Samaritan Village

by: FOR Orlando

Samaritan Village provides a safe place where sexually trafficked women can heal from trauma, recover from addiction, and reclaim their lives to become catalysts for change in their communities. Samaritan Village offers a long-term, trauma-informed, and holistic care model of rehabilitation for survivors. Their mission is not only to provide a safe place for women recovering from the trauma of trafficking and exploitation but to help each woman heal and flourish mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Dee
Executive Director, Samaritan Village

I started at Samaritan Village in October 2016. Initially, I worked for a non-profit organization ministry that gave out missional grants and Samaritan Village was one of the organizations that came to us for a grant. As a thank you, they sent us a postcard illustrated with these little stick-figure women – it’s a safe house so they couldn’t show a picture of themselves. It was very sweet, but it almost looked like 5 year-olds had drawn it. I pinned it up on my cubicle wall for about two years and every time I looked over at this postcard, I would pray over the ministry.

It was funny, in that season in my life I was kind of in a place of figuring out what was next for me. That verse in the Bible, in Habbakuk, that says, “Though it tarries, wait for it.” That was the verse that was ministering to my spirit during that time. So when the job was offered to me, it was like this moment of like, “Oh my goodness. This is why I’m here!” I hadn’t realized that Samaritan Village was what I was waiting for.

At Samaritan Village, we provide a safe place for women that have been trafficked to really recover and heal. And our hope is that they then become like the woman at the well. That woman at the well, she met Jesus. And that experience was so transformative to her life that she went on and changed her community.

I always talk about that story because I think we sometimes miss the point of it. We often read it and we’re like, “We’re supposed to reach people like Jesus!” But in my perspective, we are the well. We’re just the meeting place where Jesus and these women meet. So Samaritan Village is a well. We’re just a meeting place for these thirsty women to come after a fresh start at life.

Women come to Samaritan Village in a number of different ways. We work closely with law enforcement, so oftentimes when you see the big raids on TV, we work with the victim advocates and local FBI. We’re also part of an alliance nationally, the National Shelter Alliance. So there may be a woman in California or in New York who has been picked up or trafficked identified, and she can’t stay there because it’s dangerous or it’s easy for her to fall back into the life. Most are being picked up or identified in a state of crisis: jail, prison, or another agency.

18 it up is our age range. Most people are shocked to find out that our average age is in her mid-30s, so women that have been trafficked for two or three decades of their lives. Our main safe house which we’ve had for 10 years is able to house six women. Then in 2020, we were gifted a home that allows us to have three women there. We are close to purchasing a third house so, all in all, we will be able to house probably 15 women in the different stages of our program after that. The research was showing us that when women left our safe house, there was still another 18-month window where they were falling and landing right back into exploitation, so we serve on average around eight women in what we call our hybrid program where they’re living independently, and our case managers travel to them.

When a woman comes into our main safe house, our Stage One house, she’s coming in usually with just the clothes on her back. She stays in that house for 12 to 18 months. But it’s just it’s not just taking a person and plopping them in a safe home and patting them on the head and saying, “Jesus loves you. Go be good.” It’s providing them with all the things that they need to restart, to heal, and to recover. For us, the foundation of that, of course, is through Christ and a relationship with Him. But the path to that looks different for every woman. When they first come in, some women have that desire and the Holy Spirit has already been working on them. But we’ve also had atheists, we’ve had women of other religions that come in, so we’re very gentle. But that’s the foundation of what we do – providing a Christ-centered environment in which they’re getting spiritual formation and development.

So for the first six months that they’re with us, if not longer, we’re really just focusing on healing from the traumas that they’ve experienced. Often, her abuse started when she was little, so every woman gets weekly, individualized therapy. And then we do a number of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) groups. We also, do art therapy, equine therapy, and anger management – if there is a therapy, we pretty much do it.

The second part of that program is getting the women community-ready and able to integrate back into the community. Although we talk about education and vocation, it also means family reconciliation and learning what parenting looks like from this side of things. We partner with agencies here in the Central Florida community to get them vocational training and access to education. Valencia provides scholarships to trafficking survivors, so any of our women that want to obtain higher education can do so. Then, we have one house that we use as our Stage Three independent living. So we have some women that are there finishing up their bachelor’s degrees, one woman is working with Habitat for Humanity. These are women that are kind of deeper into the recovery process. So in our three stages of programming, we’re walking with survivors for roughly five years.

I love just watching these women blossom back into themselves and rediscover who they were created to be. They’re often shells of humans when they come to us – untrusting, angry, and we get to watch them discover their identities in Christ and who He’s created them to be. These women are resilient, and they’re strong, and they’re incredible, and just need time and people to love them. Not everybody finishes the program, and that’s hard. When you can see that woman’s greatness and her potential and it’s right there and she decides to quit, I think that’s the hardest thing.

I want people to know that Samaritan Village is here and that we’re serving this population and we’ve been doing it for a long time. That it’s hard and we need a village behind us.

We need church communities and our community to rally behind us with their support, with their manpower, with their funds, and with their prayers. That’s probably the biggest thing – there’s a lot of spiritual warfare that happens this work, so we really just need a strong community to back us and pray for us.

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