Spirituality and Involving the Faith Community

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Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

“This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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"Shining Light on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Toolkit to Build Understanding" is a toolkit designed to be a resource for multidisciplinary professionals, policy makers, volunteers, faith communities, and others involved in anti-trafficking work. While the information provided on each topic is in no way exhaustive, you will find additional resources to facilitate further study. Each topic is addressed in three sections: First, the “what?”– what we know about the topic which includes a review of what we know from both research and the field. “So what?” addresses what this means – the reason this information is important to understand and how it will enhance our response to trafficking. “Now what?” considers the implications of this information in practice - how the information can be used to enhance our response to human trafficking. This includes specific implications for mentoring relationships, when applicable.

TOPIC: Spirituality and Involving The Faith Community


Research has identified faith and spirituality as a resilience factor for those subjugated to or at risk for sexual exploitation.1 However, far too often youth-serving organizations fail to attend to faith and spirituality when designing program services and in supporting mentoring relationships. Faith communities can be a major resource for these types of programs, yet we often do not include them in the conversation of serving trafficking victims/survivors. Engaging these communities not only benefits the mentees, but can potentially offer another support system for programs and mentors. Dr. Krentzman of The University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing2 defines spirituality as “a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, spirituality includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life.  As such, it is a universal human experience – something that touches us all.”

  • Spirituality is something many people take part in regardless of their religious beliefs or background. Moreover, spirituality is universal and people experience it in many ways.
  • Religion can be defined as a particular system of faith and worship. Therefore, religion can be a way to organize and experience spirituality.
  • Many people experiences spirituality, however, not all will identify with a religion.
  • Faith communities may provide social support and encourage forgiveness, which can be transformative to those who have experienced abuse and exploitation.3
  • Faith and spirituality have been identified as resiliency factors that have helped victims/survivors of commercial sexual exploitation deal with trauma.1
  • For victims and survivors of trafficking, spirituality can give meaning to life events and help them better understand their personal experiences.4 This ultimately impacts how survivors cope with their past trauma. 5
  • Faith communities can provide a space for victims/survivors to give and receive support, connect to friends, family, community, and provide volunteer opportunities.3,4

So what?

  • Understanding the difference between spirituality and religion can be helpful as you consider how you might incorporate spirituality into services for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and other youth at-risk. It is not about elevating one religion over another or insisting that program participants associate with a certain religion. Rather, it is about helping them to understand and express individual views on their own spirituality.
  • Youth who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) may have experienced rejection, judgment, or even trauma due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression in faith-based institutions, or through negative interactions with people who ascribe to a particular religion.  Partnerships with faith communities should be structured so that youth do not feel pressured to participate in faith-based activities.
  • Services that neglect exploring an individual's spirituality do not provide holistic healing. Since spirituality is a common experience for many, “then a commitment to holistic development demands we come to terms with this dimension of life.”7
    • This is particularly important for youth. The opportunity to consider spirituality is important to identity development, which is an essential developmental stage to be obtained during adolescence.7,8
  • Resilience protects and helps people bounce back from adverse situations and events. When working with victims and survivors of trafficking in any program, acknowledging and building resilience is a priority. Empowering youth to nurture their own spirituality is one way to build that resilience.
  • As they navigate through the world, young people are working to establish their identity. To form identities, young people typically draw from their own experiences. If these experiences are largely colored by abuse or exploitation, a negative narrative can develop. Spirituality can offer young people hope and a mechanism for understanding their histories through a more positive lens.1,9
  • Spirituality can change the narrative of a victim/survivor’s story to aid in the healing process. Additionally, spirituality connects victims/survivors to a community of people who can guide and support them. It provides an avenue to connect to and participate in social and community events.10

Now what?

General Practice Implications


  • In order to aid in the healing process, service providers can acknowledge and attempt to understand victims’/survivors’ thoughts and ideas around spirituality.

Mezzo/Service Provider

  • Be open to thoughtfully engaging young people in conversations about faith and spirituality, and to incorporating spirituality into programming. Let youth take the lead in sharing and incorporating faith and spirituality, especially if they have a specific religious or faith connection.
  • Connect to an interfaith organization as well as multiple faith-based places of worship. Ask about any resources they might have available for the youth you serve.  Offer to provide opportunities for them to better understand how to provide this support in a way that feels safe and inclusive for the youth.


  • Advocate for the consideration of a person's faith and spirituality in social services.

Mentoring Practice Implications


  • Mentors can be trained and encouraged to engage mentees in conversations about spirituality. Such conversations should focus on exploring what the mentee believes without pushing personal agendas, beliefs, or ideas.

Mezzo/Service Provider

  • Connect mentor pairs to faith-based organizations as it makes sense. Faith communities can be “cost-effective support systems for trauma victims."3 Many faith communities offer services, small groups, volunteering opportunities, community events, and places to connect.


  • Faith communities usually look for ways they can serve their larger community. Engaging them in partnerships can result in additional resources for your program, as well as a new pool of volunteers. To connect and form a partnership with your local faith community (modified from the Institute for Educational Leadership Tool Kit)11:
    • Define your intention.
      • Communicate why you believe faith communities would be great partners for your program. Most likely, this will involve talking about your need for mentoring volunteers. Keep in mind that faith communities can also be a resource by sharing their space, making their programs and groups available to youth in your program, and by sharing their knowledge. Be clear on the needs of your specific program and how you believe the faith community can help.
      • Find out which faith communities are active in your community. Likely, your board members, staff, and current volunteers have connections to many faith communities. Ask for input from your stakeholders and use these already established connections. It is likely that interfaith partnerships already exist within your community, so explore those as options as well.
    • Identify potential partnerships.
      • Once you have conducted research about faith communities, look back to your intention. Identify faith communities that would align well with your intention. Look for places that are already active in the community. Which places have members that are volunteering in the community? Which places have strong existing programs that you could refer your mentors and mentees? Do not discount any congregation. Small neighborhood faith communities may not have as much capacity to partner, but they have knowledge about what is going on in the area. Larger faith communities have the capacity to fundraise, set up events, and offer a larger pool of potential mentors.
    • When developing partnerships with faith-based communities, ensure that there is an understanding of the diverse range of youth you serve, and a respect for varying beliefs and values.
    • When engaging a faith community, finding the right point of contact can be very important. If you have a current staff or volunteer that is already engaged in that faith community, they can help you navigate to the right starting point. Otherwise, for most small or medium sized faith communities, the rabbi, pastor, priest, imam, or other religious leader is the right starting point. It is possible that a small group or committee leads the work around engagement in the community. In larger faith communities, there may be a dedicated staff person whose role is to engage the community.
      • Reach out!
        • Use your identified connections to reach out to a diverse range of faith communities. It is important to state why you are reaching out, why it is important, and how it connects to the specific faith community’s values. Talk about the impact your program has and the power of the partnership you are proposing. Be prepared to share program materials and talk in detail about your agency goals.

Links to Resources


  1. Countryman-Roswurm, K. I. (2012). Girls like you, girls like me: An analysis of domestic minor sex trafficking and the development of a risk and resiliency assessment for sexually exploited youth (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). Wichita State University, Wichita, KS.
  2. Krentzmen , A (n.d.). What is Spirituality? The University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing. Accessed: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-spirituality
  3. Brewer-Smyth, K., & Koenig, H. (201vc4). Could spirituality and religion promote stress resilience in survivors of childhood trauma. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 35, 251-256.
  4. Young, W., Nadarajah, S., Skeath, P., & Berger, A. (2015). Spirituality in the context of life-threatening illness and life-transforming change.  Palliative and Supportive Care, 13, 653-660.
  5. Buse, N., Burker, E., & Bernacchio, C. (2013). Cultural variation in resilience as a response to traumatic experience.  Journal of Rehabilitation, 79(2), 15-23.
  6. Countryman-Roswurm, K. (January, 2015). Rise, unite, support: Doing "no harm" in the anti-trafficking movement. Slavery Today Journal: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Human Trafficking Solutions, 2, 1.
  7. Benson, P., & Roehlkepartain, E. (2008). Spiritual development: A missing priority in youth development.  New Directions for Youth Development, 118, 13-28.
  8. Quinn, J. (2008). Perspectives on spiritual development as part of youth development.  New Directions for Youth Development, 118, 73-77.
  9. Glennon, Megan, "Resilience and street level prostitution: a collective case study" (2008). Theses, Dissertations, and Projects. 1234. https://scholarworks.smith.edu/theses/1234\
  10. Countryman-Roswurm, K., & DiLollo, A. (2017). Survivor: a narrative therapy approach for use with sex trafficked women and girls. Women & Therapy40(1-2), 55-72.
  11. Institute for Education Leadership. (n.d.). Engaging and partnering with faith-based organizations in initiatives for children, youth, and families. Washington, DC:  U.S.  Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

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