Becca Stevens: on the Healing Power of Love
Thistle Farms offers women a second chance at life, but for many being served, it is their first chance at life.
Throomers welcomes Becca Stevens and the amazing work she has done bringing hurting women back to life. We thank her for sharing her story with our readers.
I began Thistle Farms in 1997 because women on the streets had few, if any, options for long-term, safe housing to recover from the trauma and abuse they had experienced. We started with one home for five women with criminal records of prostitution and addiction. Even though in the community the women were doing amazing healing work, their early childhood trauma, life on the streets, and felonies on their records made it difficult to find a job. In 2001, I started a business, making natural candles and body balms to provide women income. Our guiding principle that love is the strongest force for change in the world, were formed in these early days.
On a Mission to Heal
The story of Thistle Farms also began for me in 1968 when my parents moved from New York to Nashville. My dad was an Episcopal priest and not long after the move he was killed by a drunk driver, leaving my mom with five little kids to raise by herself. Then the man that helped run the church after my father’s death began sexually abusing me — and it went on for years.
I was fortunate to have a really loving family and there were some great people in the community that helped me. But my experience gave me a heart for women who had experienced abuse, but who lacked similar support and ended up on the streets and in jail. After becoming ordained, I began to think about creating a beautiful home and a free space where women from the streets and jail could stay for a couple of years and find the healing they need.
From Victim to Victor
On average, the women we serve at Thistle Farms were first raped between the ages of seven and eleven, and then hit the streets between fourteen and sixteen years old. When they come to Thistle Farms, they’re basically committing the next two years of their life to finding their way back to life.
They spend the first six months working on their body and mind. This might mean they work on addiction, post-traumatic stress, getting healthcare, working on restitution with their children through the courts — it could be any number of things. After that, they come to work at one of our social enterprises where they can earn an income creating natural body products, working at our Café, or supporting our global partners.
A New Life Ahead
The second year for survivors is all about preparing to live on their own. We have a program that matches any savings they make, life skills classes, and they can go to college. If they want to stay on at Thistle Farms they can train to take on more of a management position.
There are all kinds of options and it means that women never have to go back to the streets … they never have to go to prison again. They can get a car, a place to live, their own bank account, and make decisions about what to wear and how to spend their time. These things make a radical difference.
It Takes a Community
There are a lot of myths about why women are on the streets. And we tell people that none of them got there by themselves. It took a community and broken systems to do that, and it takes a community to respond and welcome the women home.
All the research shows that if you want a really good investment in a community then you should invest in the women — it changes everything. You rape a woman and you kill a village, but if you heal a woman you heal a whole village. You’re not just helping that woman; you’re influencing their whole network and helping to stop damage passing down the generations. Some of the women in our community tell us, “Here’s my cousin, here’s my daughter, here’s my sister, and they want what I have.” There’s always a waiting list.
Proceeds for a Good Work
Issues like addiction, prostitution and trafficking can feel overwhelming. The beautiful thing about Thistle Farms is that by purchasing a candle or lotion or by having lunch at our Café, you are providing housing and therapy for survivors, as well as skills, and income to help them prepare for the future. We are now helping support more than 40 communities around the country and 26 global partners that hire women artisans because of our justice social enterprises. It is a healing act for a woman to make a product and it can be the same for you when purchasing and using it.
Revenue earned from the Thistle Farms Body & Home line as well as the Café at Thistle Farms goes directly back into the organization and now provides the largest percentage of our funding. Last year this resulted in survivors earning over $2 million in income through Thistle Farms! The remaining funding is from donations by generous individuals and organizations who believe in this work. We really do believe that love heals. And each person who purchases one of our products is saying they believe it too.
The Healing Power of Love
I believe love heals because I have seen it. I have seen it for over 20 years working with women who are survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. I have watched women who were considered “throwaways” by court systems, families, and communities become healthy and strong women. I have seen love heal in my own life as well. As I have tried to practice simple daily rituals of healing, I have watched my own anger turn to advocacy, my own brokenness turn into compassion, and my own anxiety turn to grounded strength.
When I started out, I probably believed more things than I believe now. But what I’m left believing, I believe with my whole heart. I don’t have a lot of dogmatic beliefs left, but I am dogged about how I love people and how I practice that in a daily way. I believe in love, and love needs to be practical.
A Brief Bio
Becca Stevens is an Episcopal priest, speaker, justice advocate, and the founder and president of Thistle Farms. She began Thistle Farms, a nonprofit serving women survivors of prostitution, trafficking and addiction, in 1997. Over twenty years later, Becca’s work has helped grow Thistle Farms from its Nashville base to a national network of sister organizations and international partners. Becca has started seven justice social enterprises across the globe and has helped raise more than $50,000,000 for those organizations.
She has been named a White House Champion of Change, a CNN Hero, and holds numerous honorary doctorates. She has been featured on The Today Show, ABC World News Tonight, NPR, and in The New York Times. Becca’s active speaking helps grow the community of friends and advocates for Thistle Farms worldwide. Becca has written 10 books—her most recent is, Love Heals.