by Sue Ann Rybak
Anne Marie Jones, 47, is one of the lucky ones. She is a survivor, thanks to the founders of Dawn’s Place, a safe house for both domestic and international victims of sex trafficking.
“I believe God chose me to be here,” said Jones, a graduate of Dawn’s Place in Germantown who hopes one day to become a counselor for victims of sexual trauma. “I never thought I’d be where I am today.”
Since opening its doors in 2009, Dawn’s Place has helped 51 women recover from the dehumanization of commercial sexual exploitation. It is the only safe house for victims of sex trafficking that offers a 12-month trauma-centered care program in a safe homelike environment in Pennsylvania.
Dawn’s Place was founded in 2007 by Philadelphia Public Defender Mary DeFusco, Sister Teresita Hinnegan, MMS (Medical Mission Sisters), Marissa Boyers Bluestine, who was a public defender at the time, Sister Kathleen Coll, SSJ (Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia), and Sister Terry Shields, MSHR (Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary).
The three-story stone house was sold to them by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for $1 in February. 2008. It was named Dawn’s Place in honor of a prostituted woman who was murdered in Camden, N.J., a few years earlier.
Hinnegan said the program at Dawn’s Place is unique because an individual plan of care is developed for each woman based on her individual needs. She said these services may include housing, family contacts, trauma-recovery services, physical and mental health services, legal assistance, educational services – such as English as a second language, GED for American women, life skills, job training and searching – and post program support.
“There is very little or no public funding available for recovery services for women who’ve spent time in prison for prostitution-related activities,” Hinnegan said. “A majority of the women who come to Dawn’s Place have been incarcerated seven to 10 times or more. In order to receive help out of sex trafficking, women almost need to be arrested in the city because there is no place a woman working in prostitution can go and say, ‘I need help,’ without the fear of getting arrested. There is a great need for physical and mental health services for victims of sex trafficking.”
Abington resident Don Devore, director of Human Sex Trafficking Treatment for VisionQuest, said despite the fact that more than 100,000 girls are lured into sex trafficking a year, there are less than 250 beds available for the treatment of these girls in the United States. He added that, unfortunately, Dawn’s Place doesn’t take children victims of sex trafficking.
U.S. District Attorney Michelle Morgan, who works as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said she doesn’t know of any treatment centers in Pennsylvania that take children victims of sex trafficking despite that traffickers typically target juveniles. She said young girls between the ages of 12 and-14 are particularly vulnerable to sex traffickers.
Morgan said often traffickers will approach girls under the guise of being their boyfriend or caretaker.
She added that traffickers “intentionally choose victims who are very vulnerable either because of their age or because of their difficult life circumstances.”
According to the FBI, in 2013 “60 percent of child sex trafficking victims recovered as part of an FBI nationwide raid from over 70 cities were children from foster care or group homes.”
Hinnegan noted that “70 percent of women in prostitution started when they were in their early teens because they’ve been abused at home.”
She said many victims are lured into prostitution under the promise of a better life – one where they will be loved and taken care of.
Jones understands firsthand how quickly women can fall into the abyss of lies told by pimps and become trapped in “the game,” which is pimp lingo for the business of sex trafficking.
Her story is a familiar one for many victims of domestic sex trafficking. Molested at 13 years old by her brother, she started drinking and taking pills to help numb the pain. Even worse, when Jones told her mother what he did, her mother did nothing.
“Back then you didn’t take it out of the house,” Jones said. “It was a family secret. It just got swept under the rug. There was no help for me. I just buried it. That’s when I started using drugs heavily because it kind of numbed me to everything.”
Jones said she grew up in a drug environment.
“Both my mother and father were alcoholics,” Jones said. “I have four brothers and a sister and every last one of them were drug addicts.”
At 19, Jones had a daughter and got married.
In 2000, the unthinkable happened.
“My younger brother slept over my house and he molested my 13-year-old daughter while we were sleeping,” Jones said. “When it happened to my daughter, I did everything a mother should do. I didn’t sweep it under the rug. I had him arrested.”
Jones’ family turned against her.
“My brother is slow,” Jones said. “He had a very bad accident at the age of four and fell 40 feet to the ground. They thought he didn’t deserve to be arrested.”
The stress took a toll on Jones’ marriage and family.
“I kind of lost it,” she said.
She started smoking crack cocaine and started working as a prostitute to pay for her drug addiction.
“For the next 13 years, I worked as a prostitute on Kensington Avenue,” Jones said.
When she first met the man who later would become her pimp, Jones said she thought she was in love.
“When I first met him he told me the house-with-a-white-picket-fence story,” Jones said. “He didn’t tell me he was a pimp at first. He always wanted to pick me up and was constantly wining and dining me.”
Later he told Jones, he was a pimp in New York before he moved to Philadelphia and had a few girls in Atlantic City who did work for him.
“He wanted me to do it,” Jones said, “I was kind of scared to leave the area because I never left the neighborhood before. But because I ended up falling in love with this man, I was willing to do whatever he wanted me to do for him.”
That’s when he turned her life into a living hell. He repetitively, brutally beat her, sometimes putting her in the hospital for weeks with broken ribs and other injuries.
According to a study by Evelina Giobbe, in 1993, on pimp-controlled prostitution entitled “An Analysis of Individual, Institutional, and Cultural Pimping,” while 53 percent of women entered prostitution with a pimp, more than 80 percent became involved with pimps over time.
Jones said she kept going back to the pimp because she craved his love.
“A pimp can manipulate you so bad to where you know the sky is blue, but if he tells you its purple, you’ll believe him,” she said.
Jones, who has been drug free for almost four years, said her future is bright, thanks to Dawn’s Place and Project Dawn Court, an alternative justice and rehabilitation program designed for women with repeat prostitution arrests that Mary DeFusco helped to establish,.
Project Dawn Court is modeled after the Philadelphia Treatment Court, established in 1997 to reduce both drug possession recidivism rates and the skyrocketing cost of jailing drug addicts by providing rehabilitative services under closely monitored court supervision.
When Jones was asked to describe Dawn’s Place, she replied, “Dawn’s Place is a sanctuary where women can feel safe – you can lay your head down and not be scared.”
“I came to Dawn’s Place and my whole life changed,” Jones said. “My whole life changed for the better. They taught me how to love myself. When I left Dawn’s Place I told Sister Michelle Loisel, DC (Daughters of Charity), the director of Dawn’s Place, that this was always going to be my home.”
For more information about Dawn’s Place or to make a donation go to www.ahomefordawn.org or call 215-849-2396. To reach The National Human Trafficking Resource Center call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) is a national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls and texts from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.