therapy. We encourage these girls to seek support in the community, secure healthy jobs and continue their educations.
We invite the Atlanta community to partner with us in the fight by volunteering in one of our programs or organizing your own creative way to give back and raise awareness.
As this year nears an end, we are staring at somewhat of a beginning. We have a unique opportunity for people around the world to stand with us, and more importantly, stand with survivors in the fight against injustice.
It’s called the White Umbrella Campaign. An umbrella is a physical symbol of shelter from a storm, and the color white represents purity, but in order to offer that protection to someone else, one must stand awfully close to that person. To get involved or learn more, visit http://thewhiteumbrellacampaign.com or https://wellspringliving.org/.
Stand with us. Stand with her.
Mary Frances Bowley is founder and CEO of Wellspring Living.