Reaching Out: Katie Rhoades of Healing Action
How long have you been working for this cause?
Since 2005, but Healing Action got its start in 2012.
What got interested you in it?
I’m a survivor of sex trafficking. I got out in 2001 and wanted to support other individuals who have been through the commercial sex trade. The first step was spending quite a bit of time working on my own healing. I also wanted to get an education to be able to address the issues that impact the people we serve. I got my bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University in 2010, and then I moved to St. Louis to go to the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, where I earned my master’s. Initially, I started with a grassroots campaign to raise support and funds for the cause, and that started with creating awareness and letting people know about the issue. I got in front of people and told my story to get the word about human trafficking. After fundraising and building relationships with people who share this mission, Healing Action was ready to open its doors. We received a three-year infrastructure grant in 2015, and it allowed us to begin serving clients.
Explain what the organization does.
Healing Action believes in a community free of exploitation. We serve adult survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, pornography, survival sex and sex trafficking—anyone who had to use their body to get their needs meet. All our staff are survivors and can relate to women who are on their way out of the life. We also offer group therapy, individual counseling and transportation. It’s really about providing basic needs so individuals don’t need to be out on the streets engaging in commercial sex any longer. We also partner with lawmakers to push legislation that would limit sex trafficking across the country and help survivors get out of the life easier, including the Missouri Safe at Home Bill, which provides free post office boxes to victims so their abusers can’t find them.
If you could do anything for the organization, what would it be?
Our biggest need is for resources to allow Healing Action to provide safe housing for victims of trafficking. I would love to be able to obtain plots of land for individual, nonidentifiable homes or a larger property where we could open a more comprehensive residential facility that would allow women to focus on their initial healing. We currently have about 60 active clients, and our ability to properly provide services is dependent on our ability to grow.
to combat commercial sexual exploitation through a multisystem approach of creating awareness, advocating to empower survivors and creating space where all can thrive
in the words of healing action:
“Katie has dedicated her life to helping others live on their own terms. Through her hard work and determination, she has created a space for victims of commercial sexual exploitation to heal from their trauma so they can start their journey to a life free of exploitation. Katie also has been a key figure in the local, state and national anti-trafficking movement, providing education to increase awareness of the issue and advocating for the rights of those exploited.”
Photo: Strauss Peyton Photography