Monday, March 18, 2013

What Family Can Mean: An Abolitionist's Perspective

Love. It has so much power. It's what you really want. I mean, it's at least one of the things you want, and it's one of the things you need, too.

We all understand it in different ways, of course. There are all different types of ways of categorizing types of love (see books like The Five Love Languages or Love and Respect), but it's safe to say we all have different tastes. As such, you won't always realize it's what someone wants, because their idea of love might be different from yours. You may not even realize it's what you want. But I think things like being needed is a form of being loved, and it's a form that a lot of people need. Love implies being irreplaceable; and being needed certainly makes you feel irreplaceable.

We all want love in some form. The quest for it defines us. It especially defines those who don't believe in love, because they are left with a desire that seemingly nothing can satisfy. You can never fully stop believing in love. Even when everyone you know has hurt you and used you, you still want to be loved. And this is what family can mean.

There are many girls out there who don't know they're loved. They haven't experienced it, or they're not receiving it in the right forms or from certain people (like from dad; and let's not say it's always dad's fault, either, because puberty is a rough time and dads are just as confused by all the changes as their teenage daughters). "They go looking for love in the wrong places," we say. What an understatement. "Girls give sex to get love." Yep. It's such a casual fact nowadays, but it's devastating to girls everywhere. It's even devastating to the ones who put up with not "getting love" when they refuse to "give sex."

Girl sleeps with her boyfriend so he'll love her. Does it work? Millions of break-ups each year say otherwise. You can't sell yourself to get the love you want. That's a transaction, not a love relationship. We do this in all our relationships, and with all sorts of goods. Friends, spouses--we meet the other's needs to get our own met.

Does it sound pretty depressing yet? Yet not all friendships are like this. Nor all relationships. Nor all marriages. We can truly care about one another. Family is a key place where love can happen. In a family, you're stuck with each other. You aren't required to give anything; your parents and siblings can't stop being your parents and siblings if you don't please them. Some families are pretty dysfunctional and don't work like this, but go with me here, because a majority of the people I know didn't come from abusive homes. Generally, you're stuck together. And in such a place, when people start to work together and love each other, it's genuine love, not bribery for good treatment, because there's no need for it to be otherwise. That's what family was designed to be: stuck with each other and forced to love each other. In many cases, it works, too.

But then you get people who don't believe in love any more. They've been too hurt by the people who should have loved them. They don't have a family. Maybe abuse came from home or from another quarter. Maybe, like me, you had a great family, but that didn't stop you from having other problems--big problems. Problems that toppled your world and made you doubt what you knew.

These are the kind of girls that C------ House* (the organization I volunteer for) takes in. They don't believe in love any more. Their cases are extreme. They've been abused and used by every person they know. Their lives have been in danger on a daily basis. They've done terrible things to try to stay alive because it's all they could do. Maybe drugs were the only option. Maybe they weren't even an option. They don't believe in love any more because life has been too dirty and nasty for that. There's no room for sentiment. There's no point to have emotions any more. They've developed a whole other person living inside their body, sharing their mind: a girl who doesn't care, who maybe even helps the guy pimping her out. Underneath, the real girl is in a corner, very, very scared.

Maybe this is all there is. Maybe this is what love is. She loves her pimp. He sells her every night, all night. He takes care of her, though; he keeps her from being killed by patrons and fingered by other pimps. He threatens her and hurts her, but at least he's the only one who does; he protects her from the rest of the scary world out there. When everyone has abused you and the unknown has only ever yielded to monsters, having a known evil, the same monster every night, might be the closest you've come to heaven. (I'm serious.) Maybe this is what love is. Maybe he loves her. She believes that he does. She loves him back.

People with much less trauma have given into the same demons. "This is all there is." Have you ever believed that? Maybe, you say, not this extreme. But you've felt it, right? Desperation. Being driven into a corner where you can only believe lies, but lies are better than nothing.

To these girls, C------ House is family. It's the first time they've ever had people love them just for them. It's the first time they've had the freedom to make their own choices about what they wear and when they sleep. It's so overwhelming. This wasn't supposed to be possible. It is so hard to come into that home and call it rescue. It's hard to believe that there aren't more horrors waiting around every corner. There's got to be a catch; there's always a catch. J. W., the head of C------  Worldwide, says you have to realize that every day that a girl stays and doesn't run away is a success.

This post goes hand-in-hand with my last post about how believing isn't seeing and how I needed someone to show me love to help me believe, because I couldn't on my own. The girls at C------  House and dozens of other facilities scattered in other states and countries don't believe any more. Love means nothing. They haven't met people who love. The idea of a loving God means less than zero.

These homes do the impossible. They give these girls a family. The people there love them. Really love them.

C------ House is there specifically because the people of God were called to act. God tells us to love because he knew that there are some who have been so beat up by the enemies that they wouldn't know him if they saw him. It's not about bringing God to the girls at C------.  God may be our fuel, the reason J. founded C------,  but to them he's nonsensical. God is the strength of my heart, but I know what the girls are feeling: they don't even have a heart. C------  House, any of the rescue homes that organizations have set up, all of them are about bringing love to the girls. People always ask, because C------ is a Christian organization, what that means in the healing process. But it's not about going in and telling the girls about Jesus. It's about giving them a family.

Let me talk to my Christian readers for a second. I believe God is the source of life. But I don't think you can meet him if you don't have a life to be fueled. You don't care about building a relationship if you're starving. Who cares about a relationship? You need food! When Jesus met blind people, lame people, people with dark pasts and broken hearts, he didn't just give them new life. He healed them. Sometimes that's all he did directly: heal them. The new life, changed life, renewed life--that followed. But we need to be healed first. Jesus knew that.

That's what family can mean. Family can mean healing. It can mean a place to love, and be loved. That's what C------ House is. That's what other houses for girls rescued from sex trafficking are. Home and family mean something new. Something real. Love becomes something tangible. Attainable. And it's something we, all of us, can offer. Simple, friendly love. Open hearts and minds. Willingness to connect. Faithfulness to be there when times are tough. It's the same thing you give to your parents, spouse, siblings, children, friends.

Sometimes we need to put down our agendas or whatever message we're trying to communicate. "This is what helped me!" We are so eager to help--and that's great!--but we trample the heart we are trying to heal beneath all our help, tips, and useful advice. They don't need a new book, or a spiritual assessment, or self-realization, or "time away." They just need love.

When someone loves you, it empowers you. It gives you hope. It helps you believe. The truth that someone loves you can change your life.

There are a thousand ways to jump on board and get involved in the abolition movement. As a writer, I volunteer my writing and editing skills. You can volunteer with organizations to help plan events, do office work, etc. Even giving money is a huge help to the cause. If you're a doctor, lawyer, dentist, law enforcement worker, or first-responder, your skills are needed and it's important to be aware because you probably interact with this sensitive demographic whether you know it or not. If you're a pastor or leader of something, you can help raise awareness with your voice. If you have free time, spend it with local kids, especially at-risk youth in your neighborhood, because they need role models and someone telling them there's a better way to do life. Women have gotten together to do bake-offs and other events to raise money; a woman in our area started an organization that hosts a race to raise money; a local junior-higher started an annual fundraiser dinner all on her own. Artists make gorgeous works of art representing the plight of these girls and auction them off to raise funds and awareness. There is something for you to do, where you are. Just because these girls are desperate does not mean we are frozen and unable to help.

Maybe the way you can help is by interacting with the girls, women, and boys. Hanging out with them. Taking them in. Volunteering at a shelter or home. Whatever, wherever, however, these girls just need to be loved. It's that simple, and it's as hard as it sounds. You're not necessarily going to be loved back. The girls don't understand love. You're doing the impossible for her. But every day she doesn't run away because you loved her is a success. Every day you love her despite her walls and pain and rough edges, you are helping her believe that it might be possible, that love might be real.

And maybe you know in your soul you're being asked to be family for her. For him. For the girl who has been abused and passed around; the boy that has been beaten up, who has no heroes and has been shown a terrible, distorted picture of manhood; the baby that won't have family unless someone wants them. That's the problem. These kids, young men and women, weren't wanted by the right people. People who were messed up and wrong should have loved them and didn't.

Hope is never lost. You have to believe that, they need to believe that, and you can prove that it's true. If you're being called to adopt and give a home to a child, there is no greater thing you can do. You're being called to a huge sacrifice. You're family might not look the way you wanted to: you're kid might act out, need counseling. Your biological children will have to learn how to interact with someone who has experienced a lot of trauma and whose brain and behavior have been shaped by a terrible reality, and it's different. Your family will be different.

But you'll also be stronger. Your bio kids will learn empathy and care for others. Your adopted kids will get a chance to be normal kids! You're can change their reality. Behavioral and brain patterns can be remade; these kids can learn what it is to be a kid again, what it means to play, to be free, to have self-control, to be disciplined, to be loved, and to love others. It is a long journey, but an important one. Everyone deserves that chance, and while not everyone gets it, each of us has the ability to offer the opportunity for a new life to someone else.

Somehow, the idea of adoption scares me less in some ways than the idea of having my own kids. Don't get me wrong--they both are rather scary. The idea of being responsible for taking care of someone else...? I have a lot of personal growth I want to get through first, for the sake of my future kids, so I can love them better. (I just hope I never use that as an excuse.)

But here are kids who just need love. I know how to give that. Someone once gave that to me. And my own parents are wonderful and broken people who loved me simply and fully. I think I can do that for someone else. Moreover, I want to give someone a chance who didn't get a chance. There were times I felt that I didn't have a chance. And then someone loved me, and look where I am now! I want other people to experience that same sense of victory. I want other people to get the chance for a new, better life.

Last of all, I can't help remembering that I am adopted too. It's the greatest feeling. I didn't think I deserved to be a part of God's family. I didn't think I would get to really experience what it means to be God's child. But he took me in and loved me so much more than I thought was possible. That experience trumps every other in my life. I hope I can pass that love on to my kids.

For all my friends out there without kids, put it in the backs of your minds to consider one day if you decide to have a family. There are so many kids who would be saved from sex trafficking before it even starts if only someone would adopt them and love them and raise them. So many kids in the foster system end up trafficked, or traffickers. So many of them end up abused, neglected, beaten, starved, and all manner of terrible things. These are children. Someone needs to take them in. Consider it. Maybe your kids don't have to look like you after all. Maybe your home has room for one more.

And for those who have adopted, or taken in, or given a temporary home or whatever: you are our heroes. You are changing lives, and it's important. If you are a mom or dad with biological children only, you are also changing lives. You have kids who are being raised well, being loved. If you are an aunt or uncle, you are changing lives. Every child you meet you touch in some way. Don't be too afraid or embarrassed to love them.

Adoption is beautiful. Adoption means being chosen. Family can mean love. Family can do the impossible.


I keep saying I will give a basic run-down of sex-trafficking, and I realize I probably never will. I know so much about this issue that I forget what are the "basic facts." So instead, here is a list pilfered from other sites and blogs of the essential details and statistics, and some links at the bottom for the sources / more information.

  • 27 million people are currently held in literal slavery around the world today.
  • Human trafficking brings in $32 billion a year. It is an industry just like the computer industry or the fashion industry, except its products are human beings with names and dreams and broken hearts.
  • 80% of all human trafficking victims are women and children forced into the commercial sex trade.
  • 2 million children are trapped in the international commercial sex trade.
  • Sex trafficking is the 2nd fastest growing industry in the U.S., only coming behind the drug industry.
  • 99% of those trafficked for sex are women and girls, but there are some boys who are also raped and trafficked.
  • Females who are victims of the U.S. sex trafficking industry have an average life span of 7 years after they enter the industry. The average age of entry is 14. That means the average girl enters when she is 14 and is killed by the time she is 21.
  • The homicide rate for girls being sex-trafficked is one of the highest in our country. Many are killed by their 'johns,' the buyers, because buyers don't see a person, they see a thing.
  • Girls as young as 10 are trafficked for sex in America. In other countries such as parts of South East Asian, there is a big market for girls as young as 4 or 5.
  • In Cambodian brothels, there is a special room called the Pink Room where men (mostly foreigners from the West) pay lots of extra money in order to have sex with a virgin. These girls are around kindergarten age. After they are used once, they are no longer worth as much, since they are no longer virgins.
  • In parts of the world, little girls are sold for sex by their parents because there is so much poverty. Parents cannot support their families, and young girls expect to be sold and sometimes even start "putting out" because they know they will be sold soon. Parents and daughters make a point of not bonding with each other--how could they?
  • Human trafficking consists of forced labor (the typical idea of slavery), enslaved in-home servitude, and sexual slavery. In other words, people are sold for their strength and bodies to be used either as free labor or as a sex toy.
  • Humans are considered an economically wonderful product because they are durable, they heal themselves, they take care of themselves, they are cheap to keep alive, they are easily manipulated, and they are easily replaced.
  • People are held as slaves for labor and sex through many means, including: threats of violence, having no other options, being led to believe they are in love, running away from abuse at home, being constantly beaten down physically and emotionally so that they are broken psychologically, being physically chained or guarded, having their passports/papers taken from them, the local law enforcement being paid off, having sought help and not received it and therefore thinking they can't escape, they are "in debt" to the person who owns them (i.e. debt bondage), etc. There are so many ways to break a person, and they are all used. Think of your worst nightmare.
  • Many pimps who sell others for sex were abused, raped, or trafficked themselves. They work themselves up the ranks, and their way of saving themselves and getting power back is to exert power over others. Often it is the only life and only living they know.
  • When people say "at-risk youth," they mean it. Boys and young men surrounded by bad influences, poverty, and a lack of strong role models will slip into the pimping lifestyle slowly and without really realizing that the words "sex slavery" apply to what they are doing. It becomes just what they do, an easy way to make a lot of money without much work.
  • Many girls who are "rescued" from sexual slavery are put in prison, deported, or forced to pay damages to their pimps because government officials and law enforcement do not recognize what is going on and have not been trained how to respond.
  • Many nations, and many states in the U.S., do not have a single safe-home for people rescued out of human trafficking situations. This includes Las Vegas, home to a veritable nest of sex trafficking (yes, that's right, there are prostitutes in Las Vegas who are being forced to do what they do).
  • The porn industry in America has it's own dark side: many girls are trafficked for porn, including a lot of underage girls, and women and girls who are forced to participate in videos and images showing violence against women.
  • Hey Christians - most of the original organizations working on this issue were not started by us. We work for a loving God, the God of justice! Can we please stand up and show it?
Show Hope - a comprehensive list of slavery facts, and adoptions resources
268 Generation - Passion conferences' End It movement: facts, resources, organizations, books...
Courage - sex trafficking statistics and what they are doing about it

Agape (AIM) - one of many groups, they are doing a wide variety of things to stop slavery; they also have films and other resources available and many ways to get involved
Interviews with 25 ex-pimps in Chicago; please be emotionally ready before you read over this, but do read it: it casts a lot of light on the issue
Sex+Money - a documentary about the sex trafficking industry in America I highly recommend
Nefarious I: Merchant of Souls - a documentary about the international trafficking industry that is one of the most informative resources I've encountered

It is our belief that no human should own another human being. No one should ever be forced to work against their will. No one should ever be forced to work without pay. No person should ever be forced to give sex, perform sexual acts, etc. for another human being. No one, ever.

* Not being an official representative of C------ Worldwide, I chose not to give their full name throughout this essay.