Program Restores Broken Women, Broken Dreams
By Anne Lindberg, TB Reporter
The Restore program is directed at women who have been convicted of felonies but who are themselves victims of sex trafficking.
TAMPA BAY – She was sexually abused at age 3 by a babysitter. From ages 8 through 15, her stepfather sexually abused her. By 24, she was addicted to drugs and in prison.
“I really didn’t see a future,” said Erica, now 38. “I didn’t think that that was something obtainable for me.”
Things are changing for Erica, who asked that her last name not be used. She became the first graduate Friday (June 30) of a new program targeting women who have been sexually abused. The idea of the Restore program is to help broken women have complete lives.
The program is the brainchild of the Florida Dream Center, a nonprofit that provides a broad array of community services in the Tampa Bay area. Some of those programs, like Restore, are directed at women who are victims of sex trafficking.
“These girls have every card in the deck stacked against them and bad guys waiting to get them,” said the Rev. Bill Losasso, Dream Center president and chairman.
Many of the women start by being sexually abused by a parent or other relative. Some are used as prostitutes. Some end up using drugs as a way to escape the pain. Eventually, many of them end up in the judicial system, in jails and prisons.
But there’s no escape in prison, Losasso said. Bad guys on the outside have women working for them inside to recruit those who are about to get out of prison. And, with no job prospects and no help on the outside, many become prostitutes or return to prostitution.
“The bad guys target the women in the prison,” Losasso said. “They pick them up outside the gates of the prison.”
It’s a cycle from which there is little chance of escape.
Providing an escape is the driving idea behind Restore – a four-week intensive training program designed to give those women a chance at a better life. The program provides counseling and business training. It also teaches the women to restore furniture and build new furniture out of discarded pieces.
Losasso is especially enthusiastic about the dog beds that the women learn how to build out of old chairs. Each is handmade. Each is different. And each has a brass plate telling the maker’s name and providing a link to the Dream Center website where the buyer can learn about the woman who made the piece.
At the end of the four weeks, the women should have enough skills to help them make a fresh start. But, Losasso said, his goal is to have them stick around to help newcomers to the program. Sticking around, he said, would also allow them to hone their skills, sell their products and save up enough money to be more secure once they strike out on their own.
The program costs $4,500 per participant, not including lunches. Losasso said a 15-year-old boy donated the lunches for the program.
Losasso said he would like to have the program spread across the U.S.
Debbie Brown, the program coordinator, is a licensed counselor who understands the “intense pain and shame” the women feel. Brown, 31, was sexually molested by her biological father from age 10 to 15.
“I hear the hearts of these women,” Brown said. “They do not believe in themselves. … They have been through horrific circumstances or traumas. … They got stuck. … They’re afraid to succeed.”
And it’s immensely hard to get unstuck. Two women entered the first Restore session. Only one made it through. The other relapsed.
That woman’s mother had sold her for sexual use so the woman could buy drugs. Yet, the woman still wanted to please her mother, an impossible task, Brown said.
But, Erica, who did succeed in completing the Restore program, said she feels her future is much brighter.
“The trauma isolates you first. Then the addiction isolates you,” Erica said. “You’re at the point where you’re afraid of everything, success, yourself … so you self destruct.”
Working with wood helped her heal, she said, because she learned to focus on the here and now. She also learned she had to be gentle while sanding some textures. That made her think, “I need to be more gentle. Oh, maybe I need to be more gentle with myself, too.”
To contribute to the Florida Dream Center or the Restore program, or to provide a retail site where the products can be sold, call (727) 240-0734. For information about the Florida Dream Center, go to floridadreamcenter.org.
Photo of Bill Losasso courtesy of the Florida Dream Center. Other photos by Anne Lindberg, TB Reporter.
Florida Dream Center | Sex Trafficking | Crime | Prostitution | Drug Addiction | Bill Losasso | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter
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