Path to Healing.

Rosario* already faced a lifetime of trauma—human trafficking, domestic violence, and the kidnapping of her children—before learning that her young daughter was molested by her father. Seeking to break free from a devastating cycle of abuse, Rosario found support at the Harriett Buhai Center for her and her children.

Enduring Trafficking and Abuse

As a young adult, Rosario’s life took a dark turn when she became a victim of human trafficking, the circumstance that would eventually lead to meeting her husband. He promised her a better life away from it. But her marriage and the birth of their two children were no protection from further trauma. For 11 years, Rosario endured brutal physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, including spousal rape while being treated for painful uterine cancer. Despite the peril of her situation, Rosario felt helpless as her husband played her immigration status and experience as a trafficking victim against her, preying on her fear of losing her children.

Afraid for her children

Using subterfuge, Rosario’s husband kidnapped their children, taking them to a different state. Several fearful months later, she was able to get her children returned safely to California. But Rosario still felt vulnerable, stalked, and threatened by her husband’s friends who lived in her apartment complex. She sought legal help to protect her family further and legally end her marriage.

Referred to the Center by partner organization and domestic violence agency, the East LA Women’s Center, the Center promptly took her case. While in the process of securing her divorce and custody orders, Rosario was horrified to discover that her adolescent daughter had been molested by her father, with her son as a witness. The Center immediately pivoted its focus to these urgent circumstances.

A Swift Intervention

The Center swiftly identified a Spanish-speaking pro bono attorney, Joanna Sanchez, to advocate for Rosario and her children in court. Joanna and a committed Harriett Buhai Center team – a senior staff lawyer, intern, and volunteer – worked with a skillful blend of speed, care, and compassion to obtain protective custodial orders within a short time, preventing the father from having direct contact with the children. The Center’s staff requested and were granted specific legal measures to shield the identities of Rosario’s children in court documents and hearings, helping protect them from unnecessary added trauma. Despite months of evading service in the other state, Joanna, with great persistence, tracked the husband’s location and finally served him.

Path to Healing

Several months later, Rosario’s divorce was finalized, ensuring child support was paid to the County, sole custody to Rosario, no contact by the father with the daughter, and professionally monitored visits with the son. The judge also granted Rosario permission to relocate with her children, away from the painful memories of their past and closer to her family for support. Today, Rosario and her children are on a path to healing.

“I want others like me to know that the Center does help, listen to, and support you. You can feel heard, you can feel calm, and you can feel confident. You can trust that you will be defended. All the staff are qualified, and my outcome was great. You can trust that you are in good hands.”


*Client’s name and photo have been changed to protect her privacy.

September 2023