A wellspring of love
The Well is a drop–in center for victims of human trafficking in Columbus, Ohio. The name comes from the account in John 4 where Jesus speaks to the woman at the well.
Every Tuesday at The Well, trafficking survivors explode with energy laced with love. Their exhilaration is a product of finally feeling accepted and safe. Although women come from all levels of exploitation (some are currently being exploited sexually while others are leaders in the recovery movement), they connect on an extremely deep level because they all have survived the horrors of human trafficking.
Staffers provide a framework of guidance, but the survivors lead the programming as they participate in educational programs, teach others, and support one another in group therapy through intimate conversations about their emotional struggles.
We know the program is helping dozens of women because they continue to come back. This is a 100 percent volunteer program, so all the women walking through the doors come because they are receiving respect and empowerment. Participant growth has been tremendous and tangible.
“J” is a survivor we met through our street outreach program. In her first visit, she broke down. Her tears seemed to represent decades of suppressed pain. Four other survivors embraced her through her breakdown. Since that day, J has attended regularly. She recently announced that she has passed her GED assessment. In her late 40s, J held back tears as she announced to the group that she will finally start school again.
We also met “C” through our street outreach. She is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, and human sex trafficking. While she was on the streets one lonely afternoon, an anti–human trafficking staffer invited her to The Well. C returned almost every week and said in group therapy that, due to the support she received from The Well, she had stopped using crack cocaine. C, who had used her money to get high, now takes the $10 she earns through the Leadership Institute participation and uses it to purchase items needed to make her apartment a home.
“M,” who comes to The Well weekly, keeps to herself but always looks forward to the coffee. She is currently homeless and says she has to engage in “survival sex” to meet her daily needs. However, each week, you can see her grow spiritually through her steady interaction with others and changes in her “fashion statement.”
In the beginning, she would arrive wearing short skirts, spaghetti strap tops, and long–haired wigs. Now, she dresses modestly and her own hair is styled nicely. M says she does this because of a newfound freedom to be herself at The Well, rather than to play her street role. M also says that people at The Well are the only people to whom she can tell the truth.
Today, M is staying at the home of another participant who is supporting her while she gains sobriety and independence.
by Trish Smouse
—Christina Conrad and Michelle Hannan also contributed to this article. Trish Smouse is the program director for the Central Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition, an anti–human trafficking initiative coordinated by the SWONEKY Division. Christina Conrad is a clinical specialist. Michelle Hannan is director of professional and community services in Central Ohio.