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Shelters for trafficking victims aid their healing
Published Friday, May 19, 2017
by Grace Thornton, The Alabama Baptist

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Erin Futch rolled up her sleeves and got to work in the kitchen of Mountain Brook Baptist Church right next to a girl who looked like she was about her age.

They started talking that morning, swapping stories. Turns out both of them were 22 and had played softball in high school; not only that, they'd played against each other. But then their stories had gone vastly different directions.

Erin Futch had gone to college. The girl beside her had fallen victim to sex trafficking.

"That was a really poignant moment for Erin," said her mother Sherrie who helps with the Alabama church's ministry to the residents of The WellHouse, a St. Clair County-based refuge for women rescued from the trafficking industry.

"I know for me, before I knew much of anything about sex trafficking, you think it's somewhere else – around the world, in big cities," Sherrie Futch said. "But it's so much closer to home than we think. We have a lot in common with these ladies. If it wasn't but for a few different circumstances in my own life, something like what happened to them could've happened to me."

Ashley Anderson, development director for The WellHouse, said young women can get pulled into trafficking so easily.

"It's not the Hollywood picture of what a trafficker or a pimp looks like. In real life, this is a guy who's quite charming and has a fantastic way of being able to lure these children in and the adults as well," Anderson said, noting that the grooming process can often begin as a preteen.

"Many who come to us also have a history of childhood sexual abuse, so they were recruited by sex traffickers when they were most vulnerable," Anderson said. "You may find that 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who were abused and think leaving is a better option than their unhealthy home will run away onto the street and into the arms of a trafficker."

That's why The WellHouse and other ministries like it exist: ministries like Hope Haven in Summerdale, Alabama, which executive director Donna Armstrong said was born in 2012 out of national Woman's Missionary Union's Project Help that focused on fighting human exploitation.

"Ladies in our WMU became very interested in what we could do to help, being located so close to the I-10 corridor and ports along that corridor," said Armstrong, a member of First Baptist Church in Summerdale. "It's a heavily trafficked area, and we asked for help in figuring out what to do."

And the eventual result was Hope Haven, a six-bed, faith-based shelter for women 18 and over who are victims of human trafficking. "In January 2014, our first resident came through our doors and we've had numerous ones since then," Armstrong said.

Women can stay at Hope Haven as long as they need to, but the goal is to move them to a longer-term recovery program or back home with a family member within 60 days if possible, she said.

"It's been very humbling and rewarding to be a part of this ministry," Armstrong said. "It's not like I had a heart for victims of human trafficking when this all began; what I had was a heart for Christ and this is the area He laid out for me to serve. I went into that field that He gave me and over time I have developed quite a passion for these women."



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