Article and photo by Sarah Thompson, Urban Alliance’s Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization
Each week when the LovedIn team enters the perpetual darkness of the windowless adult entertainment club in Eastern Connecticut, a sliver of light cuts through. The team has one goal in mind: to bring hope, help and love to a population that is often overlooked and deeply hurting.
Three years ago, Susan Noviello, Audrey Blackwell and Sheryl Dougherty set out to do something more than simply raise awareness about the growing issue of sex trafficking in Connecticut. What resulted was the founding of LovedIn, an outreach of Kainos Life Ministries.
“We all had it on our hearts,” shared Noviello. “We know sex trafficking is prevalent around the world but we wanted to learn more about what was happening here in our own backyard and do something about it. We learned that sex industries are a major gateway to those who are trafficked in Connecticut.”
After two years of prayerful consideration, significant research and specialized training, they first stepped foot into the club.
“I was ready to go in long before we actually went in,” shared Dougherty. “But, it was really good that I didn’t do that because of the things I learned along the way about loving somebody, meeting them where they are at and being able to talk to them and help them right where they are.”
With approval from the club’s management, Noviello, Blackwell, Doughtery and their team of volunteers began visiting women employed by the club, bringing them gifts and home-cooked meals while offering a listening ear.
“We told them that we are not there to interfere with their business,” explained Noviello. “The management knows the girls are all going through challenging situations, and there is little they can do about it. We just want to be there for the girls.”
“We were really committed to organizing this. We had to be consistent, because we can’t just show up and then not. That’s a value we learned in the trainings. It is consistency that the girls expect,” said Dougherty.
The named LovedIn illustrates the team’s ultimate desire, to love people into wholeness.
“I haven’t met one woman there that hasn’t experienced trauma,” shared Noviello. “As Christians we are taught we are not victims, but we learned through DCF that they first have to understand that they were a victim and then they can begin the healing process.”
Noviello, who refers to herself as an advocate, believes passionately in speaking up for victims of human trafficking.
“There are many reasons why women don’t leave the club,” she explained. “Many don’t have an education. They don’t have anything else on their résumé. They’ve isolated themselves from society. They realize that they’re judged. They’ve formed their own community in where they all accept each other; it’s a comfort zone. There often is an addiction to not only substance abuse but to making money in the way they do, in the form of lust. A number of the women have been in the same club for several years. They are doing this day after day, week after week. You can get in but you can’t get out.”
But, with each relationship that forms and deepens through LovedIn, hope is restored.
“We laugh, we cry, we support. It’s life,” shared Noviello. “To see the smiles on their faces, to get the hugs and hear ‘I love you’ and know that we are some of the only support that these girls have is hard. And it’s messy. But, God always continues to open up a door. It’s worth it and they’re worth it. They are worth the time and effort.”
In addition to providing support and encouragement, LovedIn also connects the women to a network of regional support, including addiction counseling, job placement, mental health professionals and spiritual discipleship. They partner with lawyers, social workers, therapists, pastors and employment placement assistance to connect the women to professionals for any special needs they may have, with the goal of helping the women leave the industry.
The team hopes to establish a transitional living home within the next year for women who leave the industry.
“There are no other homes specifically for women in Connecticut who have been trafficked,” explained Noviello. “While there are other types of homes, none of them are equipped for the amount of trauma these women face once they’ve been trafficked.”
Urban Alliance support has helped LovedIn strengthen their outreach over the last year, including being able to secure emergency housing, medical care, counseling and aftercare for two women who were ready to leave the industry and were victims of human trafficking.
“Urban Alliance grant funding greatly assisted us in building a strong foundation with our ministry and allowed us to consistently serve throughout the year,” explained Noviello. “It was instrumental in setting up multiple training opportunities throughout Connecticut. The funds also assisted us in reaching out to women currently in three clubs throughout Connecticut to provide meals, gifts, supportive personal ministry, prayer, life coaching and resources to women facing crisis. We were able to connect two women who were ready to leave the life with resources to provide them with housing, medical care, financial assistance, job coaching, education and counseling.”
Blackwell added, “Urban Alliance has helped LovedIn by connecting us with volunteers and monthly supplies, and provides a network of other ministries who are able to assist the women and training to help us better minister and serve the women.”
LovedIn plans to expand their outreach in the coming year, including working with another organization in developing an after-care team that can help mobilize trained women and men to walk alongside and support women who have left the clubs.
While their work can be challenging, the LovedIn team believes wholeheartedly that it is necessary.
“This is your girl next door,” said Blackwell. “It’s your daughter. It’s someone who is struggling to get through nursing school or a PhD. They do it for all different reasons. There is more to the story. They are humans. They have potential. They have a life that’s yet to live.”
Pictured: LovedIn co-founders Audrey Blackwell, Susan Noviello and Sheryl Dougherty.
Click here to learn more about Charis, Urban Alliance's initiative to help Christian churches and organizations reach and serve people who are facing mental, emotional or relational struggles so they are able to cope with life’s challenges and heal from painful experiences. Click here to make an impact by giving to Urban Alliance to support care and counseling programs that are helping people in our local community. UAServe volunteer opportunities with LovedIn include administrative assistants, ambassadors, care providers, and prayer providers.