From 9 to 20

From the age of 9 until 20 I was trapped.  Today, I am free.

I recently looked back at something I’d written a short three years ago.  At that time I was sitting in a Starbucks and had begun to journal out the complexities of my longing heart…

Dare I do it? Dare I write?  Not that I think I’d have any chance to publish it or that anyone would read it, but then again, what if?  I’ve set out in my life to take chances, but really, what chance is this? Maybe it’ll be good for me.  Maybe I’ll just start to write again.  It’s been years since I’ve really enjoyed it like I once did.  It’s a get-a-way of sorts, even if I’m directly addressing issues I’d rather ignore.  It would just be me searching for meaning I already need to be searching for.   But what about?  About me?  Who would care?  About my life?  Who would care?  About my experiences? Are they really that interesting or that important?   Who knows?  Maybe I’ll just start writing and see what happens.  Nothing says this has to be read by millions or even anyone at all.  Hmmm, what a thought.  Should I?  Maybe I should.  Maybe I will.  I think I will.  I think I’m supposed to…”

Even now, as I sit and write, I’m unsure.  I’m more interested in taking the leap that begins the journey than knowing where the journey ends.  I fit pieces together as the pieces come.  I’m sure professional authors would cringe at the strategy, but a professional is certainly not something I claim to be.  What I am is a broken individual, healed by the grace of God and passionate about fighting the prevalence of sexual abuse. I am a survivor of despair and doubt. I am a survivor of humiliation and lies, of violence and rape.  I am a survivor of slavery and human trafficking.  Most of all, I think, I’ve survived myself. 

I’m willing to take the risk if you are– to become uncomfortable.  I’m willing to share with you my story of being sexually trafficked right here in America, if you’re willing to listen.  What I do not want however, if for this to be a story of despair– because it’s not.  It’s  a story of hope.  There is a thrasher-filled road of healing ahead of me yes, but I am in the process of freedom.

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

**This is a repost from a blog originally written on September 13, 2011**

Returning

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written, but I am now returning both to my blog and to the States.  It’s certainly been a busy few past months.  Fears, joys, surprises, decisions and disappointments but lots and lots of hope.  This past month specifically I’ve been working in SE Asia on an anti-trafficking project.  This work has been a passion of mine for years, but in the words of a close friend, “today I fell in love with this project all over again.”

One of the young women we’ve been working with lately was assaulted last night.  Plainly speaking, my friend had the crap beat out of her by a jerk… a jerk attempting to exert his “power” in a prevalent area of this red light district.  All day long I’ve been struggling with a desire to get revenge.  I know that’s the Lord’s job and He’s been kind enough to continually remind me of that but of course, it’s still hard.  I don’t like people making mean faces at my friends, let alone physically assaulting them.  In any regard, I was reading through scripture this evening and came across Psalms 9 and 10.  For those of you like me who have a heart to write wrongs and protect the innocent, I hope these words from the latter Psalm will provide you some comfort as it did me.

Psalm 10

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”

His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
    like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”

12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.

16 The Lord is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.

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.

(Post originally written 11/09/12)

3:00 AM

It’s 3 AM I’m awake… nothing out of the ordinary.  What’s more annoying is that I have to wake at 8:30 AM… I know that’s not terribly early for a lot of people, but might I remind you that it’s 3 AM and I’m just starting this post.  So, to me, 8:30 IS EARLY.

I hate the 3 AM time period, I always have.  Little good comes from this time.  Most clubs are closing or closed, depending on where you live.  Average men are kicking their prostitutes out and the more aggressive ones are just starting.  There’s a particular type of cop out at 3 AM, and they’re usually not the ones checking parking meters.  3 AM is when you wake to odd, startling sounds you can never quit peg.  It’s when nightmares dace and you’re too thirsty to sleep but to tired to get out of bed for water.  For me, this time frame brings back all sorts of horrific memories and so I usually beg myself to sleep through it.  Not tonight though.  Tonight though the sleeping pill has already been swallowed hours ago and still I lay, exhausted and yet wide awake.  I figure there’s no sense more tossing around my covers, so I might as well write.

It’s a lonely hour of night.  Cool and eerily quiet.  It’s an hour that I’m sure has been featured in hundreds of horror films.  Some people even refer to it as the devil’s hour… or apply other such colloquialisms.   It’s a good point of reference for exaggerated stories too as you don’t often hear people referring to 4 or 2 am when recounting a crazy night out with “the boys”.  It’s an hour of troubles.

I remember walking home at 3 AM one morning after a particularly rough night.  The buses weren’t running at that hour and our city had a crappy transit system anyway.  It was safer just to walk, though my feat were hating me.  It had started to rain pretty heavily and my shoes were soppy excuses for leather at this point.  The water was coming down so heavily from my bangs that my eyes felt as though they were open inside a backyard pool.  I could make out a row of streetlights along the road I was walking and kept saying to myself, “Just make it to the next light and you’ll be OK, just make it to the next light and you’ll be OK.

I heard the sound of a car, assumed it was a cop, and ducked behind some bushes.  (Officials didn’t think kindly of 15 year old girls walking in skimpy, wet clothing alongside a road at 3 AM.)  In my pausing for the black and white to pass I stated to shake from the cold.  “If I could just make it to the next road light, if I could just make it to 4 AM, it would all be fine.”  I tasted metal in my mouth where the blood still flowed as a result of the idiot john who had smack me earlier.  “I’ll be fine…” I say, and kept walking… 4 AM and the last of the road light poles will be here soon enough.

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.

(Post originally written 3/12/12 – 3:00 AM)

Art Stop – “Pieces”

There’s so much healing that can come from both creative expression and experiencing art.  Numerous studies about art integrated into aftercare facilities, rehab programs and counseling have been done. (Find out a bit more here.)  However, simply speaking from a personal standpoint I know that these ways of communicating have been vital to my growth– whether it’s a song I listen to or sketch I draw, it’s been helpful.  For this reason I would like to take a pause from normal blog entries on Fridays (from now until whenever) to share pieces of creative expression that I’ve come across and thought helpful.

I would like nothing more than for this to be an interactive forum, so please participate!  Email in art that you’ve come across or that you yourself have created.  Maybe it’s a touching painting your child crafted or a new song on the radio.  It doesn’t all have to be happy and it doesn’t all have to be good, it just have to be “real”… what I’m looking to share here is authenticity!  Feel free as well to send in great organizations who you find out facilitating great healing with great art.  This can be schools, safe houses, income generating jewelry projects, etc.  If you find something interesting, email it in or leave a comment on a Friday post and let’s start sharing.  (Also, feel free to utilize the Facebook page if that’s easier!)

To get us started off I’d like to share… “Pieces” (a powerful spoken word by a dear friend of mine who, alongside his beautiful wife, does some amazing work).

If the video does not appear, please visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lVkmUs8yPI

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.

(Post originally written 3/7/12)

STRESS

Stressed, so incredibly stressed.  I can feel the anxiety eating away at any strength in my chest.  My fingers are fidgety and my breathing shallow.   I can’t complete a single thought without my mind prematurely bouncing to the next one.  It’s as if there’s some sort of mammoth scale balancing on my shoulders full of delicate china… I know one wrong move, one wrong tilt and the whole thing’s going to come crashing down.  A few things have already fallen off as forgetful precursors to an impending doom. Tap, tap, tap go my fingers.  I stand up and start to pace again, trying to figure out where on earth I should even begin. My sanity bends like a palm blown by hurricane winds.  Everything in my brain in flying at warp speed and because of the speed, it’s all a blur.  My stomach churns, producing way too much acid.  Legs start to shake nervously to the beat of each heart palpitation.  Stressed, so incredibly stressed.

Stress like this leads to thoughts of anything that’ll come me down… a pill, a drink, a smoke, a drive, a run, a writing binge.  Yea, some are healthy, some aren’t, but you do what you have to do to survive living two lives at once.  I think I went through a solid seven years of feeling this way.  Keeping up with The Life along with “normal life” is next to impossible.  Keeping up with The Life is impossible enough alone.  You’ve got to outrace your own coping mechanisms (usually addictions), along with your pimp’s temper (which is rarely predictable).  For me, I had grades and legit jobs to worry about too.  I ran around keeping secrets from my parents about my “normal friends” and keep secrets from my friends about my parent’s and my life in prostitution.  It causes stress.  Lots and lots of stress… that now I’ve found doesn’t even go away when the abuse stops.  I’ve been left with residual stress… goodie.

What I’m thankful for now is better education on healthy coping and lower stress triggers in general.  I’m hard on myself though, as someone often tells me.  Unless a man is running at me with a knife trying to kill me, I have a hard time validating my right to feel stressed.  Everyday tolls like a full email inbox or packed schedule don’t seem like they should be big deals when I’ve seen the worser parts of life.  I guess though, it’s okay– okay to be stressed out like a normal person these days.  But then again, am I ever going to be able to sit under a category of normal?  Probably not, but that’s probably OK.

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.

(Post originally written 3/5/12)

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.

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