Tajuan's story: I was exploited.

As founder and executive director of The Wellhouse in Birmingham, Alabama, Tajuan McCarty is very familiar with the horrors of domestic sex trafficking. The organization has rescued over 120 women since it opened its doors in 2011. Not only does The Wellhouse provide a safe place to live, special emphasis is placed on the victims' mental, emotional and spiritual recovery.

Before she opened The Wellhouse, Tajuan spent several years working for the Alabama Department of Human Resources, gaining extensive experience in social work and community outreach. She teaches at the University of Alabama in Birmingham as an adjunct professor, preparing future social workers to serve the needs of the community. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work and two Master's degrees in Public Health and Public Administration respectively. She knows how the system works and how it can unfairly punish vulnerable women, such as the drug addicted, the abused and the prostituted. She is a very vocal advocate for women's issues, having helped set up the first program in Alabama to help chronically homeless, severely mentally ill women. She has also served as a mentor to female offenders, helping them re-integrate into society.

However, Tajuan's experience with the grim reality that so many women face is personal. Very personal. Born and raised in Georgia, she grew up in a home where much emphasis was placed on the wrath of God, rather than His grace and mercy. As a young teenager, she was in and out of foster care and group homes, having run away from home many times. By the time she was 15, she left home. She soon found out how frightening the world can be.

Tajuan was exploited by a boyfriend-turned pimp, someone who promised to take care of her. First, he made her sell drugs, then made her strip in clubs. Before long, he started to prostitute her, at truck stops and motels, before trafficking her for sex across all 48 contiguous states, Mexico and Canada. For over ten years, this was Tajuan's life. To cope with the pain and confusion, Tajuan became addicted to the drugs her pimp made her sell.

Recalling her childhood lessons about God, she was convinced that everything that happened to her-- the beatings, the brutal rapes, the kidnappings, the psychological torture-- was her just punishment for running away from home. Her multiple arrests for prostitution reinforced her thinking. At age 26, Tajuan was arrested again. This time, something was different. She saw a way out of the dark world she was trapped in. She began attending a 12 Step Program and from there, embarked on her education, gaining her degrees. But the most important thing that changed in her life was truly discovering who Jesus was and His love for her.

It took 25 years, but she finally understood that she had been victimized and that she didn't deserve anything that happened during that frightening period. Tajuan allowed herself to be lost in His restorative love and continues to let Him heal her emotional wounds. She is determined to help other women who are lost and afraid because she knows their pain all too well. And in helping others rebuild their lives, she is able to understand why she had to go through the things that she did so long ago. Tajuan McCarty has definitely received God's beauty for the ashes of her past.