In 2004 Catholic Social Services formed the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition (PATC), an organization made up of members from more than 20 groups: local religious communities, social services organizations, and law enforcement agencies. In July of 2007 two local public defenders attended a meeting of the PATC and spoke out regarding the needs of their clients charged with prostitution. As a result of this meeting, Sr. Teresita Hinnegan, MMS, a member of the Coalition, and Mary DeFusco, Esq., one of the attending defenders, begin discussing the feasibility of providing a residential program for women who had been internationally or locally trafficked for commercial sex work. None of the organizations involved in the PATC provided a residential program where women could have long term healing and rehabilitative services that were specifically related to having been exploited for commercial sex work.
Sr. Teresita and Mary were joined by Sisters Terry Shields, MSHR, Kathleen Coll, SSJ, and Marissa Bluestine, Esq., to found Dawn’s Place in Philadelphia in 2007, as a non-profit organization and residential program. It was named in honor of a prostituted woman who was murdered in Camden, New Jersey. Our name was created from the hope of a new day “dawning” for women who had been victimized for Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE).
Shortly after Dawn’s Place was formed, the above women began an intensive search for a house. This search coincided with the closing of a residence for women in Philadelphia. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd had worked for over 100 years to help women who had been victims of abuse and other misfortunes. Unable to continue this ministry, the Sisters were happy to donate the house to be used as a residential program for trafficked, pimped, and prostituted women.
The law firm of Ballard Spahr, LLP provided pro bono legal services to enable the incorporation of the entity, the acquisition of the property, and the proper zoning for the program. Other resources were donated to rehabilitate the house to meet code standards and create an attractive, comfortable home for women where they could receive therapeutic and other services, restore their dignity, and prepare to return as productive members to society. Congregations of Religious Women have been an enormous resource, both through financial donations and many hours of volunteer service at the residence. Referrals of women come from a variety of sources including: Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of State, and the FBI for international women. Domestic women are referred through the criminal justice system, self-referral, or through other human services agencies.