by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to the Leaven
TOPEKA — Lent. It’s a time of repentance — and a time of renewal.
Perhaps that explains why the students at Topeka’s Catholic Campus Center at Washburn University undertook a unique service project for the Lenten season.
For years now, the students of the campus center have given up all drinks except water and donated the money they would have spent to charities to help fund clean drinking water projects in poor countries around the world.
This year was different. The students decided to raise funds instead for Veronica’s Voice, a grass-roots agency dedicated “solely to victims of prostitution and commercial exploitation.”
Founded in 2000 by Kristy Childs, Veronica’s Voice is the only agency working in the Kansas City area to help men and women get out of the world of human trafficking and prostitution. Initial funding for the agency was provided by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health Systems. On March 4, Childs spoke to a group of roughly two dozen students and faculty members on the Washburn campus.
It’s a topic of which Childs has much personal experience. At age 12, she ran away from home and started hitchhiking. Eventually, she was taken in by truck drivers in exchange for sexual favors. For the next 24 years, Childs was part of the world of human trafficking and prostitution until one sound changed everything — that of her unborn son’s heartbeat. In a guest biography posted on the website of “The 700 Club,” Childs said, “God told me to keep my son and he would get me out of the lifestyle.”
From that point on, Childs has been free of drugs, depression and her former lifestyle and has dedicated herself to helping others start their lives anew. In her presentation, she discussed all the dangers facing those involved in lives of prostitution, including drug addiction, rape, physical abuse and the high possibility for the prostitutes themselves to be murdered.
And while most people would like to think these things don’t happen in their own communities, the simple fact, Childs said, is they do — and to a certain extent always have.
“It’s not new,” said Childs. “This has gone on for centuries. . . . People using people and exploiting people has gone on forever.”
Childs’ compassion for the victims of the industry led her to found Veronica’s Voice in memory of Veronica Neverdusky. In 1993, Neverdusky was just 21 years old and had three young children. A victim of human trafficking and prostitution, she was found murdered in Penn Valley Park in Kansas City, Mo. Childs named her grass-roots agency in her honor and dedicated her work to “women and girls who are caught in commercial sexual exploitation who are without voices.”
A few of the programs and services that Veronica’s Voice offers those seeking to begin their lives anew include: a place at an undisclosed location where women and girls go for assistance with basic needs such as showers, clothing, food and referrals to other community service agencies; Restorative Justice, an educational program aimed at reducing arrest recidivism; and personal outreach, crisis lines, drug and alcohol abuse recovery and job training.
Additionally, Veronica’s Voice offers women a homelike environment in the Magdalene Home, a 5,000-square-foot residence in the Hyde Park area of Kansas City, Mo., so women and girls have a place to stay while accessing services.
Childs said it’s important for people to realize that women and girls often get caught in the industry due to a lack of jobs skills or a reliance on their handlers for food, shelter and clothing.
“These are human beings that matter,” Childs emphasized, adding that too often society and the legal system look down on these women.
Veronica’s Voice does not receive any government funding. As a result, the agency relies upon the generosity of donors. So, in addition to sponsoring Childs’ presentation, the Catholic Campus Center held two fundraisers to benefit Veronica’s Voice.
First, the students sold bracelets in the student union during peak times, distributing literature about human trafficking and Veronica’s Voice at the same time. Then, the students conducted a night at Buffalo Wild Wings on March 6 with 10 percent of the profits going to help Veronica’s Voice.
For Anna Frantz, a senior and a member of the campus center, the idea to help Veronica’s Voice made complete sense. However, she cannot claim credit for the idea, she said. That goes to Debra Banister, a senior and a social work major who had heard Childs before and took the idea back to the campus center’s leadership.
“It (the H2O Project) gets a lot of interest, but we wanted to do something a little closer to our own community,” said Frantz, adding many people do not realize how close to home the issue of human trafficking really hits.