An average of 900 individuals are sold each month in the state of Nebraska for human trafficking.* That’s a chilling statistic that most people might be surprised to learn. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that has resulted from the ease of online access to sites where people are sold into this type of slavery, and locally Interstate 80 has become a pipeline for transporting individuals. But a local organization is not only bringing awareness to the issue, it’s also helping to restore the lives of those who have been victims of human trafficking and exploitation.
Rejuvenating Women began as a Facebook page: Shame No More. Founder Julie Shrader, who spent 25 years in the medical field, created the page to help others who shared her struggle in dealing with feelings of shame over events from her past. As she began talking with other women who had been abused, exploited, and raped, she realized there was a deeper need to provide them with support, education, and the faith needed to lead healthy, independent lives. So Julie decided to dedicate herself to helping others and established Rejuvenating Women as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in March of 2013.
Recognizing the issues that women who have been trafficked face are complex and don’t distinguish between race, religion, or socio-economic status, Rejuvenating Women has developed a multi-phase, faith-based program. Phase One begins with making sure the women who come into the program are safe. Other common issues, such as alcohol and drug addiction, also need to be assessed and addressed. As women move through the phases, each of which often takes months to achieve, they progress through emotional, cognitive, and behavioral sessions, all with the goal of learning how to have healthy relationships with others and themselves. At the end of the four phases, aftercare is available as long as the women need it.
“All of the women we see are broken,” Julie explained. “It can take years to build trust back up. Very often women don’t stay and they either go back to their situation or back to drugs. It’s heartbreaking, but if we can take care of even one person, then it’s worth it.” Last spring, Rejuvenating Women purchased a home for its Restored Wings Program. Different than a safe house, it’s a restoration home where women can live for up to two years while they are going through programming, with the eventual goal for them to have jobs and live independently. The home is staffed round-the-clock so that the women have support and companionship whenever they need it.
As an extension of that home, Julie said they hope to purchase apartments that can be used as transitional living. Women can graduate from the group home into an apartment and learn how to budget and pay their own bills, all while receiving continued counseling. “It would be another important step before letting them fly on their own,” she said. The cost to maintain the home isn’t small, and Rejuvenating Women relies solely on donations. Its third annual Beautifully Broken, Road to Freedom banquet this past fall raised more than $155,000, but monthly donors are crucial in order to sustain services. “Even monthly donations of $20 would help cover the cost of basic necessities such as food,” Julie said.
In addition to helping women who have just been freed from human trafficking, thanks to the awareness that Rejuvenating Women has created, women are coming forward who were trafficked and exploited by family members as children. “These are men and women who are now adults and leading seemingly normal lives, but who have never addressed the emotional trauma that the years of sexual abuse has caused and are keeping their past a secret,” Julie said. In fact, Rejuvenating Women began a new support group on Monday evenings, designed specifically for victims and survivors of human trafficking.
Because awareness of human trafficking is key to its prevention, Rejuvenating Women recently started local awareness groups. Staff is happy to speak to small groups of friends at a home or employees in an office setting and discuss signs to look for in human trafficking, and ways they can help. “No matter what you’ve been through, however dark it may be, there’s always hope for every person,” Julie said. “There’s an answer to the chaos in life. We can be healed from anything and can find happiness again.”
*Statistics provided by the Human Trafficking Initiative