Susan Munsey calls it “love bombing”: the persistent attentions and small presents pimps and sex traffickers give girls to convince them they care—before luring the girls into prostitution. That’s what happened to Munsey, who was 15 when she started dating an older guy who she thought really loved her. “I’d never had a boyfriend before,” Munsey, now 61, told CNN. “He gave me compliments. He was charming. He took me out to eat. I was insecure and didn’t have a lot of self-esteem. . . . And here I had this 24-year-old boyfriend.” But he wasn’t a boyfriend, as it turned out: he was, in fact, more of an evil douchebag. He started physically abusing her, at one point breaking her jaw. He made her sell her body, telling her this was a onetime thing. (It wasn’t.) And when she was 16, Munsey was arrested for prostitution. She survived the experience, though for years she didn’t talk about it with anyone but her therapist. She went on to become a clinical social worker. And in 2009, in response to what she understood about the sex-trafficking problems in California, Munsey decided to take what she knew and create a safe space for girls going through what she had. She founded GenerateHope, a nonprofit where survivors of sex trafficking can access long-term housing, medical and dental care, education, and therapy.
The program is aptly named: at GenerateHope’s live-in safe house in San Diego, women who have been ground through the sex-trafficking wringer, and survived, have an opportunity to step back, take a deep breath, and reset. Classes help the girls catch up on their high school education and prepare for college. Volunteer-led support services also include art therapy, dance, and yoga, and some practical classes—such as money management and communication—help individuals who may have been denied an opportunity to learn these skills during adolescence. “We really work to help them realize all the skills and capabilities that they have within themselves,” Munsey said. The program is faith-based, but church attendance is not mandatory, nor are the Bible studies GenerateHope makes available.
Women can stay at the facility for up to two years, and Munsey, who has described her 16-year-old self as “feeling very lost and very alone,” understands the journey they are on. It’s a journey away from the clutches of individuals who told girls what they wanted to hear, then turned on them, viciously. “[The pimps are] looking for young, vulnerable women,” Munsey said. “They’re pretty slick about getting into these kids’ heads—[the kids’] brains aren’t developed fully, so they don’t really know how to get away from this guy . . . it’s a really slippery slope.” Some of the women who take refuge at GenerateHope don’t have a family to reach out to after escaping a bad situation, and what GenerateHope aims to provide is not only trust but also stability. As Munsey told Risen magazine, “We have a lot of structure.”
Trust and stability: Susan Munsey draws from her own experience to provide that, and then some.
Thumbnail credit: from Women of Worth 2011: Susan Munsey by McConnell/Hauser via YouTube.
Janice Deal is a writer, an editor, and a lover of found objects. Her short-story collection, The Decline of Pigeons (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2013), was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her first novel, The Sound of Rabbits, was recently named a finalist in the Many Voices Project Prose competition. Janice lives in Downers Grove, Illinois, with her husband, daughter, and three disreputable cats.
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