No girl should ever be held captive or become a slave in mind body and spirit. The exploitation of even ONE girl is a tragedy, but in Georgia hundreds of young women are being abused, exploited, and forced into prostitution. It is a big issue, but it is an even bigger secret that not a lot of people are discussing or even aware of. Sophie King is a Program Coordinator for Wellspring Living, where survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation are empowered to “overcome their broken pasts and move toward hopeful futures.” I personally believe that part of changing history for women is building empowered, healthy girls. However, if we continue to ignore the continual abuse and exploitation of girls, we will suffer with the reality of future society full of broken women. Sexual exploitation is an uncomfortable topic for most, but Sophie King speaks and lives with a passion for those who are survivors of such reality. She is bold in her mission, yet warm and loving in her approach. I invite you to learn more about this SuperWoman:
Ivy: Tell me about what the mission of WellSpring is and why did you choose to be a part of it:
Sophie: The mission of WellSpring is to foster holistic healing and change in girls and women through Christ centered community, education, and counseling. It’s our goal to provide the women and girls that we serve with a loving, safe, and supportive environment so they have the opportunity to heal and to grow. Primarily the population that we deal with are girls and women that have been affected by childhood sexual abuse. I specifically work for the girls program. All of the girls that we serve have been identified as commercial sexual exploitation victims. That means that they have been manipulated, coerced, or forced to have sex in exchange for money, a place to stay, food, etc. That particular population has been a passion of mine since undergrad. I went to Taylor University, a small private school, in the middle of nowhere Indiana. There we had a mission week and the president of the International Justice Mission came and spoke. He opened my eyes to the issue of sexual exploitation and trafficking on a worldwide scale. It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta, that I found out it was more of a domestic problem and that Atlanta was one of the top four cities impacted. I had always envisioned myself going overseas to be a part of the solution…but once I moved here I realized I could do it now…so I sent in my resume (to WellSpring) and 6 months later they hired me and that was 3 years ago.
Ivy: What are the ways that you work to empower girls as part of their therapy?
Sophie: We do what we call “connection classes” which are life skills classes. The classes range from budgeting and finance to career guidance and even artistic expression. We look at the girls we have and we ask them frequently what skills are they interested in learning more about. Our goal is to equip them with as many skills as we possibly can that are relevant to them. We don’t want to just be teaching something because we think it’s great. It’s a combination of teaching as well as engaging activities that help them to build their skills. The biggest part of empowering them…is exposing them to these skills, helping them find out what they’re good at and what they love to do, and coaching them through figuring out how they can use it in everyday life to move forward.
Ivy: What are some of the common misconceptions about the sexual exploitation of women and girls?
Sophie: The girls we serve are perceived as loose or “fast” girls.. For a long time they were even criminalized and charged with prostitution. Legislation has changed that recently, thankfully. The girls do not choose this for their life….they are not prostitutes. They are survivors of sexual exploitation. Also, the girls we serve are also perceived to simply be juvenile delinquents who need to be taught a lesson. Due to the trauma they have experienced, the girls we serve wrestle with strong emotions of anger, hurt, rejection, grief, etc. These emotions do impact their behavior, which typically looks like oppositional/defiant behavior, but really these girls are hurting and need people to be full of grace, patience, and love while still providing structure and accountability. They need to learn ways to identify and process those emotions. They need people to notice their strengths and positive qualities and actions they take. I believe that sometimes we weaken them by calling them “victims”. I hear that word a lot and sometimes I even use it, but I’m trying to change to calling them “survivors”. Because, these girls are not weak. They are very strong, they’ve had to be, to endure the things that they’ve been through. They don’t need to necessarily be rescued. It’s not a matter of “scooping them up” and we do all the work. It is a matter of them doing the work and we are walking along beside them. They need a community of women and men to empower them and walk through their struggle with them.
Ivy: As a mother, what have you learned from working at WellSpring that has affected your relationship with your daugher?
Sophie: The biggest thing is realizing that I want to communicate to my daughter, as much as I can, her strengths, beauty, abilities and for her to know that we are her biggest support. I say that because there is also the misconception that a lot of our girls come from broken homes or dysfunctional families. However, it is about half and half. There are very diverse circumstances and family systems that lead to how the girls got to where they are. A lot of our girls, for one reason or another, lacked confidence in themselves because there wasn’t a strong, healthy adult communicating those things to them. Just hearing their stories about the things that their family members said to them to damage their self confidence, deflate them, and belittle their self confidence to where they felt like they weren’t worth anything is what hits home the most for me. I just want to do everything I can. It doesn’t mean that it will be foolproof . It doesn’t mean that (my daughter) will be free from all troubles and bad decisions but I want to do everything in my power and with God’s help to communicate her worth and value.
Ivy: Is there anything you want to make sure that others know about who you are and what you do?
Sophie: I just love what I do. Being able to do something that you love everyday, to be able to see the girls open up and receive love and see them get to the point where the can just feel like “regular” teenagers, to see those “ah ha” moments, to see them process their emotions, seeing their healing, to see them get excited about something new or a career that they have decided or pursue, seeing them in their cap and gown for graduation…all of those things just light me up inside. I’m excited to go to work every day and work with these girls. There are definitely times when it’s challenging but it’s those moments where I see all those things unfold in their lives, that is rewarding.
It is wonderful to see another “Super Woman” using her “Super Powers”
To make a difference in the future for women, by touching the lives of girls
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