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

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

  1. Can i sign up for the retreat pls im 41 theres no help where i live i feel less of a person i hate who i see when i look in the mirror its all im known for and almost 10 years everyone i kno is dead or few in prison i dont kno how i made it but im alone and need to learn to ne a human normal again cause i feel far from it

    1. Hi Kelly –
      This retreat took place several years ago. I am sorry, but I am not sure when there will be another one. I suggest that you reach out to one of these organizations:

      Salvation Army
      Administrative Office
      966 East Main Street, Columbus, Ohio 43205
      (614) 221-6561 or (800) 725-2769

      Alianza 614 (Alliance 614)
      This advocacy group of organizations, government agencies, social leaders, and individuals all work to end human trafficking. They offer educational opportunities, host events and have space for people to volunteer in their efforts.
      (614) 500-2123

      Offers stable employment for survivors of human trafficking, as well as men and women impacted by generational poverty, incarceration and former drug abuse. CleanTurn provides affordable and professional home cleaning services, construction services, and commercial cleaning services.
      1059 Cable Avenue, Suite A, Columbus, Ohio 43222
      (614) 447-0528

      Freedom a la Cart
      Serves survivors of human trafficking so they can build a new life of freedom and self-sufficiency. They help by giving practical job skills and developing a strong work ethic through their organization and community partnerships. You can also visit the website for menus and site locations.
      (614) 992-3252

      HEAL Trafficking
      HEAL stands for Health, Education, Advocacy, and Linkage. HEAL is an integrated network of survivors and multidisciplinary professionals dedicated to ending human trafficking and supporting its survivors, from a public health perspective. On their website they list free assessment tools, protocol toolkits, webinars, patient resources, publications and reports and more. Visit the website for contact information.

      Gilgal House
      PO Box 247561
      Columbus, Ohio 43224

      COLUMBUS, OH, 43223,

      National Human Trafficking Hotline
      This national, toll-free hotline is available to answer calls from anywhere in the country every day of the year. Call to report a tip, connect with local anti-trafficking services or find more resources and information.
      24-Hour Hotline: (888) 373-7888 or 711 TTY or text “INFO” or “HELP” to 233733

      Out of Darkness
      An anti-trafficking outreach and rescue organization for adult women victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Through weekly outreach, they offer hope and encouragement to women on the streets. Programs at their drop-in center include a community garden and lessons based on strength, identity, goal setting, and real love, as well as toiletries, a shared meal, and connection to resources.
      PO Box 1112, Westerville, Ohio 43086
      (614) 600-2154

      Reaching for the Shining Starz
      Provides hygiene bags, meals, and basic clothing needs to women in the Sullivant Avenue and Linden areas who are caught in addiction, homelessness, and human trafficking. They also provide education and prevention presentations. Visit the website for contact information.
      PO Box 23402, Columbus, Ohio 43222

      Safe at Home
      Helps victims of domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking, rape, sexual battery or members of the household of a victim of one of the previously listed offenses by shielding their personal information from public record and providing them with a safe and secure way to participate in voting. Program participants are assigned a substitute address designated by the Secretary of State’s Office to serve as their address.
      (614) 995-2255
      PO Box 16395, Columbus, Ohio 43216

      She Has A Name
      A non-profit organization that teaches job skills and offer educational support to survivors of human trafficking. They also provide education classes that help increase student’s understanding of human trafficking and how to serve survivors, and serve partner anti-human trafficking organizations in the Central Ohio community.
      345 East Second Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43201
      (614) 636-0421

      God bless you.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

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

  13. 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

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

  15. 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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