In 2013, Dawn Strobeck found herself being approached with some regularity by women who were survivors of sex trafficking. Strobeck is a licensed mental health counselor and member of New Covenant Anglican Church in Winter Springs, FL. As she began working with various ministries around town who help survivors, she saw a need for services to help women transition from first phase safe houses back into their day-to-day life. In 2015, she started the ministry Cherished Precious Loved (CPL) initially as a therapeutic program and now a transitional home that includes therapeutic services to women who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
We recently interviewed Strobeck to learn more about her ministry and how we can support this life-changing work.
Why the name, Cherished Precious Loved?
The name comes from Isaiah 43:
“…This is what the LORD says-
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you…
…Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
And because I love you…”
It is in these areas that the women that we minister to were harmed: they were not honored, not loved, not held as precious. This ministry is about the Lord restoring his daughters.
How did CPL start?
After working with a couple of different safe houses in town, I saw a need for something outside of the therapeutic talk norm. As I researched the kinds of therapies that were working with this population and complex trauma in general, I began to envision a therapeutic plan that included many different styles and modes of therapy. My team and I began to offer a day program to the safe houses in town that included all kinds of different therapy, from equine therapy, to dance therapy, to inner healing ministry.
What we were finding was that we had ladies that were graduating from this program, and ready to leave their safe houses, but not yet ready to go out into the world.
So the CPL transition house was added to our already existing therapeutic programming, filling the need for a second phase recovery house. The first phase houses are like a typical rehab with the goal of stabilization. When living there, the women are much more withdrawn from society in secure locations, where their interactions with others outside their community is limited.
At CPL we take the next step to come alongside these women as they reacclimatize and find their purpose and dignity. Part of the challenge is the newly acquired freedom they have. With this freedom comes a new set of issues. To help them in these areas, we offer educational services, tutoring, scholarships for community college and financial planning.
We want them to transition back into the world with the best chance possible of succeeding.
How does CPL work?
We have a house that accommodates four women at a time. These women find us and we find them through the other ministries that we work with across town. Each woman living in our house has her own room. There is no “house mom” from the outside, instead, we appoint one of the women as a senior resident, following the best practice of peer to peer mentoring and accountability.
Each of the women pays rent to live in the house. Many will also pursue college classes during this time. There is no typical stay. We are allowing the ladies to stay until they are ready to move on. We want them to be in the best possible place to be successful.
While living here, they also participate in various kinds of therapy: psychotherapy, trauma-sensitive yoga, and inner healing prayer, to name a few. We also have a house dinner with the women once a week, which is one of the most “therapeutic” activities we do. We aren’t doing community around them, we are doing community with them. True healing is almost virtually impossible without safe community.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of your work?
The work we are doing is long term, and there aren’t victories every day. These women have been traumatized in every dimension of who they are: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The healing has to come in each of these dimensions and that takes a long time.
We are under incredible spiritual attack. Often, when I speak to the women in our program, I find that their trafficker has distorted the gospel. There is emotional abuse and spiritual abuse that we are asking God to come and heal and that takes time and there is a lot of resistance.
Personally, I also find it challenging to take care of myself so that I can take care of them. When you are busy, you start pulling away from your community as you are just trying to keep your head afloat. But that is when you need that community to restore you. We partner with many churches in town of different denominations. We need a village around us!
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
We see God’s hand in what we do, even on the tough days. I remember one day being so discouraged during a time of trauma-sensitive yoga session with the women. I was asking myself in my head, why was I doing this, what was the point? Then the ladies told me afterwards that when I was placing my hands on them and praying for them, they felt like Jesus was praying for them!
I also love looking at these women, taking a step back and remembering what they were like two years ago. That keeps me going, because I see how the work that we do matters. Someone is investing in their heart, soul, finances, safety, and healing. I get fed when I see the way God is healing them.
How can people help?
I encourage people to start by educating themselves. Sex trafficking isn’t specific to a particular demographic. Find out if there are local organizations in your community and support them financially or through volunteering.
Secondly, please pray for us! I can tell you story after story about how prayer has sustained us.
One story that always comes to mind is of a young woman who was a part of our program for a while. I knew her when she was a child, as she went to the same church our children went to. She came from a great home, family was on staff at the church. She was sexually abused at a young age and became involved in drugs as a coping mechanism, which introduced her to her trafficker.
I met her again when she was 21 and had gone through one of the safe houses in town. She came to live in the CPL house. The day after she arrived, her trafficker got out of jail and immediately called her. She remained in touch with him even though we were trying to break the trauma-bond (women who have been through this experience really believe their trafficker is their boyfriend and that he cares for them).
One day, I was going to church and God put it on my heart that something wasn’t right. I drove to the house and when I walked in, she looked up at me and just started crying. She told me what was going on and I, along with an intervention team, talked with her for 7-8 hours. After all of that, she decided she wanted to leave. We can’t force women to stay with us, and I actually helped her pack her bag and she left.
I contacted all of my prayer warriors and had them praying for her and for us. Twenty-four hours later, my neighbor called me and told me there was a young woman sitting on my steps. I came home as fast as I could and when I arrived she told me she didn’t want to be out there any more, that things weren’t as she remembered. Then she came in and slept.
The next day she told me the whole story. After she left the CPL house, she tried to get in contact with her trafficker, but he never answered. During this time six different people came up to her and told her, “God doesn’t want you doing this” and that her trafficker didn’t really love her. Random strangers did this! I knew our prayers had been answered and that God was protecting her and speaking to her.
Thirdly, we need funds. This work can’t continue without it. All the therapy and personnel that are needed to minister to these ladies have to be consistent and paid. We love our volunteers, but this population needs the reassurance that the same people will be there for them everyday. This helps them to learn to trust.
To learn more about Cherish Precious Loved, visit https://www.cherishedpreciousloved.org/
Written by: Ana Glass