A new life of freedom has created a hopeful reality for a group of women in Coronado whose lives have been restored from sex trafficking.
GenerateHope Founder and Director of Programs Susan Munsey and a team of women since 2009 have helped more than 150 survivors heal and find restoration through long-term housing, trauma-informed therapy, education, and vocational support on the island and San Diego.
“Most trafficking victims will enter the life of sexual exploitation between the ages of 13 and 16, so really young,” said GenerateHope Executive Director Annie Rodriguez. “Then they end up kind of trapped in that life, on average, four to six years. And so, by the time they are ready to get out, they are young adults and that’s kind of the service and the population that we serve.”
Love and rehabilitation
In a series of interviews, The Coronado News found a shared commitment from the staff to pour love and rehabilitation into the women survivors.
It’s not that we came looking at Coronado to find a place. It found us.”-GenerateHope Founder and Director of Programs Susan Munsey.
“GenerateHope came about an answer to the issues that were going on in San Diego with sex trafficking,” said Munsey, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. “It’s not that we came looking at Coronado to find a place. It found us.”
Embarking on this journey more than a decade ago with a “leap of faith” and a mission to serve young adult women, Munsey said the faith-based program has never looked back and considers that “God has taken care of us ever since.”
“We definitely worked to adapt and grow, and make the changes that are going to be best for the residents and for the program,” said Munsey. “I had been trafficked when I was 16, and I really felt drawn to work on the issue.”
She said she found a church that also was drawn to work on helping women.
“So it’s something that we kind of did together,” she said with research and training that followed.
However, Munsey said those who are helped do not have to participate in religious services or embrace Christianity, but they are highly encouraged to read the Bible daily and attend a church.
What is sex trafficking?
Sex trafficking centers on exploitation and is different from smuggling, which centers on transportation, reports several government websites.
“Although the two can occur together,” according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, human trafficking remains a growing $150 billion-a-year global industry, according to the state Attorney General’s office.
State and county prosecutors say that California as a populous border state with a significant immigrant population and the world’s fifth largest economy is one of the nation’s top destinations for trafficking of human beings.
In a January 2009 report by the FBI about non-cyber sexual exploitation of children, San Diego was eighth among 13 high intensity child prostitution areas behind San Francisco and followed by Miami, Florida.
From GenerateHope to college graduate
For this story, The Coronado News interviewed a survivor who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
The survivor is in her 40s and her life took a hopeful turn in 2019.
“GH (GenerateHope) has helped me in so many ways,” said the woman, who used the name “Jane.”
Being in a safe space has allowed me to embark on the journey of rebuilding my life free from the immediate threats of exploitation or being thrown back into human trafficking.”-“Jane,” a survivor of in her 40s who received help from GenerateHope.
“Being in a safe space has allowed me to embark on the journey of rebuilding my life free from the immediate threats of exploitation or being thrown back into human trafficking,” she said.
Addressing emotional, psychological scars
GenerateHope’s therapists help the women address the emotional and psychological scars that are left by the trafficking.
Jane said those therapists “played a pivotal role in my recovery from PTSD,” in addition to creating a sense of community that she has experienced especially during holiday celebrations and personal growth retreats.
Jane said there was no “no way” she would have made it without God, and having a faith-based program made it easier to commit to the program.
The organization, led by some fellow survivors, also helped Jane obtain her college degree, she said.
Jane in May graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She plans to return to GenerateHope and help fellow survivors after completing her master’s degree in social work.
‘Story of survival’
“My story of survival began in 2019 with a pivotal decision,” said Jane. “I bravely left my abuser’s residence carrying only the clothes on my back and a backpack purse. I left a note on the table that said that I was going to the library and walked out the door and never looked back…I decided that I needed to be in a program that would help me heal from the inside out.”
Jane said her trafficking story began at the age of 5 with immediate family members who included her mother and grandmother.
I remember enduring beatings, being tortured, mutilated, and dehumanized. My sense of self-worth and being valued as a person to me was just vanished, it vanished”-“Jane,” a survivor of in her 40s who received help from GenerateHope.
“There was no light, no hope, and no love,” said Jane. “I remember enduring beatings, being tortured, mutilated, and dehumanized. My sense of self-worth and being valued as a person to me was just vanished, it vanished”
Jane’s sex-trafficking network throughout the years shifted from family members to an ex-spouse she said she was forced to marry, pushing her into a life of continued abuse.
“You don’t really know until you’re out of it,” said Jane. “They even control what I see on the internet or my cell phone, so nothing was mine. …Everything is a blur.”
After seeing a television ad that came on about getting help and alerts of what to look for in sex trafficking, Jane said she realized she was stuck in a similar cycle and decided to get help by leaving the premises and contacting the 1-800 hotline.
Discovering inner strength
“I found my voice, discovered inner strength, and regained wisdom,” said Jane. “I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to share a little bit of my story… It’s definitely a blessing to have gone through GH’s program.”
Jane also considers that being in the company of supportive women and a founder who understands her is empowering.
They helped me realize I am not alone and that others have walked similar paths.”-Jane, a survivor of sex trafficking.
“They helped me realize I am not alone and that others have walked similar paths,” said Jane. “I regard these women as influential, …they were nonjudgmental, offering unwavering support.”
Jane said the staff at GenerateHope “keep their word, they’re committed, and they show up.”
“Some of them, they’re not survivors, but for them to show up and be ready to learn new things or give love is just wonderful,” she said.
Overcoming community concerns
Munsey said that GenerateHope was able to extend its program after one “quiet, down to earth couple” who loved helping provided the organization a home in Coronado six years ago.
Coronado happens to be where the housing has been provided for us…And, it’s just a pleasant place to live.-GenerateHope Founder and Director of Programs Susan Munsey
“Coronado happens to be where the housing has been provided for us,” Munsey said. “And, it’s just a pleasant place to live.”
At that time, however, some community members voiced opposition to the integration of a transition home for sex trafficking survivors because of potential dangers to Coronado, according to published reports.
In order to address concerns, Munsey said that GenerateHope held town hall meetings and the perceptions changed.
“A lot of people just decided they wanted to support us and volunteer and work with us,” she said.
Roughly 50 volunteers help organization
Since then, a group of roughly 50 volunteers have helped the organization support women residents, whether that be through transportation or other skills they are taught from professionals with distinct fields and backgrounds.
“We certainly have some great volunteers, and I don’t think we could do what we do without volunteers,” said Munsey. “They really keep us rolling.”
One of these volunteers is Coronado resident Jennifer McKenzie, who has helped the organization since 2017.
“They’re an incredibly supportive program that really tries to support the women to set them up for long-term success,” said McKenzie. “It was just always a subject that has concerned me and had a special place in my heart and with an organization just right here in town, it was very easy to just connect with them to help.”
McKenzie previously helped with mentoring, transportation to and from appointments, fundraisers, administrative support, cleaning, and prayer, she said.
“Volunteers are involved in all different levels of our program,” said Rodriguez, the executive director. “We have some lovely Coronado locals who come out and do gardening at our home.”
How the program works
The women survivors typically reside at GenerateHope for up to two years and benefit from a variety of volunteer-led support services, though they can choose to stay as long as they desire.
“We always assist a woman when she’s leaving,” said Munsey. “We stay in contact with the women and continue to support them if they’d like, or just stay in touch to see how they’re doing.”
For those, like Jane, who complete the entire residence program there are five stages. The first three focus on recovery and the last two work on transitioning from GenerateHope.
“Initially, we had exact timelines for women, but that doesn’t work very well for each individual. So, it just depends on how quickly they move through the phases,” said Munsey. “They come in at different times and need different lengths of stay.”
Munsey said GenerateHope considers six is the magic number of women they can help at any given time.
Integrating into the community
“Coronado’s a safe community to walk around in, the residents have been super supportive, and it’s just a beautiful place to continue their healing and reintegrate into the community and attend church, meetings, and have that social structure,” Rodriguez said.
Members in the cohort change, but the goal is to help everyone reintegrate into the larger public community with more independence gained from education, career readiness, communication, finances, and health programs.
The organization has credentialed teachers and therapists in house.
“Those are the kinds of things that other programs might send the women out to do, and whenever they have to go out they are faced with dangers,” Munsey said.
She added that Coronado also has plenty of jobs for those who go through the program and many can get around on bikes if they don’t have a car.
And in Coronado, the focus becomes “applying such life skills in a more independent setting while also participating in school,” which may include higher education or a trade school to gain a job and be self sufficient.
Apart from learning independence, Munsey said most residents decide to enroll in college through scholarship opportunities to attend local universities like Point Loma Nazarene University.
High success rate
In addition to helping over 150 women to this date, Munsey said GenerateHope has a 75% success rate of women who have not returned to human trafficking.
She notes that the other 25% does not mean they returned to the trafficking life but are “women who are lost to the system, we don’t know where they are.”
GenerateHope found that 29% of the women within the first three to six months of the program show a decrease in PTSD and depression while simultaneously increasing self-esteem.
Recovery from sex trafficking, as you can imagine, takes a long time.”–GenerateHope Founder and Director of Programs Susan Munsey
“Recovery from sex trafficking, as you can imagine, takes a long time,” Munsey said. “Two years is really a drop in the bucket, but it’s a good start. And then we give them referrals to continue that recovery when they leave us.”
CNN Hero Tribute
In 2018, CNN recognized Munsey as a 2018 CNN HERO among nine other nonprofit founders working to transform the world through respective organizations.
“She pours her soul into this and is just transforming these women’s lives and making long-term impacts that will affect generations to come and just stopping this horrible cycle that’s happening in a long-term transformational method.” said McKenzie. “It’s meeting a need that doesn’t exist and that nobody else is supplying.”
GenerateHope was the beneficiary of the sold out 8th annual Fiesta de Coronado for its service to survivors of human trafficking during a Sept. 9 fundraiser hosted by the Rick and Katie Moore Foundation.
“That was just a great partnership and a beautiful evening,” said Rodriguez.
Expanding to Colorado
In the last couple of years, GenerateHope has expanded to a third location in Colorado which houses all services under one roof with additional acreage that may allow for continued growth and expansion to continue its mission to serve women across the country.
“When we first launched, it was all volunteers and as we grew our program and as we understood the need, we were able to get the funding to hire staff,” added Rodriguez. “I would say about 80% of our staff started as volunteers, including myself.”
And volunteers have witnessed the program’s success in recent graduate celebrations.
“I’ve learned more about myself and more about just what amazing people are in the world through this organization,” said McKenzie, one of the volunteers who lives in Coronado. “If you have the skill, they can use it.”
To learn more about GenerateHope visit, https://www.generatehope.org/.