Random Nun Clips

How does LifeWay Network create community among women who’ve survived human trafficking?

Podcast Recorded: February 26, 2021

In this Random Nun Clip, Sister Joan Dawber describes how Catholic sisters live in community and hope with women who’ve survived human trafficking. Hear the full In Good Faith episode IGF042 at aNunsLife.org. 

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Transcript (Click for More)+

Sister Maxine  
This podcast is brought to you by one of our sponsors, Vision Vocation Network.

I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Joan Dawber. She's the founder of LifeWay Network, which since 2007, has provided safe housing in the New York City area for women who are survivors of human trafficking. As you think about the women you have worked with in the past, but also currently, what kinds of trafficking have they experienced? Tell me about the people that you live and work with.

Sister Joan  
We decided that we would open the houses to women over the age of 18. Anybody younger, they will be considered minors. We knew of other places that were working with minor children off the street, etc. The women come from 37 different countries. At the very beginning, we had Chinese, we've had women from Mexico, we've had women from Africa, American-born women. Each one is unique in her own experience. So LifeWay Network decided right from the get-go to take in women who are sex trafficked, and women who are labor trafficked. Most agencies just took the sex trafficking, they were not specific to human trafficking survivors. They would take them as domestic violence, as if they were domestic violence shelters. So LifeWay was one of the only places in New York specifically for survivors of human trafficking.

Sister Maxine  
And in the houses, it's more than just a place where they reside, and be safe, although certainly that's a main feature. But they have an experience of community life.

Sister Joan  
Yes. That was one of our first things about how do we work with the women once they're in the houses, and we knew that we could not really meet all the needs that were crying out. So at the very beginning, in order to have somebody come to the safe house, they had to come through a social service agency, who would screen them, and then provide them with a case manager. So when they came to the house, the majority of our work was to make sure that they were safe and felt safe. And then we did things within the house itself, we offered programming within the house itself. But the case manager was the person who would be doing all the referrals outside the house. The most important thing, I think, for us was to provide that atmosphere of welcome and home. And we did that by working with the coalition. And speaking about having a host community live in the house. So after quite some discernment, three sisters came forward and decided that they would form an intentional community to live in the house. The idea was for them to live in the house and be with the women, but also to go out to work for themselves to their own ministries during the day. And they would come home in the evening and live with the women in the house. So in order for us to do that, we then hired a house manager who would be present in the house during the day. And a social worker who would then you know, collaborate with the case manager on behalf of the women. But the host community was really the major piece of that. It just gave them a sense of community. We talk about community. It's so hard for people to understand community and to try and live it.

Sister Maxine  
The sense of belonging is crucial for a person to feel safe.

Sister Joan  
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think one of the hardest things for the women to understand, and they really found it hard, was that people cared about them, and didn't want anything from them. You know, "Why are you doing this for me?" They couldn't understand it, because their lives have been so manipulative. And when they finally did, it was such a breakthrough and such a relief to them.

Sister Maxine  
To understand that people would care about them, that people could be trusted.

Sister Joan  
And the trust level, of course, when we're talking about survivors of human trafficking, their trust has been demolished, broken, many times broken. And so for them to even begin to think of trusting--just very difficult.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

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