Abigail was only 3 when her mom first pimped her out. For the next three years, the mother sold her little girl’s body, keeping her inside the rest of the time so the world wouldn’t notice her bruises and scars. And she did all of that for one reason: to fund her own drug habit.
Then there’s Karen, who had a great upbringing but got involved with the wrong crowd in college. The people she thought were friends were really there to get her into human trafficking.
Or what about Brenda, the woman who spiraled out of control after her mother died. She sought out the wrong men in an attempt to find love and family, eventually losing custody of her two children when she was arrested for prostitution. That wasn’t the whole story, though. It wasn’t a simple case of the world’s oldest profession. Brenda was trafficked from a young age before she ever delved into a life of drugs and harlotry.
These are examples of just two of the women at the WellHouse, an Alabama-based nonprofit that helps women get out of human trafficking. It’s set up in Birmingham, Alabama, right in the middle of one of the biggest trafficking areas in the country. Interstate 20 runs from upstate South Carolina, through Atlanta and Birmingham, and on to West Texas. It serves as a corridor for trafficking because of the relatively few stops. You could theoretically start in South Carolina and move someone to Texas without stopping.
Maryhelen Kirkpatrick, development officer at the WellHouse, said that 40 percent of human trafficking in the U.S. happens in the Southeast.
“Our mission is … to honor God by rescuing and offering opportunities for restoration to victims of human trafficking who have been sexually exploited” Maryhelen said. “We have two houses … a rescue house and a restorative house. … We take people from all across the country and bring them in and hopefully help them find a new way of life.”
Victim to Survivor
Tajuan McCarty was only three months old when her father went to prison. She grew up without him, wondering how someone who was supposed to love her could leave, she told CBN.
For the next few years, she learned about God, but only the God who was full of wrath and lacking grace.
“I saw my father not emotionally there, and or physically there … and I saw my heavenly Father; He wasn’t there either,” Tajuan said.
Then, when she was 12, it got worse. A family friend — and we use that term loosely — sexually assaulted her. For the next three years, Tajuan ran away repeatedly, landing herself in and out of foster homes.
At 15, she ran away one more time. Less than two days later, she was approached by a pimp who would make her sell drugs and herself, according to CBN.
Sadly, this story isn’t uncommon for women who run away from bad home situations. Predators have mastered the art of finding the vulnerable.
“Sexually exploited means women that have been forced or coerced to be trafficked or sell themselves over and over, where they do not get the money or the profits,” Maryhelen said. “Many times it starts out … when they are lured into a family-type situation, and they are often having to sell drugs for the pimp. And then they have to start selling themselves.”
For a decade, Tajuan was trafficked. When she was 26, she ended up in prison — something that ended up being a blessing in disguise. It was her chance to start over, so she put her mind towards getting an education and getting out of the human trafficking industry.
When Tajuan was released from prison, she immediately started volunteering with groups that reached out to other victims who had been through the same thing.
However, she noticed one thing about these groups: There was nowhere the women could go after they got out of the cycle of prostitution, drugs and sex trafficking. That’s when she got the idea for a shelter that didn’t require anything other than being a victim of human trafficking or sexual exploitation.
In 2011, Tajaun MCarty started the WellHouse, a 24-hour shelter for women who are trying to get out of trafficking.
“Women need to know there’s a way out,” Tajuan told Good Housekeeping. “They’re not alone.”
First Things First
When a woman comes to the WellHouse, she is first given any medical and dental treatment she needs. From there, WellHouse staff members start working on her spiritual and emotional health through therapy and addiction counseling. Every woman has been through some form of trauma and will need time to differentiate facts from the lies her pimp told her.
“From a very, very, very young age, they have been manipulated by a loved one or an authority figure, so it becomes some type of Stockholm Syndrome,” Maryhelen said.
Once the women are on the road to recovery, the WellHouse provides services needed to get their new life started.
“Then we help them figure out what they want to do,” Maryhelen said. “Do they want to go back to school? Are they wanting to get some type of degree? Or do they want to start some type of career path?”
They provide GED classes, English classes for non-native speakers, college and degree programs, job development skills and other services to help these women get back into clean living.
But, more than that, they give them hope.
When Tajuan was working at other nonprofits, she met a woman who told her about Jesus. It wasn’t the Jesus she learned about as a child — the one who just wants to punish her for her sins. This time she learned about the Jesus who loves and saves.
Now, she wants to share that same message with the women at the WellHouse.
“I am you. I have been there,” Tajuan tells the women at the WellHouse. “I know who you are and what is going on inside of you. God rescues, and He redeems, and He restores. You are not alone, and you are not unloved.”
If you are interested in helping the WellHouse, check out their Facebook page or Instagram. They are always in need of donations to help the women who have been to hell and back find peace and comfort.