‘They didn’t care about my past’: Local program gives hope and healing for human trafficking survivors

HOUSTON – Along with Mexico and the Philippines, the United States is considered one of the worst places for human trafficking.

There is not an official total on the number of victims, but the estimates have it in the hundreds of thousands.

Many programs focus on getting survivors out of human trafficking, but what will their lives be afterward?

Dorris Walker-Taylor said her life changed forever the day her father and mother were attacked by a family member.

“Severely injured my mom and shot my father and I was 12 years old,” Walker-Taylor said.

Her father died and she turned to drugs to cope.

“My life was full of going to jail, getting out of jail, and selling myself as though I was some type of commodity,” Walker-Taylor said.

After 20 years on the street, she came to Thistle Farms. In Thistle Farms’ two-year residential program, survivors are provided housing, healthcare, counseling sessions, and job training.

“For many, many women, this will be their first legitimate job,” she said.

Thistle Farms was founded by Becca Stevens, who believes her own personal experience of being abused as a child connects her to the people she’s helping.

“They didn’t care about my past. They just wanted to help me with my now,” Walker-Taylor said.

Through their café, body and home supply factory, and storefront, Thistle Farms has raised $1.6 million in income for survivors, allowing them to be financially independent. Walker-Taylor started out packaging home goods -- now she is the senior ambassador for the organization and a true Thistle.

“A thistle is a survival weed. A thistle grows through concrete. It survives drought,” she said.

For Stevens, this sends a clear message.

“You can rape women, you can imprison women, you can addict women, you can commodify women, and you can’t kill hope in them,” Stevens said.

Five years after graduating from the residential program, 75% of graduates are living financially independent lives. Through their global shared trade program, Thistle Farms has employed 1,500 women.

Seventy percent of the funds to run the organization comes from people buying their products online, in the store, or eating at their café.