Imagine for a moment a young girl, 13 years old. Imagine she’s walking home from school when she is suddenly pulled violently off of the street into a van where she is chloroformed and shackled. Imagine she wakes up in the back room of a warehouse on a dirty, stinking mattress, chained with a group of other girls. Imagine she is forced, through systematic abuse and drug doping, to perform unspeakable acts against her will, repeatedly, to those who are willing to pay for it. Imagine her bruised and broken body and soul with hope extinguished by the relentless brutality of her world.
Does it feel like a movie? Now imagine she is your daughter, sister, niece, friend. Does it seem a stretch? Let’s stop imagining. At any given time, there are estimated to be 250,000 slaves in the U.S. In fact, there are more slaves, now (up to 27 million worldwide) than at any other time in history. Over 70% of these are women and girls (the average entry age is 13) forced into sex slavery. These women are kidnapped and sold… again and again.
Now, for a second, think of where you live. Are you picturing a quiet street with trees and landscaping, friendly neighbors, the smell of barbecue and a guarded gate? You most likely live within 10 miles of a modern-day slave. That’s right. In South Florida within 10 miles of your safe haven, your home, is a girl, shivering with fear, revulsion, exhaustion, addiction. A girl who screamed and noone came. What is to be done? What is being done?
Enter Hepzibah House. Hepzibah House is a forthcoming faith-based safe house and counseling facility for those who have been freed from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The organization’s treatment programs will include art, music, counseling and equine-assisted therapy as well as job- and life-skills training — since many survivors were taken at such a young age that they lack the basic skills to support themselves. The services Hepzibah House provides are essential for these lucky survivors since there is a severe shortage of services and beds.
However, without a safe place to go and the chance to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually while equipping themselves for a future life, many of these girls and women fall right back into the fangs of the trap from which they escaped. Without an option without an answer, we turn to what we know. Furthermore, the pimps and traffickers have a strong motive for recapturing survivors: in 2011, an estimated $32 billion was generated from slavery – more than the NFL, NBA, MLB and Google combined. Florida has the dubious distinction of having the third highest population of trafficked individuals in the U.S.
Led by Becky Dymond, the founder of Hepzibah House, surviving women are already getting a second chance at life. In fact, some of them now work with the organization, providing a powerful testimony and a voice of hope for those fresh-escaped from the horrors of slavery.
Hepzibah House’s next goal is to acquire an equestrian center, which will enable them to offer EAP (equine-assisted psychotherapy) as well as to provide a safe house for these women. Located in Boynton Beach, the proposed Double H Equestrian Center will provide riding lessons, trail rides, equine-assisted psychotherapy for Hepzibah House girls and contracted equine-assisted psychotherapy for other providers in the area such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.
The rationale behind an EAP is that it has demonstrated effectiveness in treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and developing the therapeutic alliance necessary to bring mental and emotional healing. Many of the surviving women have a deep-seated inability to trust due to years of abuse, neglect and betrayal. Working with horses can often facilitate trust.
The property should be listed by the end of June, and the equestrian center will be operating within two months of obtaining the property. The safe home will have to be built since the existing house on the property is in very poor repair. Estimated costs for building a safe home, with necessary security requirements to house 14 women and two on-site staff members is roughly $500,000. A matching grant has been established with a goal to raise $20,000. Thankfully, $14,000 has already been raised; only $6,000 remains to achieve this objective. Tax-deductible gifts can be made through the organization’s website at www.hepzibahhouse.org.
A happy ending?
Let’s revisit that girl from the beginning of our story. What becomes of her? Well, the hard truth is that the average life expectancy of a sex-trafficked woman is seven years. After that time, after suffering years of physical and mental abuse, and drugs to keep her going, she either collapses from an overdose, commits suicide or is deliberately murdered to get rid of what has become a “depreciated asset” for the trafficker.
So, what happens to the girl in our story? You write the ending. You decide what you will do to help this girl plus the 249,999 other lost and lonely and imprisoned souls in our “land of the free.”
Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to sit by and do nothing.”
Will you sit by and allow this story – and countless others – to expire?
What you can do
Here are a few things you can do right now to rewrite these stories:
Pray on your own or join a special group praying for these women through Hepzibah House or Calvary Chapel.
Give to organizations like Hepzibah House that are making a difference in the fight agains modern-day slavery.
Educate yourself and others. There is so much important, useful information on what’s happening and further steps you can take.
Be aware. Look out for any situation that looks irregular. If it looks weird, it probably is.
Whatever you decide to do, please do something. Remember, one person in slavery is one too many.
Keisha McDonnough is a research analyst and writer. A Jamaican native and South Florida resident, she is passionate about poetry and vow writing. Check out her website at everaftervows.com.