Inspired by her personal experience, Susan Munsey has made it her mission to help victims of sex trafficking in the US.
When she was 15, growing up in Los Angeles, Munsey started dating a man she thought was the real deal.
‘I’d never had a boyfriend before. He gave me compliments. He was charming. He took me out to eat,’ she recalled. ‘I was insecure and didn’t have a lot of self-esteem. … And here I had this 24-year-old boyfriend. Wasn’t I something special?’
Then he started abusing her. He forced her to sell her body. Months later, she was arrested for prostitution.
‘I really hadn’t talked to anybody about this for probably 30 years, other than my therapist,’ Munsey, now 61, said. ‘I was really afraid that people would judge me. I was very afraid to share that part of my life.’
Decades later, armed with her own survival and years of research and expertise as a clinical social worker, Munsey shared her personal story with a church mentor who also wanted to do something about the sex trafficking problem in San Diego.
The city is among the top 13 highest sex trafficking areas in the country, according to the FBI.
Yet at the time, Munsey found very few programs existed to help victims.
‘It just sparked something in me,’ she said. ‘I always knew that God would use that time that I was trafficked in some way. It wasn’t just going to be wasted time.’
In 2009, she founded GenerateHope, a nonprofit that offers a safe place for survivors of sex trafficking to heal and build new lives. The group provides long-term housing, therapy, education, and medical care.
‘It’s not just about creating safety physically, but psychologically as well,’ Munsey said.
Participants attend classes to get caught up on their high school education and prepare for college. They receive individual therapy, and there are five group therapies a week focused on the traumatic experience of being in the sex trade.
Women can stay at GenerateHope’s safe house for up to two years and benefit from a variety of volunteer-led support services, such as equine and art therapy, dance and yoga.
‘We really work to help them realize all the skills and capabilities that they have within themselves,’ Munsey said.
To date, Munsey says GenerateHope has been a refuge for more than 100 victims — some as young as 18 — women she calls ‘survivors.’