Sex Trafficking

Courage House Claimed to Save Sex-Trafficked Girls. Instead, It Used Them As Funding Bait While Playing Evangelical Christian Missionary

Courage House received about $9,100 in government support per month per girl it took in.

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Courage Worldwide/Facebook

Once girls arrived at the house, they were expected to hand over their cellphones. Internet access was also strictly limited—Jenny's rules. For "her girls" to stay in good graces, they were expected to do as she said, go where she told them to, and be available when she wanted to show them off in photos or at events.

It's the kind of controlling, exploitative situation police warn us that runaway teens are likely to end up in at the hands of human traffickers. But in this case, control came via the people ostensibly helping—and accepting a lot of private and government money to help—these girls, under the auspices of an organization called Courage Worldwide. Founded in 2011 by Jenny T. Williamson (on direct orders from God, or so she claims), the Sacramento-based organization provided housing and services for formerly sex-trafficked young women at a California group home (Courage House) as well as a sister site in Tanzania.

For her work as CEO of the nonprofit, Williamson paid herself $115,000 in 2015, according to the organization's tax report. The group reported net assets of $1.4 million that year. In addition to accepting donations from numerous local businesses, it received about $9,100 in government support per month per girl it took in. Most of the girls that lived at Courage House were referred by social workers or probation officers.

Once at Courage House, the girls were supposed to be able to heal in comfort and privacy. Instead, they found themselves cut off from the outside world, with services and staff lacking (one former employee said she was told there was only money for two of the six girls per month to see a psychiatrist), while being subjected to the invasive publicity demands of Williamson, according to a Sacramento Bee expose on the group.

"Public documents show that Williamson voluntarily closed the six-bed facility, effective June 14, amid a flurry of state inspections that found numerous violations, including inadequate staffing levels and no current administrator working at the home," the paper reported in August. "Williamson is appealing many of the citations, and is adamant that the closure is only temporary."

So temporary, apparently, that Williamson didn't bother telling her donors about the shutdown until after the Bee contacted them.

A former Courage House employee told the newspaper that the group had been cited by the state 16 times between January and June of 2016, for violations including breaching residents' privacy and inadequate staffing. Last fall, it was cited for giving tours of the group home and holding lunches there, for forcing residents to attend Christian church services every week, and for not respecting residents' freedom of religion.

In interviews with The Bee, six ex-employees and a former business associate described a volatile environment for workers and high turnover among line staff at Courage House. The former workers singled out Williamson as a temperamental leader with no child-development background who micromanaged her trained staff and became so swept up in her own publicity and expansion plans that the core mission began to falter.

The workers described a corporate organization in which staff members were frequently countermanded or abruptly fired for raising questions about "the vision," or for expressing concerns over the corporate office's sharing of clients' confidential information in fundraising or publicity efforts. Several ex-employees said they were upset by the use of identifiable images of Courage House girls on the company's Facebook page.

It sounds like Williamson acted more like the proverbial controlling pimp or madam than someone truly dedicated to helping exploited teenagers. Which would be gross enough for the sheer hypocrisy of it, but imagine how much it could also have further messed up these girls, assuming they did come to her because they had been forced or coerced into prostitution. Now the people who "rescued" them are employing the same sort of isolating and controlling techniques they escaped, treating them more like Courage Worldwide products than people, and publicizing their images and past horror stories to the whole community.

DeAnne Brining, a licensed therapist who had contracted with Courage House, described the situation as "abusive" and said Williamson routinely "paraded the girls around" for marketing purposes. Another former employee told the Bee "everything was a photo op." (Read the whole damning expose here.)

The publicity efforts, at least, worked: Williamson can be seen on the Courage Worldwide website posing alongside people like former San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt and actresses Julianne Moore and Eva Longoria. She's been honored by the FBI and L'Oreal.

Williamson complained to the Bee that caring for trafficked youth has left her tired. "It is difficult to love someone that does not love themself," she said.

Courage Worldwide's website still touts the organization's expansion plan, which includes opening 10 new cottages for underage sex-trafficking victims, in both the U.S. and Tanzania.

"Sex trafficking has become a 'cause celebre' in the evangelical community," notes Broadly. And as it has, church-backed "abolition" efforts and Christian group-homes for "rescued" girls have proliferated, with many evangelicals seeing the sex-trafficking angle as a new way to attack long-time opposition to prostitution and pornography.

"The numbers of [houses] have surged because the issue has for ten-plus years been promoted by entities like the US federal government, which provides significant funding for rescue efforts," Laura Agustín, anthropologist and author of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry, told Broadly. "It is not surprising that opportunists leap on the bandwagon, with or without good intentions."

In the past few years, a number of high-profile rescue groups have been exposed for shady behavior. The most well-known was Somaly Mam, whose fraudulent foundation had been celebrated by everyone from Hillary Clinton to Nicholas Kristof to Meg Ryan before it crashed in a haze of half-truths and distortions. Then Chong Kim, the poster-victim for several sex-trafficking rescue groups (and subject of the 2012 film Eden), was also found to be fudging many details about her alleged abuse.

Think things are better in other countries? Anne Elizabeth Moore's excellent comic book Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking, published earlier this year, shows how rescue organizations in places like Cambodia "save" women from the sex trade only to exploit them in garment factories.

A 2015 report from Truthout looked at 50 of the most prominent (and well-funded) anti–human-trafficking organizations in America—groups with a net worth of about $686 million, or $13.7 million per group, per year. "The US anti-trafficking movement seems to be one of the few reliable growth areas in the United States' post-recession economy besides low-wage service work," Truthout reported. Its analysis found many of the groups were secretive about budgets and funding, promoted unsourced or patently false statistics about human trafficking, and offered dubious claims about the services they provide and the impact of their efforts. "All in all," concluded Truthoiut, "the impact numbers presented by anti-trafficking organizations— their justification for existence and, of course, funding—are simply absurd."

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  1. That kind of t-shirt should cast doubt.

  2. “””It sounds like Williamson acted more like the proverbial controlling pimp or madam than someone truly dedicated to helping exploited teenagers”””

    So she was just like a pimp or madam except the part about pimping them out.

    1. This DeAnne Brining, a licensed therapist who had contracted with Courage House, described the situation as “abusive” and said Williamson routinely “paraded the girls around” for marketing purposes. Another former employee told the Bee “everything was a photo op.” is pimp-like behavior.

      1. Wow, girls getting photographed!!!!!

        1. Girls on film?

        2. I too am appalled that the federal government pays an organization over nine-thousand dollars per person to parade around former prostitutes under the guise of sex trafficking.

        3. You’re ignoring some force.

  3. I would say that group-home situations should be a last resort, as in when the choice is between taking the victims in or turning them back on the street.

    The ideal situation would be putting a trafficking victim with a good family, a family with a record of raising non-fucked-up kids.

    1. Or, what about legalizing prostitution as a first step to reduce trafficking? Oh, wait, that might endanger marriage.

      And let’s hear more about the criteria for determining which are “good” families.

      1. Oh, piss up a rope, I’ve already acknowledged the practical considerations which – one could argue – would allow for legal brothels.

        I *have* said that no coherent philosophy of freedom, based on observing arrangements voluntarily entered into, can justify married (wo)men breaking their vows to their spouses and consorting with hookers.

        Such things might be legalized for practical reasons, but not on grounds of “voluntary transactions between consenting adults,” because the betrayed spouse rarely consents, and the betrayed spouse has a right to expect others to respect the voluntary deal they made.

        You wouldn’t argue that someone buying stolen goods from a fence was simply engaging in a voluntary transaction? What about the property owner?

        1. Also, I would at the very least keep on the books the *civil* causes of action of criminal conversation and alienation of affection – what are mocked as “heartbalm laws.”

          Yeah, if your husband screws a hooker, you should be able to sue the hooker and the madam.

          1. Yeah, if your husband screws a hooker, you should be able to sue the hooker and the madam.

            Are they suing for recovery of the semen?

        2. You’re confusing freedom with morality.

        3. You wouldn’t argue that someone buying stolen goods from a fence was simply engaging in a voluntary transaction? What about the property owner?

          *Wayne’s World lean back*

          Whoa.

          1. How do you begin to unpack this?

            “Property owner.” That is… breathtaking. Even for a medieval authoritarian like Eddie.

            “Stolen goods.” Ditto. GOODS? I can imagine what Eddie would look like if he said something like that to my wife.

            And generally, when actual goods (as opposed to people that Eddie has dehumanized) are stolen and fenced, the owner no longer has them.

            Every time I think he can’t possibly say anything stupider and more evil, he surprises me.

            1. You seem to be unclear on the concept of analogies and how they work.

              I said “the betrayed spouse has a right to expect others to respect the voluntary deal they made.”

              You obviously disagree, but that’s between you and your wife.

        4. The only practical consideration is self-ownership, which you are willing to shit on in the interest of group rights. Whine louder, Eddy, maybe someone will care.

          1. I’m confused. Is this all carryover from prior conversations? There’s no group rights here. All Eddie says is ” no coherent philosophy of freedom, based on observing arrangements voluntarily entered into, can justify married (wo)men breaking their vows to their spouses and consorting with hookers”

            Where are the group rights here? Married (wo)man enters into contractual agreement that, by and large, includes not screwing hookers. Married (wo)man breaks contractual agreement. Where’s the group right? It sounds like the spouse is simply asserting their contractual rights.

            1. Asserting them against a party who is not a signatory of the contract…

              ie. “the betrayed spouse has a right to expect others to respect the voluntary deal they made.”

        5. Are all men married in your fantasy world?

          1. Unless Eddie has changed his reasoning on this, as long as anyone, anywhere is married then the group rights of married couples outweighs the individual right of self-ownership. Eddie is only interested in libertarianism as long as it furthers the rights of the religious.

            1. Interesting…so only religious people care about respecting and enforcing marriage vows?

        6. There are a lot of assumptions packed into this:
          * Literally all men are married
          * All marriages are Implicitly/Explicitly vows of sexual exclusivity from the man to the woman (there may be other vows)
          * Someone is under strict liability for other people’s marriage vows
          * We need Tort law to address all manner of personal interactions.

        7. It’s a good thing I don’t have allergies or the smell of all the straw in those straw men would knock me out.

          Again, “the betrayed spouse has a right to expect others to respect the voluntary deal they made.”

          That is *analagous* to receiving stolen property – do I need to explain how analogies work?

          No, I’m not assuming all men are married, where did I even say that?

          I accepted that there are practical arguments to legalize brothels.

          And if you raise the possibility of an open marriage, then I suppose the wife, lacking clean hands, shouldn’t be able to sue.

          1. Again, “the betrayed spouse has a right to expect others to respect the voluntary deal they made.”

            It’s almost like they would have a tort just for this situation

            Granted, I think that there would be a massive practical issue of proving intent.

            1. “It’s almost like they would have a tort just for this situation”

              Yes, criminal conversation and alienation of affection, in those states which have resisted the PC brigade and retained these torts.

          2. ME: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

            RETARDS: “OMG he wants to cook and eat us! With sauce!”

            ME: “I don’t have a dog in this fight.”

            RETARDS: “OMG he likes commercial dogfighting! The poor, poor puppies!”

            ME: “That’s the long and the short of it.”

            RETARDS: “OMG you’re saying my penis is small!”

            1. If you want to preach go find a pulpit.

              1. Don’t get your tentacles in a twist, Jane Austen, I’m simply correcting some straw man distortions of what I said.

                I still can’t believe you said “Hitler wasn’t so bad.”

          3. No matter how sincerely your beliefs are held, it doesn’t change the fact that you seem to want the burden of punishment shifted from the offenders to the accessories (so to speak).

            The offense of infidelity is first and foremost perpetrated by the cheating spouse. Whomever they consort with is, at most, committing a lesser offense. And, as noted, such offending would require proof of intent. If the cheating spouse hides his marriage from the unmarried person he is consorting with, then the latter cannot generally be said to have intended harm to the marriage.

            Prostitution is completely orthogonal to this question. Bringing up this matter in this context is strange. Most people who break their marriage vows do so not with prostitutes but with people who aren’t married or are married to someone else.

            1. “Most people who break their marriage vows do so not with prostitutes but with people who aren’t married or are married to someone else.”

              Then prostitutes have nothing to worry about, do they?

      2. good families are them that makes money, doesn’t brutalise members, everybody gets to contribute something, anybody can leave if he want, and nobody have a right to stay if he’s just an injury to everyone. this is a mad question anyway, since sex traffick victims (whatever the blazes that means) should be able to stay with anybody they want and who wants them. It’s an individual, interpersonal affair that’s nobody’s business. I tell you that if the family in question is supported by tax money, it’s not a good family. Why is it that the state gets into affairs it got no business in, nobody got no reason to say it does, and then whatever it’s doing goes horribly wrong and henceforth it’s took as a foregone conclusion that the state needs to be involved in that kind of thing? All it’s got to do is get into something once, somewhere, and then its role in that kind of things will never be questioned. It gets worse?

  4. . Founded in 2011 by Jenny T. Williamson (on direct orders from God, or so she claims

    Silly ENB. God simply told her to make a fuck-ton of cash (His words) by exploiting women who are seeking help.

    1. You know who else claims to be under direct orders from God?

    2. Well, Jesus, if I remember right, was really into stealing people’s stuff and redirecting their wealth into the hands of incompetent buffoons running various pet social projects that were otherwise total failures at every step.

      I am reminded of when the council made the decision allowing a cleric to amass wealth if he could claim to be working to help some unlucky person or other.

      1. Impressive. You explained Obama’s messiah complex in the first paragraph, and described the Clinton Foundation in the second.

  5. Doesn’t RC have something to say about you get more of what you reward?

  6. “It is difficult to love someone that does not love themself,” she said.

    If by “love yourself” she means “do everything I say”, which she does.

    1. I think it’s another masturbation euphemism.

  7. I just notice this article has tags for both “corruption” and “California”. Redundant?

    1. Didn’t want to confuse it with Chicago.

  8. 9k a month?
    We could just give the women half that and call it a day.

    Sld and all that.

    1. Yeah, no kidding. I did a serious double take at that figure. Just put them up in a two-star hotel if that’s your budget.

    2. I thought the same thing – and it would do these women a hell of a lot more good, even if they wasted it all on booze and cocaine.

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  10. I don’t recall authorizing this.

  11. I used to know a woman at my old church who ran a cancer charity. She never had cancer, but a family member did. She would go around giving motivational speeches and raising money. People would continually praise her for doing “amazing work” and saving lives. All the events she’d throw were sparsely attended and never made more than a few thousand dollars on a really good day. She had a few big donors who paid her salary, which wasn’t enormous, but seemed to give her at least the lifestyle of her previous job as a secretary.

    There’s no doubt in my mind who the charity was really for, and it seems to be the same case here.

  12. There’s nothing terribly unusual about this, except how blatant it is.

    We know there is almost no “sex trafficking” in developed nations. We know that opposition to “sex trafficking” is just a thinly veiled opposition to prostitution.

    But if everything about this had been “legit” – if everyone involved had been properly licensed and trained and acted in the approved ways, it would have been just as bad.

    The sex abuse industry, like the child abuse industry, is not about helping victims – real or imagined – at all. It is all about enriching people who have no real skills, or skills for which there is a much greater supply than demand: psychologists, the?rapists, prison guards, cops, social workers, judges, lawyers, busybodies of every sort.

    As I write this it occurs to me that a good many of the most useless professions are filled predominantly by women, so in order to support feminist “equality” we have ended up giving makework to women which ends up being not only unproductive, but anti-productive as it diverts resources from useful investments to create drag on the economy by imprisoning productive members of society.

  13. I should become an ex prostitute.
    I’d make way more than I do right now.

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