Survivors of Human Trafficking find Comfort in Healing Retreat

COLUMBUS, OH – To assist in the healing of women who are survivors of human trafficking, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and Theresa Flores, founder of S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), a human trafficking survivor, national speaker and writer, provided a New Beginnings Survivors Retreat for 20 victims of human trafficking from across the country. The retreat took place at the St. Therese Retreat Center (Columbus, OH), from January 1 to 3, 2016. The female attendees traveled from California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio and ranged in age from the early 20s to 40s.

Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists throughout the United States and globally. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Each part of the retreat was designed to lift the spirits of the women attending and gift them with positive images of themselves.

davis-retreatThe retreat began with Washing of the Feet, an act of love led by Sr. Carol Davis, a Dominican Sister of Peace and substance abuse counselor and retreat leader from Niskayuna, NY. “I believe this retreat is important for healing,” Sr. Carol said. “Survivors can claim their voice, speak their truth and connect with others who understand.”

Maria Durant, a news reporter from ABC-6 Columbus, offered tips on how to be interviewed, especially for survivors who want to tell their story.

troopers-self-defenseTwo female Highway Patrol Troopers from Michigan, Mary Capp and Tressa Duffin, provided instruction in self-defense and nutrition. When the out-of-uniform troopers introduced themselves, some of the women initially reacted negatively. “I was often treated as a criminal by the police,” one woman said. “I’m so glad you two understand.”

Art therapists, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart and Lyndsey Archer, (Ohio), guided the women in creating their personal LIFT books. (LIFT stands for Listen and Know, Inspires, To Fly Free and Trust.) Both Mary Helen and Lyndsey work with Hope and Liberation Coalition, which is dedicated to creating awareness and preventing human trafficking via the arts.

woman-at-the-wellDominican Sisters of Peace Noreen Malone, OP, introduced the women to “the Real Woman at the Well” in John’s Gospel. “From her we learn that God is not in the mountain but in our thirst. God is not in the temple but in the stream of our desire,” Sr. Noreen said. 

Pastor Bonnie Laudeman, chaplain with the Investigative and Forensic Services Department of the Oakland County, Michigan, Sheriff’s Office spoke about “the Bad Girls of the Bible.” “We don’t transform ourselves God does,” she said. “We can’t forgive ourselves. God forgives us.”

Katerina Rosenblatt, PhD (Florida), participated in the retreat. Like Flores, she survived trafficking as a teen and now speaks nationally. Through her foundation, There Is H.O.P.E. for Me, Rosenblatt helps women trapped in sex trafficking.

“Trafficking happens everywhere,” Rosenblatt said. “At first, I tried to understand how God could allow these terrible things to happen to me. Now I know that God uses my life to touch the lives of others.”

LIFT-bookletRosenblatt recalled the subtle grooming process that prepared her to be trafficked. “I was looking for love and instead I found manipulation. I want the Sisters to know how much this retreat means to me. This retreat is my freedom time! I am celebrating this new year as my time to be free from trafficking and abuse.”

Dr. Carolyn Hixson, MD (Ohio), offered health consultations to the women. She also presented a session on “Dealing with my ‘Not-Enoughness,'” noting that all of us must learn to replace our feelings of defeat and inadequacy with the truth.

Sr. Maxine Schonk, Dominican Sisters of Peace, led the women in reflecting on the topic, “What’s Your Song? Reclaiming Your Innocence.” This was followed by a drum circle.

Toward the end of the retreat the attendees were asked what they had experienced. Words such as grace, hope, mercy, freedom, compassion, relief and truth were repeated over and over.

letting-the-burden-goThe concluding session involved each woman writing a word or phrase describing a burden she carried. She placed her paper into a bowl of water and watched it slowly dissolve away. Sisters from the Dominican Sisters of Peace then prayed with each woman individually.

As a sign of support and comfort the attendees were gifted with prayer shawls made by volunteers who prayed as they knitted them.  The women also received bibles and personal care items.

nadine-blessingDominican Sisters of Peace Nadine Buchanan, Ann Schmid, Louis Mary Passeri, and Mary Riley as well as Dominican Associates Donita Rossiter and Mary Jo Alexander contributed to the retreat and supported the attendees.  Sr. Nadine Buchanan was instrumental in gathering donations and planning.

The retreat was funded by a grant from the Conrad Hilton Fund for Sisters as well as donations from individuals.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. For more information on Trafficking visit or read “The Slave Across the Street” by Theresa Flores or “Stolen” by Katerina Rosenblatt.

See more photos here.

Posted in News

19 responses to “Survivors of Human Trafficking find Comfort in Healing Retreat

  1. I wish I had been a part of this courageous undertaking that touched your community and the men and women who were there to be loved and healed. God is blessing your community.

  2. This retreat was well planned and implemented. I was impressed with all the Speakers and their topics. Keep up your excellent work.
    God Bless each of you.

  3. It was truly and moving and touching to read about this retreat for survivors of Human Trafficking!! We have a lovely prayer service here at Our Lady of the Elms convent in Akron provided by Sr. Barbara Catalano, OP. Prayer is vital in this kind of situation.

  4. God reward you, Sisters, for providing this wonderful opportunity. Theresa Flores will be with us on January 16th, for a Human Trafficking Awareness Event at St. John the Baptist Church in Green Bay. We are expecting 400 participants. God is good!

  5. I cried as I read about the retreat. I keep these women in my prayers along with all the Sisters of Peace.
    Thank you,

  6. Thanks to all who put this together and those who participated. May such grace-filled retreats spread throughout the country/world.

  7. This retreat was the best thing that happened to me. I was spiritually surrounded with love and encouragement. I still feel the impact today of knowing how special and loved I am today. This retreat has left and everlasting trademark on my life that will shine in my soul for a life time Thank you, “Sister Dominican of Peace.

  8. What I read as I thought about what the presenters offered, the retreatants experienced, the creative ideas offered, and all the time and energy put into this retreat, helped me once more be so grateful to God that I am a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace community. May God bless each of you.

  9. It is so wonderful to see the Dominicans of Peace collaborating in so many ways to bring about the retreat time and to extend hearts of welcome. Thank you.

  10. Thank you to each of you…retreatants(survivors), planners and presenters for this powerful witness to courage and hope. What a pioneer experience that needs to be repeated! Blessings

  11. Very inspirational and kudos to all who planned it and all who participated! May God continue to grace each with healing love!

  12. My what a beautiful compassionate retreat offered to women who have been so abused. The descriptions of each part from the foot washing, the self defense training by police officers whose presence was so healing and the talk on the “Real Woman at the Well” , health consultations and the drumming event. What a very fulfilling spiritual event. God bless all.
    Your sister, Jolene

  13. What a wonderful example of living our ministry of Peace to those who have suffered. I hope this is the beginning of other retreats.

  14. Congratulations, Nadine, Theresa, and the entire staff. You have gifted these women with new life and hope. My prayers were with you.

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