November 16, 2015
This past summer I had an experience while volunteering that I would like to share. I grew up in a Christian household in a middle class suburb of a large American city. To my surprise, the truth of my own traumatic story was revealed while serving in an anti-human trafficking ministry. I hope to share the story so that it can encourage others to seek education on the issue of human trafficking and get involved to help the cause.
In the past four years, I participated with other volunteers at Willow Creek Community Church to initiate our Human Trafficking Ministry. Nita Belles was our first guest speaker in 2011 when we launched our Community Awareness Forum. Nita shared knowledge of what human trafficking looks like in America and it was she and her book In Our Backyard and that was the motivation to start our ministry. From her voice shaping our ministry until today, we continue to host awareness forums, serve local organizations, and refer resources for survivors. This past September we had the honor of welcoming Nita Belles back a second time to update us on human trafficking in the U.S. and discuss her new edition of her book. We used that evening also to pack two hundred gift bags for survivors of human trafficking.
Upon returning home from our first Community Awareness Forum in 2011 I was comfortably curled up in my bed reading the first edition of In Our Backyard. At that moment God begin my healing that I didn’t even know was necessary. I was shocked to read of a young girl, “Sarah” who had been coerced into sexual slavery and was being controlled. Tears rushed down my face and I called my mom to let her know the story resembled the story of someone close to us. Since that time, we have spent years trying to help her and resolve all the pieces of this situation, but I am so thankful I took the time to really educate myself about human trafficking. As I became aware, I was able to show my family how to help rather than further hurt the situation at hand. Though my heart broke to realize how close trafficking was to my life, I became sold out to the mission to raise awareness and educate other families to understand what is going on beneath the surface.
After six months of volunteering for organizations and raising awareness in the community, I started to feel my own history of fear rise to the surface. As a child, I was sexually abused when a young family member discovered old porn tapes. The tragic events that happened to me following his discovery made me feel worthless and dirty and because of those feelings I fell prey to his exploitation.
At the age of 10 I became involved with a boy on my street who was mimicking the “pimp game”. He would arrange “dates” for me and other boys in a parked car so I could perform sexual favors. Honestly, I didn’t realize I was being used or tricked to help him gain popularity, drugs, or status. At the time, I only felt fearful because of the shame I carried from my initial abuse. Although I knew in my heart and spirit that God planned much better for my life, I continued to sacrifice my body in hopes of receiving true affection. The first time I realized I had been exploited was when a survivor of human trafficking talked similarly about doing “dates” in a car. Here I wondered how these victims seemed to believe these perpetrators not realizing I fell for the exact same tactics. I was immediately humbled, we must never point the finger at the victim.
Today my history and the healing I’ve received ignites my heart to keep raising awareness to help other parents, teachers, and counselors recognize the initial signs of a situation of exploitation.
This past summer, I coordinated a local rescue of a trafficking victim and found myself staring at the face of a violent pimp. I instantly recognized his face as someone I shared multiple “mutual friends” with on Facebook. I couldn’t believe it myself. This pimp was from the same crowd of boys from my past. Although I assumed those “grow out of it”, the truth is they grew up to be men who victimize women by luring them with shelter, drugs, and controlling bondage they disguise as “love.” What could have been done to initially stop all this when I was a child? I am not sure. I can take a wild guess that educating parents, teachers, and others for the future generations wouldn’t hurt.
God has unconditionally loved me and I’m continually learning to give that love away to other survivors through ministry and as a Pastoral Section Leader at Willow Creek Community Church in IL. I hope to continue to fill seats in the church so God can continue to grow hearts that will respond to human trafficking issues. Because I took the time to learn what human trafficking was really like it helped me recognize someone in my life who needed help and we were honored to be able to fill that need. I also took the time to volunteer and realized the fear that controlled other victims was something I had also experienced, which lead to my healing and ability to thrive. This past summer as I was assisting in a rescue I realized the middle-class street I grew up on bred traffickers and I understood what I needed to do to help prevent one more girl to fall victim to them. I reported.