Hello Dea r Readers!
I haven't been on much lately as sinus headaches will often make me pretty lackluster in online communication. The days I am feeling better are days I am catching up from those days I am feeling like a wet dishcloth.
Today I went to a forum about sex trafficking. It was held at a local church and many of my friends from church accompanied me. It is a subject that has become more than a blip on the radar screen of late. While I have not faced this issue with anyone I know very close to me, it is something that has become more prominent in a wider circle.
A friend of mine introduced me to a ministry and a woman who wrote some books on the subject. The book From Brothel to Congress was written by Linda Smith, now a former congresswoman. She also wrote Renting Lacey and that was a book that grabbed me and forced me to really look closely at my city surroundings in a new way. It's an extremely powerful book and while the characters are fictional, they are composites of the many real victims of sex trafficking.
I would love to say that after those two books I immediately plunged into action. I didn't really take any action per se but my view changed considerably about the whole trade. It has never left my mind since. Suffice to say, we hear those stories of girls getting picked up at bus stops and we hear about girls getting lured at shopping malls by promises of modeling/acting careers but we stop short of thinking of it as a major issue. What? A few girls over time? Truly it can't be a huge deal, right?
A few years ago, we had a detective come to our crisis pregnancy center to talk to us about sex trafficking. It makes sense that those involved in the sex trade might need a pregnancy test and we are definitely a place that offers that. We were told what to look for in a girl who might be a victim. She would have tattoos...a "brand" of her "daddy" or "boyfriend"/pimp. She would have callouses on her feet from the hours of walking on high heels. We were to be watchful of any abrasions/bruises on her hairline/scalp or limbs. I took notes and those are a few things I remember.
What really stood out though by then (having read the book Renting Lacey) was that these girls were victims first and foremost. We have been given a definite picture of the prostitute by Hollywood. The Julia Roberts' "I am here by choice and I love my job until something better comes along, ohhhh look, Richard Gere is here to whisk me away now. On the movie screen, she is usually an adult and of course, many of the times this line of work is portrayed as "glamorous". Certainly we have been told by numerous messages that the pimp is cool. After all, the term "pimpin'" is one that is used ("pimp my ride") to desensitize a nation. Think about the tv shows or commercials that may use this even very subtly. One thing I heard today was that out of the 407 cases of prostitution here, none of them had anything glamorous or cool take place in those cases. It's disgusting and sordid. Not a surprise to me but tell that to many youths at large who have been given an MTV upbringing.
It's a criminal activity of violence and control. It's the ownership of another human being and turning them into a commodity to be used and re-used. For the longest time, the prostitutes have been treated like criminals. They have received jail time and fines but that has not been a deterrent of course. Yet, many years ago, there has been a turnaround in viewing the girls as victims, not the criminals. It is now the goal for many in the justice system to go after the pimp and the customer ("the john") as well. There are many who want these girls to be put in a safe house instead of the juvenile halls or the general jail population.
I really can't simplify it here in such a short amount of time. It's very complex and like the subject of abortion, has many sub-subjects branching like tentacles. Today, we were told how the pimps target the girls, how they reach them and what to look for in signs of victimization. We were told a lot of methods of how the girls (and sometimes boys too) were broken down and kept in line. We were told about legislation that we need to support to help chip away at these seemingly-impregnable walls. There are strategies to fight this on many fronts. Again, like the subject of abortion, it's a multi-prong approach.
A few weeks ago, I went to a leadership conference and visited one of the many tables set up by many groups. This one particular group reached out to girls who were sex-trafficked. It sounded like they did many things like organizing rescues, helping the girls detox, helping the girls get established in the community after their escape and of course, most importantly, sharing the Gospel message. These girls are damaged in many ways....physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. There can be restoration and redemption only by the healing and cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. There can only be victory through knowing Him. He can restore fully but we know that it's a LONG journey of healing. There are consequences and marks left behind. Just like the scars left by the pimps' torture sessons, there are scars left mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
What has left an indelible mark on ME about this subject is how a girl can be lured into this in the first place. When the detective came to talk to us that time at the cpc, he described a very horrific situation (and much of this was reiterated today). Just picture a girl who is at the tender age of 13 or so. She is a teenager so many things factor into this. She may be rebellious just because she is trying to just separate herself as an individual. Depending on her family background in discipline and dynamics, she expresses this rebellion in varying degrees. She may run away, be truant or just want to dress differently. She doesn't have the education or maturity yet. Her hormones have her act in a volatile manner and we know her as the "drama queen". She may or may not have a lot of supervision depending on whether she has one or two parents and/or how involved they are in her life. Depending on the parents' ways of parenting, they may be very permissive or very authoritative. She may feel like she is not loved and may not have a lot of close friends. She may be facing abuse from her own family members whether it's a parent or an uncle, etc. She wants escape from whatever is the real or perceived suffering she is facing.
Enter in the nice boy! He treats her with gentleness and kindness. He is loving and always has the nicest most perfect thing to say. He gives her gifts. The family may see him as a welcomed member of their family. After all, their daughter is so happy now. She is not alone and he is SO NICE! He is so clean-cut and polite and he doesn't "try anything". This can go on for awhile to gain the trust of the girl and any family members. He can lie about a lot of things and in this era of busyness....who would really have time to followup in talking to his parents? Again, given the dynamics of her family, a lot can be ignored or not checked-out fully.
After awhile, many things can happen. The trust is gained, the stakes are higher. Expensive gifts and a well-played plan has given way to more expectations. By this time, a sexual relationship is in place with more emotional attachment. Don't attack her boyfriend as she will defend him to the hilt. Then he asks her to do something for him. Maybe it's servicing a friend at a party, or a few friends. He may get her drunk and filmed for blackmail purposes. Maybe he says to her one day, "I want you to go walk the streets." She may refuse but by this time he now has more influence, power and control. And he pulls out the threat cards. "I know where your grandma lives". "Your whole family will be killed". Don't try anything or Fluffy is gone as well. In total fear of her family being harmed, she acquiesces. Sometimes she disappears and sometimes she is controlled in her own surroundings.
The process of breaking her down is all about torture and manipulation. There's a blend of the honeymoon treatment and then total abuse in the measures that elicit the exact results. It's the most chilling in that while she may very much want escape, she knows she could be hurt or killed (as well as her family). She still has feelings for her "boyfriend" or her "daddy". The frightening thing is that even if her "daddy" goes to jail, she may wait for him and go back to him after he is no longer incarcerated. She may not trust law enforcement when they tell her they can give her protection from her pimp. She has been brainwashed to not trust the police anyway. The girls are told by their pimps that they would never be loved by anyone else because they are "dirty whores". So when you see these situations of the girls being "rescued" from the pimps, it's a very long journey. It may be impossible to get them to ever leave or testify against their boyfriend pimp.
This was what I have been told by detectives and by reading the accounts of some cases. I am not an expert on this and only seek understanding of this new area of the voiceless and defenseless. It's all connected to the area of pro-life though. It's about greed, power and control. Corruption is involved. The criminals may be protected by those who should know better. These individuals who were elected should be servants and protect all lives. Sometimes there is no accountability in the areas of trafficking and abortion industries. There are a lot of similarities.
Today I took a moment to talk to one of the people from law enforcement there. We talked about how Planned Parenthood doesn't comply with mandatory reporting laws when it comes to minors and sexual abuse. She pointed out that many of the girls actually do have their babies as they are 1) someone to love and 2) the pimps allow that baby to be used as a pawn and a connection to stay. While this is true, I have to say that when Planned Parenthood actually does send a girl back to her abuser stepfather/father/brotheer/stepbrother/soccer coach/kidnapper (you fill whoever the abuser may be), she realizes that no one is going to help her or believe her. She is now a prime victim for sex trafficking. She is devalued and shamed. She'll seek love and protection from a guy who will claim that he can give her those very things.
One woman gave her testimony this morning. Her youngest daughter got caught in the trafficking trap. She was told, in the past, by one audience member that he was in complete disbelief about this method of trafficking. She was at first offended but then told him, "I was at first offended by what you just said but I can tell you that 2-3 years ago, I was in your shoes. I never would have believed this could happen either." This is real and it's a much larger problem than anyone can imagine. In the future, I will place some websites that address this subject but I encourage you all to embark on research on your own. This was a good day and I am so glad I went to the forum. I pray for this to make an impact in this city.
1 John 3:16
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.