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Human sex-trafficking survivor looks to help rescue those ‘suffering in shame’

Adorned in Grace Tacoma helps turn survivors into 'thrivers'

Offering support and training for a career in dental work, the mission of Adorned in Grace Tacoma is to help survivors of sex-trafficking to become "thrivers." It also raises money through a bridal shop.
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Offering support and training for a career in dental work, the mission of Adorned in Grace Tacoma is to help survivors of sex-trafficking to become "thrivers." It also raises money through a bridal shop.

A single mother of two, Sarah, 44, endured periods of homelessness following her divorce as she juggled seven part-time jobs to provide for her family — all the while struggling with her own trauma as a sexual assault victim and survivor of human sex-trafficking.

Sarah is a pseudonym for a Gig Harbor resident who spoke about her experiences as a human trafficking survivor on condition of anonymity.

Her trauma first began when she was raped at age 7 and again at age 19. She endured years of physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse before finally finding help.

“I came into Adorned in Grace Tacoma dead,” she said. “Before that I was trying to survive.”

Adorned in Grace Tacoma (AIGT) is a Christian-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping survivors of human sex trafficking and to spreading awareness of human trafficking to help prevent further trafficking.

These women (at Adorned in Grace Tacoma) understand that women like me that are survivors aren’t getting the help we need. Now I’m doing exactly what I always wanted to do, which is help other people, but I needed help myself first.

Sarah, human trafficking survivor

Sarah credits her current stability and growth to the organization’s dedication to restoring survivors — through support, mentorship and job training — and its faith-based approach. She is now living with family and enrolled in a job training program that will provide her a living wage and career.

“These women understand that women like me that are survivors aren’t getting the help we need,” she said. “Now I’m doing exactly what I always wanted to do, which is help other people, but I needed help myself first.”

Christine Gilge is the founder and director of AIGT. She became aware of the widespread and increasing problem of human trafficking through her work as a chaplain at the Pierce County Jail.

“(These women) were in there because they were looking for love and found it in the wrong places,” she said. “It’s everywhere, right beneath the surface. Sometimes right in front of us.”

It’s everywhere, right beneath the surface. Sometimes right in front of us.

Christine Gilge, founder and director of Adorned in Grace Tacoma

AIGT is supported by Solutions Dental, a dental practice run by her husband, Kevin Gilge, that he took over two years ago to support the end to human trafficking. The practice takes regular dental clients to support AIGT and offers complimentary services to survivors in need.

Solutions Dental also provides a 14-week dental assistant training course to survivors of human trafficking. This course offers an opportunity for a respected career and living wage, another facet of AIGT’s dedication to restoration for survivors.

For operations manager Kris Kennet, seeing the growth of confidence and self-worth from the survivors enrolled in the program is a joy.

“One of the things I find so remarkable that Kevin has been able to do is show the professional community how you can support combating human trafficking and homelessness in different ways,” she said. “Something like a dental assistant career can change someone’s life.”

Bridal and formal gowns is another aspect of AIGT. Received through donations, these new and gently-used gowns are both donated to human trafficking survivors and sold to the public at a 50- to 90-percent discount with the proceeds funding the nonprofit.

So much of what we try to do with these girls is to step into their world and stop them from being trafficked. To let them know they’re valued and worth something. There’s such a need. I think that’s really what pulls (AIGT).

Kris Kennet, operations manager of Adorned in Grace Tacoma

With more than 1,000 gowns overflowing the limited available space, one of the biggest needs the nonprofit faces is a retail space where the gowns can be properly displayed to attract customers.

“Our hope is that there’s a donor out there who has a retail spot to offer where we can sell the dresses,” Gilge said.

With a retail space to house the gowns, then the organization will have more space for its extensive programming. These supportive events includes Bible studies, mentoring, tutoring, life skill training and connections with professional opportunities for employment.

“So much of what we try to do with these girls is to step into their world and stop them from being trafficked. To let them know they’re valued and worth something,” Kennet said. “There’s such a need. I think that’s really what pulls (AIGT).”

It’s not just raising awareness (of human trafficking) ... It’s offering assurances that there are people who offer lifelong restoration. I am an overcomer now. I don’t like to use the word ‘survivor.’ Survivor was what I was doing. I was living a messy life before.

Sarah

This acceptance and respect was life-changing for Sarah, who was overwhelmed by the warm response and welcome she received at AIGT.

“It’s not just raising awareness (of human trafficking) ... It’s offering assurances that there are people who offer lifelong restoration,” she said. “I am an overcomer now. I don’t like to use the word ‘survivor.’ Survivor was what I was doing. I was living a messy life before.”

Sarah had asked for help previously from several Gig Harbor organizations prior to discovering AIGT, but was offered limited support or no support at all, she said.

AIGT has not only offered her long-term opportunities for growth with her career, but also a support network of friends and mentors to help her heal from past traumas, she said.

Sarah is now working with AIGT and other groups to fight against human trafficking and is looking to bring AIGT to Gig Harbor to gain local support.

“I don’t want one more person to suffer in shame. Shame has been one of the most powerful forces to destroy the soul,” she said. “I have been fighting for healing for all of my life and I found it here.”

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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