Not Without Hope
with Mary Frances Bowley
Right now there are more slaves on earth than at any other time in history: 27 million worldwide. Many of those being bought and sold are caught up in the sex trade, and many of them are children. One in four girls in the United States is sexually abused before the age of 18. More than 100 girls are exploited each night in the city of Atlanta, alone – that means 3,650 girls are exploited each year in just that city.
Why highlight Atlanta specifically? Because in the midst of that horror there is ministry happening to save and restore these girls. Mary Frances Bowley, author of The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking (Moody Publishers, 2012), hopes to inspire those who want to help, but do not know where to begin.
“Sex trafficking isn’t just going on ‘out there’ somewhere. It’s happening in your state. Maybe even your town,” said Bowley, president and founder of Wellspring Living, an Atlanta-based organization fighting childhood sexual abuse and exploitation since 2001.
According to FBI reports, the number of children forced into sex trafficking in the United States alone is well over 100,000. 65% of these girls will suffer from post-traumatic stress related issues and 52% will suffer educational loss. These are long-term effects that can undermine a child’s life forever. Instead of having the opportunity to thrive and grow, they are suppressed and their lives are ruined. But hope is not absent, especially when people take the small steps of faith to involve themselves in restoration and hope-giving.
“For most of my years, I was completely unaware of the sexual slave trade here in America and the desperate lives of so many young women,” said Bowley. “I was a mom, wife and Bible teacher, with no aspirations to do anything outside my bubble of a life.”
Bowley’s life forever changed when a man in her church told her about a woman in a desperate situation who needed help. Her eyes were quickly opened to the plight of young women “struggling against the storms.” Out of this story, Wellspring Living was birthed.
Today, Wellspring Living serves 100 women and girls annually and nearly 400 of them have graduated from the different program offerings, including: a recovery home for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, an outpatient counseling center and a safe place for women escaping from unsafe situations.
In 2008, Wellspring launched a program for child survivors of forced prostitution and sex trafficking. The White Umbrella tells the heartbreaking stories of these survivors in addition to the stories of those who came alongside to help them towards recovery.
“To me, a white umbrella is the perfect symbol. The color white represents purity—the purity these girls still possess and the motivation we have to help them recover it,” said Bowley.
The White Umbrella offers principles and guidance to anyone with a heart for the cause of human trafficking and a desire to help. Profits from book sales will enable Wellspring Living to continue confronting the issues of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation. And Wellspring Living is not the only ministry serving broken women and girls. There are such ministries near you too, and they want your support and your time. No matter what skills you think you have, if you care about showing the love and hope of Jesus to those harmed by sexual exploitation there is a place for you to serve. All you have to do is look.
Mary Frances Bowley is a leading voice in the fight against child sex trafficking. Recently, the White House Blue Campaign called on her to share her expertise in putting an end to the sexual exploitation of children. Bowley is also the author of A League of Dangerous Women.