Changing lives (including their own) at Dream Center
Story and photos by Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
The women gathered at the Phoenix Dream Center on a recent Thursday gazed at their shoes, studied their fingers or scribbled into a notebook — anything to avoid the instructor’s eyes.
The instructor, Denise Krupp of Grand Canyon University, had started the session by asking a simple question: How have your beliefs changed?
But answering wasn’t simple for these women, all of them survivors of the sex trade who had found refuge at the Dream Center. Answering meant having a healthy helping of self-knowledge — instead of feelings frozen numb from years of misery.
Finally, a woman in a patterned blouse lifted her eyes and responded.
“The things that I believed previously in my life stemmed from fear,” she said. “I would force things to happen before they happened to me. Everybody leaves me, so I would push people away to make them leave.”
Gaining self-knowledge by facing fears
Krupp, College of Humanities and Social Sciences lead counseling instructor, was running the first of an eight-week series that GCU’s counseling students and faculty have brought to Dream Center sex-trafficking victims for nearly two years.
The program is called the Mariposa Group — the Spanish word for butterfly — because the participants are trying to metamorphose into a better life, said CHSS Program Manager Kathy Britton.
They have fled lives of drugs, prostitution and sexual abuse marked by trauma, debasement and beatings. They were enslaved by profiteers who stole their hope, self-esteem and their independence.
According to Dream Center statistics, these women were among the estimated 27 million victims worldwide ensnared by the sex trade.
Nourishing them back to spiritual health is one of the goals of the Dream Center, which serves more than 36,000 people with varying needs each month at 3210 W. Grand Ave. and through community outreach and housing programs.
GCU’s Mariposa program offers practical tools, group support and direction on the road to self-discovery and self-love.
The question about beliefs, for example, helps them focus on who they are and what they feel, Krupp said.
“The struggle is when they let go of the old identity, they ask themselves, ‘Who am I? Who does God want me to be?’” Krupp said. “God really sees them as who they are.”
The woman in the patterned shirt said another false belief is that only alcohol or drugs could make her happy. Today, she said, she laughs every day with her friends at the Dream Center. She feels a sense of belonging and a shifting of priorities.
“Slowly and surely, I’m looking at things differently,” she said.
Accepting the affection of women
Denise called on another woman to answer the question, but that woman deflected the attention to a friend sitting next to her. The names of the survivors in this story are being withheld at their request.
“She makes everybody laugh,” the woman said. “She’s the center of everything. She’s the sun.”
The friend who was described in such glowing terms said it’s hard to believe that she is truly loved.
“I try to let it sink in,” she said, “but I’ve been through a lot in my life.”
Krupp asked, “Are you a survivor?” and the woman agreed that, yes, she is a survivor. All of the women who escaped into the safe haven of the Dream Center are survivors.
Krupp also asked them to recall a situation in which they had no control.
“My dad was addicted to drugs,” said a woman in a yellow jacket. “I wound up using cocaine, heroin, cough syrup, meth, crack, ecstasy, everything.”
She began crying as she admitted that after getting clean and sober, she recently used heroin again and “was so high I was out of my mind.”
As she sobbed, the others consoled her by saying how happy they were that she had returned and that coming back to get healthy was what was mattered.
“We all make mistakes,” said a woman who was cuddling a friend’s infant in her lap.
“I miss getting all dressed up and doing my nails and hair and makeup,” she added wistfully.
She paused, and in a quieter voice said, “But I want people to look up to me. I want to dress conservatively. I want to be an auntie to my nephews.”
Getting to know whom to trust
Even though their prime abusers were male, several women said it’s other women who made them feel unsafe — until they met like-minded souls at the Dream Center.
“I’ve always been bullied, I’ve always been beat up, I’ve always been berated by girls,” a women in a red shirt said. “I’m surprised these girls care about me. All of you are like mothers to me.”
“You’re learning that some people are safe and some people are not,” Krupp said. “How do you know the difference?”
One woman said she is learning to get to know people more slowly and to establish a trusting relationship with them before revealing too much.
“You learn to give it away in pieces,” Krupp said.
For example, the woman said, she rushed into a relationship with a new boyfriend and disclosed to him that she was a former prostitute.
In the end, she said, “He used it against me.”
When relationships or friendships don’t work out, Krupp said, it is often for the best.
Michelle Love, GCU Faculty Training and Development assistant director and master’s in counseling student, was assisting Krupp. Typically, counseling students lead the sessions, which provide invaluable field experience.
“I want my students to have a good, wonderful feeling when they leave of, ‘Wow, I can do this,’’’ Krupp said.
Krupp said she loves volunteering at the Dream Center, even this summer, when she is doing so in her free time.
“I like to take a step back and watch what God does there,’’ Krupp said. “It’s just like a miracle. They have been forever changed.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.