Women Making a Mark: Mary Frances Bowley

She helps victims of sexual abuse and trafficking find a new lease on life

Photo by Martha Williams

Mary Frances Bowley opened Wellspring Living’s doors in 2001 as a safe house for women who were victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. When the first client, a 20-year-old victim of sex trafficking, walked in the door, Bowley knew her work needed to extend far beyond that. “We realized immediately that a safe place was not going to be enough for her,” says Bowley of the survivor who had complex trauma and lacked work experience. Bowley realized that to fully help survivors, Wellspring would need to provide multiple layers of intervention. “It really built a foundation for how we were going to work for the next 20 years on providing comprehensive care, including therapy, life skills, education, career readiness, and just meeting people where they were,” says Bowley.

Atlanta was first declared a sex trafficking hub by the FBI in 2005, and the industry accounts for $300 million, according to a recent statement by Mayor Andre Dickens. In the two decades since Wellspring first opened, Bowley has gone from visionary to implementer by expanding the services offered and working with myriad partners like Greenberg Traurig and UPS. Programs at Wellspring Living include the girls’ residential program, which provides care to domestic minors of sex trafficking; the women’s academy, which offers career training; and Graduate Village, a housing community of tiny homes for graduates of the adult programs. Wellspring also works with organizations around the country to train them on how to open homes, create safe spaces, and offer community programs.

Bowley’s work isn’t done, but as she reflects on her first client who is now married with children and working in the community, she is reminded of how far Wellspring has come. “We’ve seen that story over and over again for 20 years,” she says. “When you give someone access to the things they need, and you believe in their potential, really great things can happen.”