Screaming Now

I am so incredibly blessed to be out of my trafficking situation.  So many girls never get out and never have the chance to live the life I’m living now.  It’s a miracle and one that I will be forever thankful for.  The “getting out” though is only the beginning of the healing process.  At least, that certainly was the case for me.  I often still feel so misunderstood.  If I could this is what I’d want to scream aloud now:

  • I am not a forever victim, but I no not always feel like a survivor.
  • I am not weak; I just have weak moments sometimes.
  • I do not need you saving me.
  • I am not insensitive. (I might act tough but my feelings still get hurt!)
  • I am not a checklist item.
  • I am not yours to rescue… rescue’s a BIG word, leave that to God.
  • I am not just a survivor of trafficking. There’s so much more to me; don’t let that be my primary identifier.
  • I am not perfect, I don’t have it all figured out and I am not a hero.
  • I am not someone who’s going to leave a friend behind.
  • I do not trust easily, at all.
  • I am not disloyal… sometimes this comes back to bite me.
  • I am not someone who forgets indiscretions easily but I suck at holding grudges.
  • I do not believe that you “get it” when you obviously don’t.
  • I do not have a high tolerance for fake.
  • I do not have a high tolerance for whinning.
  • I do not have a high tolerance for dishonesty or ignorance.
  • I’m a women who can figure things out and take care of myself.
  • I have the choice to let you in my circle or not and I will use that choice.
  • I have the choice to let you help me, or not.
  • I am not stupid.

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

Screaming Then

I was sexually trafficked from the age of 9 until the age of 20.  As a victim, you have no voice.  If I could have had a platform with no risk, this is what I would have screamed aloud:

  • Leave me alone!  Just leave me alone!
  • What did I ever do to you? Am I really so horrible? Such a burden?
  • Why do you let me live?  When are you going to kill me already?
  • Will no one really believe me?
  • I am not a belonging.
  • I am not an object to owned, traded, won, dressed up, manipulated or exploited.
  • Please read between the lines and help me.
  • I am not for sale, rent, trade or barter.
  • I am me; I am my own.
  • Where are the “good guys”?  Why hasn’t my teacher, the police, social services, SOMEONE don’t something?
  • Why won’t you believe me?
  • Why won’t you see through my lies? Can’t you tell?
  • You’re supposed to love me; what the hell happened?
  • I’m too tired, I’m exhausted, I’m in pain
  • I’m done.
  • What did I do wrong?
  • I just want a normal life.  This is too hard.
  • No.
  • Stop.
  • Why?

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.


Scar Stories

Coconut lime verbena… What a sucker for marketing I sometimes am.  It doesn’t even really smell like coconut lime now that I think about it, but years ago I saved up my money and raced over to the mall to buy this particular body butter on sale.  It reminded me of the beach and that made me smile.

I’m now sitting on my bed working this thick cream into my skin when I notice a scar I hadn’t thought about in maybe 10 years.  It was from being stabbed with a needle from a frustrated man.  I stared at the mark, barely visible now and remembered it’s pain, so sharp, so abrupt. Flash! My attention now turned to a memory of a scar on my thigh– I look down, there it is still!  I had been thrown into the side of my mother’s bed.  Part of the exposed wood had ripped a deep gash in my flesh.  Recall allows me to still feel that pain too… its sting and how every time I flexed my leg or tried to walk for a week it would grate open again.  Flash!  I can’t believe I haven’t thought about this in forever… But now, I remember clear as day sitting in the front of my father’s truck, refusing to get out at the market because I was terrified of being raped again.  I was very young and he seemed like a giant man to me at the time.  He was speaking harshly to me about how there were customers waiting on me, but what I remember most was him holding my forearm so tightly.  He squeezed and turned my elbow so that the flat of my left limb was exposed and lowered the electric cigarette lighter down slowly, giving me decreasing opportunity to fold and agree to work that day… Which I eventually did.  I squirmed and squealed but he kept lowering the glowing orange coils down to my tender skin.  I thank God that scar isn’t viable anymore… I guess I caved early enough for physical wound not to be too deep.  It’s been so, so long since I thought about that day… Flash! Another scar.  Flash! Another memory.  A bad pattern for this night had begun…

It’s amazing what realities are in front of your face day after day that you ignore. It’s amazing how enough of a routine can make you forget what was once painful.  It’s amazing the power of denial.

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

A Journal of Pity

I hate pity… I mean I REALLY HATE it.  Compassion?  Yes please.  Sympathy?  Sure.  Pity?  Hell no.  It brings me humiliation and makes me feel worthless and weak.  In reading back over some old journal entries I found the following, written a couple months after I left my trafficking situation:

 

My friend said to me today “Whenever I think my life sucks, I just remember yours!” What the hell am I supposed to do with that?? And from my friend? Well gee, I’m glad I could be of service?  I’m back in [my new city] after yet another visit back to court.  I can’t even begin to tell you how hard this experience has been.  Yea, I moved into a strange place I’m not too fond of, into an unstable job, and totally different type of community that takes a lot of adjusting, but that’s not the hard part.  What hurts so much is that it’s becoming harder and harder to silence the lies infiltrating my mind... lies like: you’re being punished for dishonoring your father, you’re going to fail, you can just kill yourself and it’ll all be over, you’ll never win, this is too hard, you’re worthless, you were just a willing slut, you’re crazy… it goes on and on and on throughout most of my day.  Physically, I’m in so much pain– I can’t sleep and I can’t eat well.  I’m lonely, I’m scared, I’m weak, and I obviously have moments where I can’t think clearly.  I feel like I’m living in a constant panic attack.  I know that the road is still long ahead of me, filled with the eternal flashbacks and nightmares.

BUT…  If this all is what it takes to save someone else from even a hint of the pain I’ve had, than it’s necessary.  I will NOT give up for the simple fact that so many people gave up before me.  I can’t help but think that if someone before me had hung strong, than maybe I wouldn’t be in the mess that I am in now.  I’m very angry with my father and I need to get over it because in my head it’s turning me into a whiny brat.  If my father didn’t do all this to me, if he could just leave me alone than I wouldn’t have had to run away from my entire life.  I wouldn’t have had to run away from everything I’d even known.  But, the reality is, he did, and I can’t change that.  It’s not going to do me any good to keep blaming him so I need to just make the most of where I am now.  I’m angry at myself because I feel like I’m letting people down by not being stronger.  Everything in me wants to pull away from people and try to do it all on my own, but I know I can’t.  I hate that people have had to help me so much and a day doesn’t go by where I don’t feel bad about it.  I feel weak, and dumb, and greedy, and incapable, and unlovable.  I feel so so very alone but I hate the pity.  Please God don’t let there be any more pity.”

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

Well That Was a Bad Idea

Working on getting a few piles of paper clutter cleaned up this afternoon, I stumbled upon an entire folder of court documents.  Packed into this manila security box are physical dictations and representations of all the worst abuse moments my body and soul have ever encountered.  The stories listed there were like a Greek Siren… I knew I shouldn’t go close, I knew listening would only bring me pain, but the temptation was too much.  Before I knew it I was deep into the details of these records and weeping.  Bad idea.  Holding the folder in my hand I couldn’t help but think of a loved one digging it out of the back of my drawer one day and reading it as I was.  I could visualize there brow furrowing and their mind racing as my past became known.  Not many people have written accounts of the skeletons in their closet, but I do.  Here it is, all my deepest darkest secrets boiled down to a couple inches thick of dead tree and ink.  My stomach turned.

I came across an email I had written to a friend immediately after telling my traffickers that I was done with them.  It simply read, “My God help me.  I can’t believe I just did that.”  Seeing that message brought back the moment so clearly.  I was absolutely terrified.  My entire body shook as if I was naked in the dead of winter… and in fact, I felt naked… I had just made myself completely vulnerable.  The decision to “walk away”, to get out of the life, to get out of the abuse, was miles away from black and white but when that decision took action I felt no remorse.  Though I was extremely fearful of what would happen next, knowing that chaos would inevitably ensue, I knew it was the only feasible chance at hope.  My only choices at that time were 1) stick around and be killed 2) kill myself or 3) at least make an attempt to get out and live.

Reading though a few more emails and police reports took me through the over 2 years of back and forth with my trafficking situation.  I’d leave, hide or run, but they would always pull me back in.  There is so much shame wrapped up in those years.  I hated myself for not being able to make a clean break but I knew that I wouldn’t be believed, that people would side with my parents, and that I would be called a disrespecting whore (which all ended up coming true by the way).  I knew the resources to help me leave were sparse.

I really shouldn’t have started reading this mess at all today, but I suppose I’ll just call it an unintended side-effect of organization.  There’s a song by Natalie Grant called “Safe”; some of it’s words seem appropriate to how I’m feeling:

“How did you know

That I’m all alone today

Oh I feel so scared

And I want to go away

I bleed so deep underneath

My soul is screaming…

…Drowning the tears

Won’t make it go away

It’s robbing my soul

I’m taking this mask off my face

To discover love

And uncover all

It means to live and breathe.”

Listen to the full song here.

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

Last of the “C” Word

(Part 1)  (Part 2)  Part 3

When involved in prostitution there are just certain places you assume you’re not welcome... 1) the police station – you’re breaking a law 2) a fancy hotel – they act like you leave a disease on every elevator button you push and 3) a church – after all you’re the ultimate sinner who might as well wear a red letter A on her chest.  These are of course, just assumptions but please Church, let me help you not make this assumption a reality.  Girls and women hit by the injustice of trafficking have been through enough, they don’t need to be judged and pushed by you as well, they need to be loved.

When, as a church, you encounter a trafficking victim/survivor…

Please Do:

  • Do convey how welcome they are in your church
  • Do, as quickly as possible get them plugged into an appropriate part of your community
  • Do connect them with professional resources (help them find legal support, professional counseling, job training, etc.)
  • Do empower them, let the girl make her own decisions (guide her, don’t just tell her what to do)
  • Do convey your understanding that they couldn’t leave the abuse
  • Do affirm their strength, resiliency – even if they say they don’t agree
  • Do convey hope, no matter what
  • Do let them tell their story at their own pace
  • Do add consistency
  • Do what you say you’re going to do
  • Do set boundaries (don’t drown yourself church workers – practice self-care, for you and them!)
  • Do remember that they are looking through a different lens than you are

Please Do NOT:

  • Do not make promises you can’t fulfill or shouldn’t fulfill
  • Do not make assumptions (about anything, ever… ask genuine, non-invasive, and caring questions where needed)
  • Do not ask “Why didn’t you leave/run?” in an accusing tone (instead reframe to say, “It had to be so hard to leave, how did you do it?” when appropriate.)
  • Do not push someone to forgive and forget (the forgiveness aspect is Biblical yes, but please don’t push this right away and the girl will never forget and simply move on, it’s much more complicated that that.)
  • Do not try to get them to criticize their pimp
  • Do not be judgmental!!!
  • Do not touch (hug, embrace, etc) without permission
  • Do not fake emotion (they’ll catch you if you’re fake anyway)
  • Do not engage in trafficking outreach as a church unless you are trained or guided by a professional
  • Do not ask them if they are lying (they will only grow defensive and run)
  • Do not focus on their woundedness, instead, how can they serve as a part of your church. What do they have to offer?
  • Do not ignore the men, and women, in your church who are consumers of the sex industry (pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, etc.)

We need the church to continue to step up in the fight against trafficking.  I’ve seen it done really well, I’ve seen it done really horribly and I’ve seen it be completely ignored… the latter two terrify me.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without my church community but I’m one of the fortunate ones.  Please, let’s don’t break these girls any further, let’s step up and care for them instead.  Let’s love them well.

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

More of the “C” Word

(Part 1)  Part 2  (Part 3)

… Yesterday I started to tell you a bit of my experience with “the church.”  (Read the post here.) As always, I want to share my heart, which includes the good, the bad and the ugly.  As I mentioned before, in the end I was very wounded by some people in the church I was attending while “coming out” about my trafficking situation.  Honestly, looking back you would have thought I’d told them that I was an alien from Jupiter… that’s how little they understood how to support me.   However, if you’d never before met an alien from Jupiter, if you thought that aliens only existed in Area 51, if you’d never read any books on little green monsters and had not seen visitors from Jupiter discussed recently in mainstream media, how would you know what to do with one?  As easy as it would be to blame this church (and all churches) for the lame way I was supported, my conscience wouldn’t rest easy if I did.  They simply were uneducated and untrained, just like most of society.

What a church should do best, even in spite of new challenges, is love someone well.  After I got out of my trafficking situation I moved and tried my best to start a new life.  It would take several posts to even attempt to tell you how incredibly difficult this process was.  Feeling very lost and alone I took a chance out of sheer desperation and reached out to another church for help.  I was slapped in the face by a congregation that obviously knew what this “loving well” stuff meant.  They didn’t have the perfect resources for me (there’s still so little out there for domestic minor sex trafficking survivors) but they paired me up with close matches and I found myself in the middle of a community of strangers who loved me as though I was family.  Individuals in my small group helped me cover court costs, a sweet and thankfully stubborn mentor rose up in my life, and I got a chance to bump into people who could relate to parts of my own brokenness.  They had even already heard of this alien from Jupiter called trafficking– aware of it happening both in our  own country and in others.  A ministry team had been formed a couple years prior and was full of people striving to educate themselves and the community about the issue of trafficking and strategically trying to provide solutions.

No faith community is perfect and mine’s certainly not.  It’s a bunch of human, imperfect people trying to make sense out of an imperfect world.  What I can say though is that I’ve never felt pressured to forgive before I was ready, and never to forget or downplay the harm that was done to me.  I’ve been challenged to work through my own wrong choices but not in a shameful way.  I’ve never felt judged by those who know my story either, and that is HUGE for a girl like me.  Most of all, I see this church loving broken people really, really well.

I’m sorry if this sounds like bragging, I’m just so freakin’ proud of this group of people.  I don’t blab all of this to say “look at us!”,  I say it to provide hope.  MANY of us have been burned by people in the church and have a right to be hurt and angry.  Nothing will get me hotter than a pastor pushing for a victim to forgive and forget or for someone in faith leadership acting like a know-it-all dictator with too much male dominate ego.  But I do want to give hope, that there are some congregations that will love you, as you are, where you are, through their own personal woundedness… which is all very important to the beat down girl I was.

Tomorrow’s post – a list of Do’s and Don’t for churches when it comes to loving a trafficking victim/survivor.

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

The “C” Word

Part 1  (Part 2)  (Part 3)

I don’t know what word’s more controversial… “C–t”, a vulger word for a part of a women’s anatomy, or the word “Church.”

You poll a random group of people about what they think of when they think of church and you’ll most likely get a wide range of responses… anything from descriptions of inspirational community, to greedy tele-evangelists.  I’ve met few people who are ambivalent when it comes to organized spirituality… most at least have some sort of opinion, usually built off of a personal experience.

With that in mind, let me share with you my experience… at the time I started to first speak of my trafficking I had been attended a rather large denominational church.  I loved that place, it was the first arena that began to teach me about real love.  It had truly become a sanctuary for me in the recent years.  I saw what was happening at home as evil (and rightfully so) and saw what was happening at church as good (and rightfully so).  I so struggled with my double life because all the while I was plugging into this faith community, I was still being pimped out on a pretty regular basis.  I hated not being able to fully share my broken heart; I hated keeping secrets from these people and constant lying to them or simply omitting information.  It felt so wrong but I felt very stuck by my situation.  There’s no way my father would let me just walk away from “my family duties” but I was falling deeper and deeper in love with Christ.

Before I knew it I began to lose the secret battle with myself.  These people were getting to me… all their love was annoying strong. It made cracks in the wall around my heart and wormed its way into my emotions until I found myself blurting out one day, “I’ve been raped.”  It was the first time I had outwardly said anything about my abuse.  Little did the person I was talking to know, but that was only the tip of conversation.  (Little did I know as well.) I couldn’t believe it, it was as if I just parted my lips to breath and the words somehow escaped by mistake.

The church was wonderful there at the beginning.  They did a lot of things right.  Most assuredly I wasn’t the first young woman to come forward with a sexual abuse experience so I guess they felt they knew what to do with me.  Leaders stepped up with love and even walked me through how to get plugged into counseling, financial assistance and all.  With this new level of comfort built I started to share more and more of my horrible experience–  even pointing out some unknown sexual offenders serving within the church. (Please know this this congregation did run full background checks but these men had either found loopholes or had not yet been convicted.)  Sadly, the more I talked, the more cautious the church grew of what I was saying.  I found out later that some pastors were even calling me a complete liar because the abuse sounded so outlandish.  They had dealt with rape before, but no one had dealt with sexual slavery and didn’t yet have the wisdom to know how to pace my story or how to use the correct self-identifying language like the term “trafficking”.  It was an unknown, ungraceful dance for us all.

I was very wounded by some people in this church in the end but I honestly came put much blame on them… my story sounded absurd, because it was.  They were in complete disbelief that slavery could exist so close to home.  I can’t really fault them for not knowing what to do– I didn’t know what to do either… (Find the rest of the story in my next post.)

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

True Love

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!  I just had to write a brief post because I woke up today with the heaviest burden.  Obviously, today is the day we focus on the mushy-gushy-ness of relationships… although this area isn’t my forte, I do try to pause and take a thankful moment for those I care about.  Doing this though, I can’t help but think of all the thousand of girls looking for love in all the wrong places.

A quick definition of a sex trafficking victim is a person who is forced, tricked or coerced into working for the sex industry (or any person under the age of 18 who trades sexual favors for anything of monetary value).  So, so many girls end up in pornography or prostitution not because some mean guy literally kidnapped them.  More often it’s a (fake) boyfriend who convinced her that she should do him a favor if “she really loves him.”  This might sound foolish, but to a child desperate for affection and care, or desperate for a way to financially provide for their loved ones at home, this is seems anything but foolish… this seems to make perfect sense.

Imagine that at the age of 14 you were still waiting to feel your first real hug.  Imagine that you can’t remember the last time someone in your household said “I love you.”  Imagine that mom’s new boyfriend has started to redirect his attention for her, now to you.  Imagine that all you can think about is a new, safe life for you and your little sister.  You’ll do anything to protect her, to provide for her.  Now imagine that a very handsome, successful looking guy around 20 waltzes into your world promising you everything you’ve ever dreamed of, buying you lavish gifts along the way to prove that the dream is possible.  He promises you hope, love and a way out.  This must be “true love”, your Price Charming at last.  Of course it seems crazy, but everyone has always remarked how love is crazy (and blind), haven’t they?

My heart aches for these girls, all hundreds of thousand of them in our country alone… not to mentions the other millions around the world.  Please pause with me today – be thankful for the love you have in your life (no matter how small) and say a prayer for each of the girls looking for love in all the wrong places.

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

The “F” Word

No, no, no, not that “F” word… the other one, “Family.”  (Although I’m sure I could just as easily write an entire blog about the word F–k.)

Reflecting on my posts, I’m realizing how often I speak about the topic of family.  I suppose it’s just the particular healing season I’m in, but I can’t help but think how many other trafficking survivors struggle with similar emotions.  The pain ranges from my beginning family to my future one.  Some of the areas are obvious to outsiders, some may not be at all.  For sake of clarity of perspective, allow me to make a list for all of you reading who do not happen to be trafficking survivors:

18 Reasons Why “Family” is An Explicit Expression

1. My “family” were the ones who sold me into prostitution in the first place.

2. Because I didn’t have a healthy family I was set up to be trafficked anyway by other pimps who approached me later on in life.

3. My family was abusive physically, spiritually, mentally, verbally, sexually, emotionally…

4. I constantly struggled with jealously growing up as I encountered my friend’s kind parents or other seemingly “normal” families.

5. My family is where I was first exposed to smoking, drinking, drugs, sex and weapons.

6. The phrase “loving family” was lost on me growing up… it made as much sense to me as giving an urban 5 year old Japanese boy 100 Kenyan Shillings to spend… no frame of reference.

7. Many times a pimp has his girls refer to him as “Daddy” and his stable of workers as “the family.”

8. I’ve felt shame because I have felt orphaned, knowing there there are so many children out in the world who are literal orphans.

9. I wonder if, because of my past, I’ll ever be able to create a family of my own…

10. …Who will ever want to marry me?…

11. …How will I ever be able to raise healthy children when I had such a screwed up childhood?

12. I can’t tell you how many times a disgusting man wanted me to call him Daddy.

13.  Well meaning people like to promise a “victim” things they don’t really mean– for instance “You’re just like family to me, just like a daughter!”  Then they get tired of you, move on with their lives, and you’re left with a feeling of lacking yet again.

14. Often it feels like a dysfunctional family is better than no family at all (one of the many reasons why trauma bonds form with a girl’s pimp).

15. We’re taught to remain loyal to our families, even if that family is toxic.

16. Just like the perfect Prince Charming, Winning the Lotto and finding the Fountain of Youth, all seem like ideas only feasible in a fairy tale, so does a true, loving, forever family seem.

17. So much Christian spiritual language has been formed around familial metaphors that it makes it hard to grown in your faith while you’re still healing from broken family pieces of your past.  (Sorry guys I can just NOT call my Heavenly Father, Daddy… not going to happen right now!)

18. I have to deal with the fact that none of my family members, who were not direct abusers, stepped up to protect me.

Some of these things I still struggle with, others are more heartbreaks of the past.  I could probably list 100 reasons but I just really wanted to share with you a sampling of why it’s so hard for trafficked girls to “get” this idea of family and why they just don’t immediately launch into new lives.  Everyone has their own broken stories of a tragic Thanksgiving or crisis-filled Christmas with aunts, grandfathers and siblings alike but I believe there’s a special brokenness with people who suffered abuse of any kind within the family unit.  You thoughts?

May this blog serve as an education to those who do not yet know or understand the atrocities of trafficking and may it serve as an encouragement to those who understand it all too well.

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