Written by Bridget Battistoni
on November 14, 2014
Five years ago, God gave our founders dreams of building relationships with girls and young women who were trafficked for commercial sex. Our hope was to build trust, so they would feel safe enough to identify the things they needed to begin a life free from sexual exploitation.
We not only wanted to build trust; we wanted to maintain it. We knew offering help, then not delivering, would reiterate the message exploited individuals have likely heard before: “It’s hopeless. No one can help you.” So, we made promises carefully, and internally, committed to doing whatever it took to help these women access the resources they needed, including resolving to build them if they didn’t exist already.
This survivor-led relationship and needs-based model has driven all of our progress to this point and continues to guide us. This approach has allowed a growing number of women to completely escape and begin to recover from sexual exploitation in our region. In fact, not long ago, REST celebrated helping our 50th young woman completely leave the life of commercial sexual exploitation. And, over the years, we’ve been blessed to meet and offer support to over 1,000 girls and young women, many of whom have taken significant steps toward an exploitation-free future. Each of them have a name, a story, and unique needs, goals, and dreams. We value every single one.
In just five years, REST has gone from a hopeful startup to an organization known for providing competent and crucial services to the most vulnerable in our community. Because of the incredible bravery of our clients to trust, and the community support of volunteers, donors and area partners, our dreams for the future have grown as well. We dream of a future in which our work is no longer necessary, because girls and young women are no longer being exploited. Until then, there is more work to be done.
REST currently operates the only long-term residential program dedicated to adult victims of sex trafficking in our region. We opened it two years ago because young women identified this as a significant resource gap that prevented their escape.
Over the years, both service providers and clients have identified another crucial gap - immediate, short-term housing. After more than a year of dreaming and planning, REST will soon be opening a 24/7 Emergency Receiving Center (ERC). This trauma-informed center will provide immediate intervention and allow victims of sex trafficking 30-60 days of shelter and supportive case management. Our hope is that the ERC will act as a stabilization center for those interested in moving toward long-term housing programs, and provide law enforcement with access to immediate safe housing for young women picked up for prostitution. Some clients will also be eligible to apply for the REST House.
We know we’ve been entrusted with much. It’s rare to be invited into deep places of suffering and vulnerability. We consider this both a great privilege and responsibility.
As we look toward the future, we pause to remember what motivated our work when we first began: Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” We know the powerful rest God offers each of us, as both sinners and sufferers. This is our motivation. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf, we want to share his Good News to those who need it most. Simply stated, God has been gracious to us – he has loved us, served us, and provided us hope, healing, peace, and dignity – and we are compelled to offer that same grace to those around us.
We aren’t “saviors” or “heroes” in anyway, but we are grateful for the opportunity to lay our lives down in service to victims exploited in the sex trade.
For those who have already joined us, thank you for an incredible five years. For those who have not yet joined us, we invite you to be a part of this work by giving, serving and praying. We believe our community can become inhospitable to trafficking and exploitation, and are making great strides. Until then, help us offer dignity and support to those endure it.