By NICHOLAS SAKELARIS/CoServ
“Shawna”* explains in explicit and painful detail what led her down a path of drugs, shoplifting, promiscuity, stripping and eventually sexual exploitation.
For most of her young life, she felt she had no value and no self-worth. As a baby, she was put up for adoption by her mother. A family member who took on that parental role violated her trust by sexually abusing her. Another immediate family member committed suicide when she was a teenager.
That left her with no family to turn to – exactly the type of vulnerable victim traffickers seek out to make themselves rich. As often happens, drug use led to her being reliant on these men.
She had several run-ins with police and spent time in correctional facilities.
Her final time in prison she saw a flyer for Restored Hope Ministries in Dallas. She wrote them a letter asking if they remembered her – she had been there for a short time several years before but the timing wasn’t right and she fell back into her previous life.
This time, with her religious beliefs restored, she was determined to rehabilitate herself and finally break free from her old lifestyle.
To her surprise, Pastor Sam Pollinzi, CEO of Restored Hope Ministries, did remember her and said she’d be welcomed back with open arms. With just her birth certificate, a binder and the clothes on her back, she left prison and came to Dallas to stay at Restored Hope Ministries in 2016.
Through hard work, dedication and faith, Shawna graduated from Restored Hope Ministries’ program with a new life two years later, shedding years of feeling worthless and neglected.
“I am no longer those names. I am chosen. I am accepted. I am loved and I am worthy,” she said.
Life looks different today. She has a cosmetology license, her own apartment and a puppy.
“You would think because of my background that I shouldn’t be able to work in any uptown, high-scale salons or beauty department stores but I did,” Shawna said.
She currently works at Restored Hope Ministries helping other women who were in the same predicament she was in.
More importantly, she has re-established a relationship with her mother and her children, celebrating Christmas with them for the first time in 15 years in 2018.
It’s been a long, painful road to recovery for Shawna and so many other women who fall into this trap in North Texas. For years, the CoServ Charitable Foundation has supported groups that help survivors escape and begin a new life.
Sam said the women who are sexually trafficked are victims who become reliant on the traffickers. They might have a child with them or get their drugs from them. There’s a trauma bond built between the trafficker and the victim.
“They’re beautiful, kind, compassionate wonderful ladies who were victims from being molested when they were children,” Sam said. “When that shame sets in, they can’t get out of it. It’s more powerful than any drug. I can’t tell anybody. ‘I’m worthless. That’s all I’m good for is sex.’ It keeps them tied down and then they’re hanging out with the wrong people and then they’re victims.”
Refuge for Women in Denton has also helped hundreds of survivors since December 2016. Escaping the sex trafficking world is a traumatic experience and the effects last for a lifetime, said Abby Germer, Executive Director of Refuge for Women.
“The women we help are U.S. citizens and most are local. Some are relocated from other areas to get them as far away from the traffickers as possible so they feel safe,” Abby said. “We rebuild the whole person, helping them with their education, their resumé and job skills.”
That includes learning how to make their own bracelets, earrings and other products, which they sell through Refuge for Women’s Survivor Made program.
“That gives them a job history,” Abby said.
*Editor’s Note: Name changed for security reasons
How CoServ is helping
Victims of sex trafficking often lack any form of identification, birth certificate or social security card.
The women who are escaping trafficking often need dental work or medical care. They require drug and alcohol rehabilitation and counseling. If they have children, they’re often in foster care or Child Protective Services. Many of them didn’t finish school and they need classes and certifications to start a career.
The CoServ Charitable Foundation has distributed more than $50,000 in grants to Restored Hope Ministries and Refuge for Women over the years that help survivors leave their old life behind. The money helps pay for doctor visits, rehabilitation, counseling, education and certification – whatever the women need to get back on
The grants to Restored Hope Ministries were Unrestricted Funds grants funded by payroll deductions by CoServ Employees and fundraiser events. The CCF grants to Refuge for Women were funded by Operation Roundup, which is supported by CoServ Electric Members and Gas Customers who round their bill
up to the nearest dollar.
“The CoServ Charitable Foundation proudly partners with nonprofits, such as Restored Hope Ministries and Refugee for Women, to join the mission to empower these victims to stand on their own two feet, break the cycle and discover their worth,” said Jessica Craft, CCF and Outreach Coordinator. “A huge thank you to our Members, Customers and Employees who fund these programs to save lives and stand up against trafficking in their communities.”