Home opens doors to human trafficking survivors
by William J. Dagendesh
COLORADO SPRINGS. Bakhita Mountain Home (BMH) in Colorado Springs is a residential community designed to heal, restore and empower adult women who have been impacted by human trafficking.
In collaboration with Centura Health, BMH offers a two-year program for women ages 18 and older who have been trafficked for sex or labor. Its mission is to assist women transitioning from human trafficking to self-sufficiency and successful reintegration into society.
Human trafficking is a term used for the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. For this reason, the non-profit BMH provides safe, sufficient space for privacy, community building, therapy, exercise, cooking, dining and gardening.
BMH provides these opportunities for women survivors to heal and become empowered citizens. Through BMH, women are offered the experience healing through a safe haven, trauma-informed therapy and life-enhancing skills.
The home provides a quiet, prayerful and hospitable environment where persons of all faith traditions are welcome to discover God and themselves. While living in the home, women’s basic needs are met, enabling them to focus on their personal processes for healing.
BMH is the only home in Southern Colorado for adult women who have been freed from human trafficking.
Beginning in 2014, Sister Rose Ann Barmann, a Benedictine sister from Benet Hill Monastery, offered human trafficking prevention seminars to educate the community about trafficking. During this time, she became aware that these seminars, although important, weren’t enough to address the dire need of women survivors.
“Many people know about prostitution, but know very little about human trafficking. Through these informational and educational seminars, people grew in understanding of the seriousness of this crime against the most vulnerable,” Sister Rose Ann said.
“As the human trafficking programs progressed and I realized that there was no home in El Paso County for adult women survivors of human trafficking, the vision and mission of BMH was born. It was then that I realized we needed more than awareness and information, but also a residence for survivors’ support.”
In 2018, a group consisting of Sister Rose Ann, Franciscan Sisters and other women met to discuss how they could provide therapeutic resources for human trafficking survivors. They envisioned establishing a home named in honor of the patron saint of those trafficked for sex, St. Josephine Bakhita.
Josephine Bakhita, who became a Catholic nun, was kidnapped from Sudan in 1877 at age nine and sold into slavery. She was bought, tortured by scarification (branding, burning, etching or superficially cutting designs or words into the skin), beaten and sold innumerable times by traffickers.
Through God’s grace and intervention, Bakhita was ultimately sold to a European family who took her to Italy as a nanny for their daughter. It was there that she first heard the name of God and Jesus Christ. The trauma the child experienced as a slave caused her to forget her birth name. Her kidnappers gave her the name Bakhita which means “Fortunate One.”
Years later she took the name Sister Josephine Bakhita. She died in 1947 at age 78 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 1, 2000.
Established in 2020, BMH provides free room and board, and trauma-informed therapy and life-enhancing skills so women can be re-introduced into society. The facility provides basic needs including food, clothing, transportation, access to medical and mental health providers, education, job skills training and employment assistance.
BMH provides a safe space for individuals who desire to be healed in a loving and accepting environment.
The Bakhita Board of Directors is grateful to Centura Health for supporting the project.
“I believe the Holy Spirit is driving this endeavor. Because human trafficking persons are exploited through force, fraud or coercion to perform commercial sex, BMH provides opportunities for them heal and become empowered citizens,” Sister Rose Ann said.
BMH provides a quiet, prayerful and hospitable environment where persons of all faith traditions are welcome to discover God and themselves through retreats and workshops. While daily Mass is offered, residents are not required to attend; their spiritual needs are addressed individually.
Members of the public can help put an end to human sex trafficking by learning to recognize the warning signs. This includes recognizing someone who is involved in controlling/dominating relationships, is engaged in commercial sex under a manager, has had personal documents confiscated or lacks control of personal finances and is having their every move monitored.
Looking ahead, Sister Rose Ann believes the home will be the vehicle through which women can learn self-sufficiency, education and career skills enabling them to make a decent living instead of having to return to the former life.
“I try not to use the word, ‘victim’ because of its negative overtone, but that is what these women are. They are modern-day slaves who have been tortured and imprisoned for sex and labor and we want to help turn that negative experience around,” Sister Rose Ann said.
Program Director Liz Kosofsky believes BMH is only the beginning of greater things to come.
“I believe none of us really knows all that is involved with human trafficking, and BMH is a great way to raise that awareness. Through BMH, we can help meet these individuals’ needs and turn them around,” said Kosofsky who is a licensed clinical social worker.
Sister Rose Ann praises the women survivors for having the courage to seek help and to turn their lives around. “Because of their experience, these women have come to know and put their trust in God. Some of these women have said they’re alive because God was watching over them,” Sister Rose Ann said.
Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor is encouraged to contact BMH at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, contact Kosofsky through the website, http://bakitahountainhome.org. Financial donations, which go toward helping the women, can be made one time or set up in recurring monthly installments.
Report suspicious behavior to the toll free National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.