"Karen" was a runaway who learned to survive on the streets by selling herself as a teenager.
“I would do good, get a normal job, pay rent then get overwhelmed and go back to the life,” says Karen. The life for Karen meant selling herself while being high on drugs to numb the pain she was in. She admits to enjoying the attention she received from men but those feelings didn’t last.
Karen’s lifestyle put her on a first-name basis with local police officers, often for drug-related charges. A trip to jail felt like a vacation, because she felt safe.
After an arrest for prostitution, she was offered the opportunity to participate in the Catholic Charities Diversion program. Diversion programs offer those arrested for prostitution the opportunity to avoid jail time. The program provides 36-hours of self-exploration and education to develop self-esteem and give hope to sex trafficked survivors.
Survivors also receive rehabilitation services including support, education and treatment to help them escape prostitution. Those who complete the program have their charges dismissed.
“The first time I attended diversion, I was ashamed. I didn’t know how to ask for help or use all of the resources,” said Karen.
The second time she came back was different. She came back to diversion in February and is about to graduate from the program. “I’ve got so many positive things going for me and now I can really take care of myself,” said Karen.
With the help of Catholic Charities partner Breaking Barriers, Karen was able to get a job. Bruce Relf of Breaking Barriers helped Karen put together a resume and encouraged her to apply for jobs. When she got a job, Relf was just as excited as she was.
Another reason Karen will be successful this time is she receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from her time on the streets. She is looking forward to a peaceful life where she can excel at new job, play with her dog and watch her roses grow. “You can’t put a price tag on peace of mind,” said Karen.
After Karen completes the diversion program her charges will be dropped. She doesn’t want her past to get in the way of her future. Collaboration with the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Ruth V McGregor Project to Stop Sex Trafficking provides pro bono law services to diversion participants.
“Thanks to the legal team from ASU, I’m going to court to take care of fines from many years ago. This means a lot to me, because I can’t afford to pay for an attorney," says Karen.
She also hopes to mentor other girls that are trying to get their lives back.
If you have a heart to support sex-trafficked survivors, you can do so by becoming a monthly giver to support the Diversion program.