Healing Action was born of a Commercial Sexual Exploitation survivor's dream to provide services that didn't exist when trying to leave "the life."This dream was born over years which included Katie Rhoades, MSW Founder & Executive Director of Healing Action, earning her Master's Degree in Social Work of Washington University in St. Louis, and over years integrating herself deeply into the social service network of the St. Louis professional community and seeing major gaps in helping women viewed as members of the 'oldest profession.'
Four years ago, Katie Rhoades, MSW, began the actual work of Healing Action by developing and providing trauma-informed therapeutic services to other survivors in residential shelters and within other mental health programs across St. Louis. While also balancing a full time job, no funding, and no staff, Katie's education and advocacy work was also a voice to political leaders in the Greater St. Louis area and within the Missouri State Legislature. Rhoades started the organization as a way to educate her community, similar non-profits, and the government. Specifically, she worked on Missouri’s Safe at Home Bill. The Safe at Home Bill provides, free of charge, post office boxes to victims of sex trafficking, so their abusers cannot locate them. Rhoades also recognizing that prostitution frequently occurs at hotels, trained many hotel staff teams to identify commercial sex. Thereby, Rhoades was successful in placing one more stopgap into the commercial sex trade.
In the fall of 2014, Rhoades and her business partner made a presentation to a private organization on how they could get involved with sex trafficking organizations. The organization decided that the best way to support the community was by giving Rhoades a chance to pitch her own vision for an organization. In the spring of 2015, Rhoades gave a presentation on her vision of what Healing Action would be. A second presentation detailed her multi-year strategic plan complete with budgets and financial resources. In September of 2015, Rhoades was awarded a three-year contracted partnership, which provided significant start up funding for her dream and vision, Healing Action.
After receiving the grant, Rhoades started a board of directors, hired key staff, and a Peer-to-Peer coordinator, Jennifer Hardy. The three women found a physical space for the organization and began creating programs, establishing partnerships with other St. Louis organizations, and preparing the Healing Action space for their new clients.
Healing Action has a unique opportunity to best serve and advocate for their clients. The Executive Director and the Peer-to-Peer Coordinator are former victims of sex trafficking. To best serve this population, “it is imperative to recognize the suffering, the victimization, and human rights violations that victims face.” (Ren, 2013) Rhoades and Hardy are able to do this better than most because of their past experience combined with formal training.
At this time, Healing Action is in it's 1st year of operation. The staff is in the process of piloting programs to serve exploited women in commercial sex or in human trafficking. Healing Action recognizes that each client is different and has faced unique traumas. As a result, every plan is specific to the client – there is no “one size fits all” solution.
One of the most important pieces of Healing Action’s mission is the idea that it is virtually impossible to distinguish forced prostitution from voluntary prostitution. Healing Action will help any person who wants to leave the commercial sex industry, regardless of how they got there. Healing Action believes that exploitation will only end when all members of our community network work together to create safe spaces where all people can thrive.