She is driven, passionate and still has a lot of pep for someone who regularly sees the effects of trafficking on young girls. Tracy McDaniel is the Founder and CEO of Restored. Restored provides direct care services and outreach services to victims of domestic sex trafficking.
But to start at the beginning, Tracy didn’t start out wanting to do this work. In fact, she worked in the corporate world in Indianapolis for ten years before going back to college at the age of thirty to study social work.
“I wasn’t a freedom fighter,” Tracy said. “I never was. I honestly thought I wanted to work at Riley Children’s Hospital.” But during the senior year of her undergraduate work, Tracy was placed at the Julian Center, an Indianapolis non-profit that provides resources to victims of domestic abuse, and began working with those who had become involved in human trafficking. She became interested in the issue, but not as a career.
Then she began to pray about it.
“That January, one young girl came in and God used her to change the trajectory of my life,” Tracy said. “She’d been in and out of foster care since she was four years old and had been trafficked to another state. That’s when God lit my heart on fire.”
In September of 2013, God put a vision on Tracy’s heart for a faith-based aftercare facility.
But she wasn’t so sure.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m doing anything like that,’” she said, remembering with laughter. She admitted to struggling for a few weeks and consulting with many friends. The struggle came with comparing what she wanted in life, a normal adult life as a trauma therapist, with what God wanted, which seemed a bit messier. But she began feeling strongly convicted.
“So I said yes,” Tracy said. By January 2015, she had left her job at the Julian Center and started Restored with a group of people and no money.
Since then, sadly, her caseload has tripled. The average age of girls recovered from trafficking was 19 when Restored began. Now it’s 16. Ms. McDaniel has served over 50 girls in the last three years.
“It’s horrible, but at the same time we can recover more girls because more people are getting educated,” Tracy said.
Currently, the work being done at Restored involves forensic interviews to see if an individual is involved in trafficking, court advocacy, and recommendations to ensure girls are getting the services they need, such as trauma counseling and residential placement.
Her long-term goal is to build a residential facility in 2016, which will be launched with a capital campaign this fall.
While Tracy is deeply thankful she gets to do what she’s passionate about, she admitted there are some very difficult days in her line of work.
“The most heartbreaking thing for me is that people don’t care that children are being sold for sex in our city,” Tracy said. “People would rather live in denial than care that one in six girls are raped or sexually abused in Indianapolis. All of those things lead to vulnerability to be trafficked.”
She also feels frustrated that there is no place for these girls to go for long-term treatment. In Indiana, there is no long-term treatment plan at all for victims of sex trafficking. In fact, Tracy recently had to drive to Grand Rapids to find proper placement for a 13-year-old girl who’s been waiting for over three months for placement.
“Meanwhile, she is just getting angry,” Tracy said, “The system is frustrating. I’m in a tangled web every day. It’s a constant battle.”
Trafficking is sensationalized in the media and in Hollywood. It can be difficult for the average person to understand the scope of it. Tracy discusses how girls in the child welfare system are vulnerable and looking for love. And there are men who will prey on that. While trafficking is a huge problem, it’s one small element of the bigger picture. Other parts of the problem are sexual abuse, molestation, accountability of residential facilities and mental hospitals, etc.
“It can be paralyzing,” Tracy said.
Regardless of the lows, Tracy still bubbles over with joy when discussing the reasons for the work that she does.
“I am privileged that God allows me to be a part of these girls’ lives and allows me to do what He has lit my heart on fire for,” Tracy said. “At the end of the day, my job is to provide them coping skills and navigation skills and to love them and to be the hands and feet of Christ. Ultimately, Christ will do the rest. Every child deserves to be loved unconditionally.”
Tracy feels that part of her calling also is to shake people awake to what’s going on in Indianapolis and inspire them to get involved.
“Most people are busy,” Tracy said. “They don’t like messy. We live in a very capitalistic, individualistic society. People care more about the lion that was killed than our children being sold for sex. Welcome to America. When God gave me this vision, it also became a call out to the church. God calls us to be messy. He calls us to be holy, not happy. We have to have a shift.”
For Tracy, there’s nothing better than showing love to a girl who simply craves advocacy and love. Those small moments make all the bad days worth it.
“I always ask the girls, ‘Can I pray for you?’” Tracy said. “Most say yes. The most beautiful moments are when a girl has just gotten arrested and sitting in detention and I’m praying over her because she’s crying and no one has ever cared enough to pray over her or love her. There’s so much beauty in this brokenness. It can take away all the bad days.”
Restored has recently partnered with Purchased to launch a written-from-scratch mentorship program called Allies this fall. The program will pair girls from Restored with trained women through Purchased to create a positive and stable relationship as girls recover. Jessica Thorne, Purchased’s director, is encouraged and excited by the opportunities Allies will provide for girls who need the extra support.
“The partnership between Purchased and Restored is very significant,” Jessica said. “We work closely together to raise awareness of the issue and make sure comprehensive services are available to survivors of trafficking in our area.”