Saturday, November 16, 2013

Real Stories, Part I

Time and again I write about sex trafficking. I know a lot. I don't realize how much I know until I run into those people, in church or on the street, who say, "Wait, you mean actual slavery? I thought you were joking." (True story.) I research and I look up statistics from different organizations and I compare and analyze the models they use. I want to give accurate information. I not only want to raise awareness, I want to do it the right way. This issue is scary and dramatic enough; I don't have to lie about the stats to make an impact.

But I also want to tell a story. I've heard a lot of those, too. I've seen three of the major documentaries to date, including Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, which is by far the most educational source on sex trafficking I have ever found. It's an hour-long documentary, but it shows the systems of sex slavery in their entirety--the buyers, the sellers, the people being sold--and the things specific to that region or system. There are many ways to enslave, many very different stories.

Watch the trailer:

If the player does not work or show up in your browser, go here to watch it on their website.

Phew. I sobbed my way through that again. I always do. You'd think you get used to it, but that's precisely what doesn't, and shouldn't, happen. Jenny Williamson, founder and CEO of Courage Worldwide, says every time a new girl comes home to one of their Courage Houses, she cries over her. Every time she hears a girl's story, she cries, and every time the FBI Innocence Lost Task Force calls her up and reports that they've found more trafficked girls, she cries. Your heart doesn't get harder the more you learn; if anything, it just hurts more.

And that hurting, that's a good thing. Because this is a terrible, terrible thing that's happening. Each new story deserves my tears. Every girl is a life that is precious and deserves my heart. They should continue to be individual faces, each one someone I want to help, or else they become a great mass of people, and I feel helpless, and it feels like this issue is beyond my reach to cure. The fact that I cry tells me that I'm still ready to fight for people. Like I've said, the softest hearts are the most powerful. I know her story, the story of someone sexually enslaved, and because I know her, I can't help but fight back.

I want you to know her story too. She is a real girl--lots and lots of real girls and real boys and real women. But it's not "they," it's She. Or He. They're not separate from us; they're among us, and we have a responsibility to them, hard as it is for us to face. I want you to know her story so you can know why this is heart-breaking and so you can know what she needs, instead of being helpless to help her.

So the next three Saturdays, I'm going to be telling you her story. It's going to be tough and emotional and PG-13, but don't shy away from it because it's important to know. Our lack of knowledge has been hurting these kids. I don't want you to hurt them on accident, with your words or your actions. I don't want you to misunderstand. I want you to know what she needs, what the organizations are doing to help, where your efforts and money go, and why certain things are so important. Once you understand, you can help. Until you've read her story, you're going to continue to feel powerless.

Her story starts with how she got involved with this in the first place. The beginning of her story depends a lot on where she is from. Let's say she is from Eastern Europe. She was trying to save up money--to go to school, or maybe for her family--and she needed a job. She saw an ad in the paper for a well-paying waitress job in a different country, and she asked around to see if anyone knew anything about it.

She wasn't too sure about the job, since she didn't know any of the people who wrote the ad. But then one of her cousins told her he knew someone who had moved down for this same company, and they send a big check home every month. Going on his word, she went to talk to the liaison. They interviewed her, and told her she was accepted to the job. They said there was another girl who was hired as a waitress too, and they could arrange for the two of them to move down together. They had already taken a temporary apartment for the two of them to live at until they got on their feet. She just needed to pack her bags and bring her papers--passport, etc. She would get her work visa in the new country.

She and the other girl met up and moved down together, excited about their new job. A lot of people from where they came from didn't make a lot of money, so it was crazy to be getting such a good job like this. After arriving, she went to see her new boss to sort out her work visa. Her new boss asked to see her passport.

She handed it to him and he tucked it away in a drawer. He told her she was misinformed about the type of work available for her. What he really needed was girls to keep his men customers company. He had a few girls, but he needed a few more.

He gave her new clothes and showed her how to walk and stand and told her what her new name was going to be. He told her how much various parts of her body and various acts cost and told her to always get the money first. If she made a certain amount of money each night, she would be given food and clothing.

When she told him she didn't want to do the work and that she would rather go home, he said she couldn't because she owed him for moving her here, and that she couldn't try to run away because he had her passport and if the police caught her, she would be arrested for not having the right papers.

So she started walking the streets for her new boss. It turned out the place she was living was home to a lot of other girls. They taught her how to do things and the head girl kept them all in line. She had to make enough money every night to meet her quota; if she didn't, one of her boss's men would beat her up. The little room where she stayed was kept locked at all times. It became her world, and pretty soon, she had memories enough there to paper the walls with.

She hated having to act as if she liked what the men paid to do to her. She knew her parents would be really ashamed, too. She thought about home and the girl she had been, very different from the other girl she was now who wore lots of make-up and walked the streets at night. That other girl, with the new name, was sexy and flirty and very good at making the tourists want her. There was no way to get back to the world where she had been that other girl, and no way to become that other girl again if she did. And no one who would want this new girl.

That's if she lived in Eastern Europe.

Maybe she lived in Southeast Asia. When she was four she remembered hearing her parents talking with a big man she didn't like. He came over to her and told her that lots of people would like her and pay a lot for her. She watched the neighbor girl go away with him one weekend, and she never saw her again, but her parents were able to feed their other children every day of the week now.

Her parents didn't have that much money and a lot of times she was hungry. Her mother told her that when she was a little older she would go away to work. Her father said it was everybody's duty to work as hard as they could, otherwise they were letting everyone else down and letting the family be hungry out of selfishness.

The man came back after she turned six. Her older brother had taught her how to count money, and she saw that the money the big man gave her parents was a lot. Her parents told her she was helping them all eat better, and her mother said a blessing over her. Then she went away with the man, who touched her in very uncomfortable ways the whole drive into the big city. She cried the whole time because of how much she missed her family, but every time she made a noise he hit her, so she cried silently.

When they had driven through the big city for a while, the man stopped at a building that had lots of lights and lots of people going in and out. Inside white people were milling around poking and prodding some several dozen girls who were lined up along one wall with numbers on their shirts. The girls looked bored and they were dressed the way she thought city girls must dress, with lots of skin showing. She saw one person take the arm of one of the girls, pay some money to a man behind a desk, and lead the girl off down a hall. The girl had a very fake smile that she didn't like at all.

She was brought upstairs and into a room with a bed with a red dress lying on it. The man told her to get in the dress and be quiet. He told her a man was coming to visit her and she had to be very nice to him, or else he would come and beat her later. She knew about beatings from when she disobeyed at home, so she nodded her head. She was very scared and wanted to do a good job helping her family. The man said she had to do anything that the visitor told her to do. If she didn't, he would find out about it.

She couldn't stop crying. The visitor came and did awful things to her. She couldn't understand. Her body hurt all over. She wanted to go home. She cried all night after he left, even though the big man said he would beat her if she cried. Her body hurt all over, but the big man came and took her to a different room. He told her she wasn't worth as much any more,* so this room would be her home now. She had to take care of all the visitors that came to see her or else he would beat her and then she would be a shame to her family.

She met some of the other girls who lived there. During the daytime when they didn't get visitors, they would watch television together. Some of the visitors were gruff with her and would hurt her. One of the girls was hurt by a customer so badly one time that she couldn't move. The big man came and kicked her around to make her get up, but she didn't. She didn't move at all, so the man called people to come take away the body.

After that, he had little buttons installed in the rooms where they serviced clients. He said if someone tried to kill you to press the button and he would come take care of it. But if you pressed the button because you were scared, or as a joke, he would kill you himself. For many nights, part of her wanted to press the button. She wondered what it would be like. She wondered if dying hurt more or less than it did right now.

That is the start of her story in Southeast Asia.

But her story could have started in North America. Born to a mother addicted to drugs and with no idea who her father was, she lived with her mom and a series of uninspiring and angry boyfriends her mom seemed to collect off the street. Every few months was a new one, and sometimes they had to move, so her mom would find a new boyfriend and move in with him. Sometimes she scrounged or stole food, just in case, since her mom sometimes used their food money for more drugs.

Eventually the authorities caught up with them and her mom was put in prison for possession and CPS took her under their wing. They found her a foster home, but the people had rules about doing homework and going to church that she didn't understand, and they got angry when she stole food. They didn't understand. It was stifling to have curfews and she didn't think she could ever do well enough on her homework to get them to lay off and like her.

Eventually she went to a new foster home. She fought with the mom all the time, and her foster mom called her stupid and said she wouldn't amount to anything, so she ran away. She lived off the streets for a week, and while she missed having her own room, she liked having the freedom to do what she wanted. She was smart on the streets, even if she wasn't in class. The teachers talked on and on about stuff, but out here in real life none of it applied, so she didn't see the point and never worked very hard.

CPS found her after a week, and her overly-friendly social worker asked why she ran away. She didn't think he'd understand. He said her foster mom had said she had yelled and gotten angry, so he arranged counseling every other week. Meanwhile, her foster mom didn't want her back, so she got a new foster family.

They didn't have rules about stuff as much, but they had friends over that she didn't like because they reminded her of her mom's boyfriends. One night her foster dad broke into her room. He was really drunk. He made her have sex with him. She couldn't get away. She hated him. The next day her foster family acted like nothing happened, but her foster mom didn't give her as much food at breakfast and their son called her a whore when they were out of earshot.

After that, life in the home became hell. They didn't take her to her counseling. Her foster dad got drunk a few more times and came up to her room. Sometimes she could hear him coming and hide in the bathroom, but other times he cornered her. Her social worker came one day to ask how she was doing and why she wasn't going to her counseling. Her foster mom said she didn't have an anger problem and they didn't think she needed it. She wanted to tell him what happened, but she didn't think she could. She didn't want anyone to know. She was so, so angry.

She decided to run away again and be smarter about it. She slowly saved enough food. One day at school she skipped class and left. She went back to her old neighborhood. After a few days she ran into one of her mom's old boyfriends. He saw she was out of luck but he didn't call her names for it. He just gave her the rest of his hamburger and told if she needed a job, he knew people.

That night she got tired of sleeping in the cold and went to where he lived. He let her sleep on the sofa that night and she realized he was actually an okay guy. The next day she wandered around trying to figure out what to do, but at the one place that had a hiring sign up people gave her the evil eye for her appearance. That evening, the guy brought a friend over and said this was the guy he was talking about; he could hook her up with a job that paid well.

The other guy was friendly. The first thing he told her was that she looked good; it made her feel so much more confident after being glared at all day. He told her he had some opportunities and that they could talk about it over lunch.

She met him for lunch the next day and he was super sweet to her, chatting with her about this and that. He told her he'd never met a girl like her, and she felt complimented but she'd also heard all of her mom's boyfriends say that. He gave her some money and told her to look out for herself. She realized later they had been so deep in conversation that she'd forgotten to ask about jobs.

The money helped a lot, and she washed her clothes and tried to get a job again, but the boss man was hard and the hours terrible, so she decided against it. After a few days she ran into the nice guy again. He said a lot of nice things about wondering how she was doing. She told him she wasn't doing well and he encouraged her. He said her foster families had been pretty terrible and she deserved better. He told her she was beautiful and she could do anything she wanted.

She asked if he knew about jobs, and he said he was glad she had mentioned it because he was actually in a spot of trouble. He told her a story about how his landlord had suddenly raised the rent and his job couldn't cover it and he was trying to figure out how to pay up. She felt really bad for him and wished she could do something.

The next day they met up again and he said he'd heard of something that could help them both out with money but she didn't have to do it if she didn't want to. He said it was just a small thing and it wouldn't take much of her time. She agreed to help him and he told her about this guy he knew who had just had a break-up and would pay her a lot of money to just give him a little something. Just one sexual favor, that was all. She didn't know what to think about that, but he said she was so beautiful that this guy would pay up big time and she didn't even have to get undressed, and then the two of them would have the money to pay his rent and do whatever they wanted.

She didn't think it was too bad, so she went with him and did what the guy wanted. She brought the money back to her new friend and he thanked her many times and told her how beautiful and amazing she was and as they walked home he put his arm around her. Over the next few weeks at one point he started calling her his girlfriend. He told her she could call him daddy. It was like a name just for her to call him.

Every now and then she would do a favor for one of his friends, and afterward they'd spend the money and go out. She didn't like the guys she had to do favors for, but when it was over her daddy would get her nice things. And the encounters made her feel powerful. At last she was the one calling the shots and getting paid.

She thought she must have a pretty nice body to get all this attention from his friends, and he told her she did. One day, though, she saw him with another woman. She confronted him that night and they got in a fight and he hit her. She couldn't believe it. She started crying but he told her that he was sorry and begged her to calm down because he loved her and he was always going to take care of her. He said he'd met this girl and that there was nothing between them, he had just helped her get a job in exchange for some money.

She didn't like all the jobs she had to do. She would pretend she was someone else, and play up different parts for the different guys she had to sleep with. They liked it, and secretly she thought about what animals they were. Her daddy was different. She asked him once if she could get a different job, but he said he didn't think she could find one in this economy and they needed that money and she was just so beautiful that men would pay a lot for that. He asked her to do it for him and said that if she loved him at all she wouldn't even ask stuff like that, but if she really wanted to she could go back to her too-good foster family. She felt really sorry and told him she did love him; after all, he was the only one who had ever cared about her.

After more months went by, he said he had some girls he wanted her to meet. He told her he'd been looking around and realized they could turn what they did into a real business. He told her they could make real money this way, and that she'd be famous, the star of the show, but she'd always be first in his heart. He took her to a house where she met seven other girls. He put her in charge. He said she had a good head for business and that she would be able to help the rest of them shine. Then he left.

That night he brought the customers, so she sent the girls to their rooms. She'd found some drugs in a drawer and they made her feel excited, and she shared with two of the other girls. They looked so scared; it made her want to laugh, because she was experienced and powerful and knew what she was about, and they were still new and scared. But the drugs calmed them down and made them a lot easier for their customers, which meant more money for daddy.

She saw multiple men that night. She didn't like it, but she just kept thinking how much money this was going to bring in. Eventually he and she could get out of here and be rich and free. She imagined that each man was her daddy to make it easier.

She didn't see him as much any more. He told her that was a good thing because business was booming and he was really busy. He would bring her new dresses sometimes. When he came, he would sleep with various of the girls. He told her he was keeping everyone in line and not to complain because she could have someone a lot worse than him. If she really thought he was being mean, he could introduce her to some of his other friends. She said no quickly.

He explained he was hot stuff and if she didn't love him he would drop her like a rock and find someone who did because the girls would line up for him. He told her she couldn't make it out there, and she knew he was right. He had been the one to make her shine. He was the one who made her confident and found the clients that got the money to pay for all of this--the house and food. She pouted anyway and he hit her. This time he didn't apologize.

That could be her story.

Or her story could be in a nice home in the suburbs where she took honor classes at the high school and was one of the best on the tennis team. She met a guy while she was out with her friends one time, and they really hit it off. It turned out they had all this stuff in common, almost as if someone had copy-and-pasted her facebook profile and made a man to match. He told her that he and some buddies were going on a road trip for spring break and invited her and a couple of her friends along. She joined them, and when they got there, he raped her and locked her in a hotel room with another girl. Occasionally men would come in for one or both of them and there was nothing she could do and no way out.

Or her story could be a girl newly graduated, trying to make her way. She was always told she had a good voice and her dream was to be on Broadway. She moved to Las Vegas to be in show business and met a man who employed her at a strip club. She didn't get to do any acting but she did get to dance a lot. One day one of the strippers was sick and he asked her to filling, saying he'd fire her if she didn't, so she did it. The people laughed and cheered when she did it. She felt kind of sick that night so she drank a lot. The next day she had a terrible hangover and felt like she was dying. Her boss took pity on her and gave her a pill to make her feel better. She felt exhilarated. The colors more vibrant and the music pounded through her. He told her he needed her to fill in for a call girl on the floor. She serviced several men but didn't really remember the details. Her boss gave her more drugs and pretty soon she couldn't get enough of them. He kept her as a call girl and she knew she couldn't leave because she needed him to give her more drugs.

And on, and on...

These stories are pieces of real stories. Real lives. I know one of the biggest hurdles to get over for most people is how someone gets sucked into The Life in the first place. How could such a thing start at all? Now you know how.

In my next posts, I want to continue her story. I want you to know what it's like psychologically for her so you can understand why she so deeply mistrusts those who try to help her. And I want you to know about the ways her story can end. Come back next Saturday and the Saturday after to hear the rest of her story.

* Virgins often go for a much higher price. But a girl is only a virgin once, so they always have to get more girls to furnish these "pink rooms."