Saturday, November 30, 2013

Real Stories, Part III

For the last two weeks, we've been talking about the real stories of the real boys, girls, and women who are sold for sex on a daily basis around the world. I have been giving you a composite picture of all the facts and true stories I've collected during my time as an abolitionist in the hopes that this information will help you understand her, inspire you to help her, and enable you to love her when you meet her.

In Real Stories, Part I, I told you about how she gets caught by trafficking in the first place. Real Stories, Part II last Saturday told of how the trauma of constant sexual abuse affects her psychologically, emotionally, relationally, and physically. This week I want to end the series with the end of her story: how rescue works, what healing looks like, and what happens if no one rescues her.

If rescue does not happen, then her life will go on in the same way in the clutches of one pimp or another. Until she dies. She may run away and get caught by someone else; she may switch pimps deliberately (though this is exceedingly rare); or in a small but significant percentage of cases (I want to say 8%, but I can't find the source for that), she'll turn the business around and become a pimp herself. It's the way for her to get her own back: power and freedom was taken from her; she gets it back when she subjects others instead of them subjecting her.

But she won't run away and just start up a new life somewhere. It's not that she likes doing what she does. No woman wants to sell her body for sex if there are other options. I'm not just saying that because that's what I feel; research has proven this too. You will get women who choose 'the life' or who choose to return to it after they've been pulled out of it, and you will always find that there are extenuating circumstances involved.

Often it is unresolved psychological trauma that keeps her from believing a better life is out there or that she is truly worth anything more than to be used and thrown away (think back to what we talked about last Saturday). If she has been sexually abused or trafficked before and never received comprehensive care and found healing, her wounds and insecurities will lead her right back into the business. That's the thing about trafficking: it plays on the insecurities and weaknesses of people to create an inescapable cycle. The cycle must be broken by the outside and her psychological ties broken or else she will continue to be enslaved mentally and emotionally.

Or it may be the inability to find another job that adequately supports her and her children, if she has some. Here's the thing: no woman wants to have sex for a living, but a mother would rather sell her soul than watch her children starve.

So she will continue in this business until she dies or is rescued. There are no other options. I have never heard of any other ending for her story besides these two.

Trafficking victims have a terrible life expectancy. In the U.S. alone, the mortality rate is 40 times higher for people who are trafficked. That means she is 40 times more likely to die this year than you or me. It's not just a constant threat; it's a very possible reality.

Worldwide, the average lifespan of a child caught in the sex trade is 2 years. Think about that: after two years, she won't be alive any longer. Well, that's the child mortality rate, you say. But the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12, so an overwhelming majority of the victims are children. And an overwhelming majority of them never reach adulthood.

In America, the average lifespan of a victim goes up a little bit to 6 years, but that is still depressingly short. The average age of a child entering the sex trade specifically in America is 14. That means she'll live to her 20th birthday...maybe. If she's lucky, she'll hit her 21st. Not a lot of time for her to get out and find a new life (not that she has the resources to do so). Not a lot of time for us to find her and rescue her, either.

I want you to think about this. A lot of you have children. The youngest age of a child to be useful enough to be trafficked is around 4 (though there are people who will traffick children who are younger). Have you ever had a 4-year-old? The average age is 14. Do you have children in your house who are 14? Can you imagine someone selling them to a couple dozen men and women every night for sex?

Do you have children who are 20 or older? If so, then congratulations: your children have lived longer than most of these children will.

The causes of death, moreover, aren't pretty. A huge number of girls are killed by a john (buyer), some more killed by their pimps. She is just property to the men who sell and buy her. More than that, she has a limited use before the trauma and psychological breakdown make her useless to them. As time goes by, she gets treated worse and worse as her usefulness evaporates. I've seen a number of before-and-after photos showing girls early on in their trafficking lives and then again after six months or a year. Drugs and alcohol play a part, but mostly the constant abuse and the lack of care for her body makes her quickly begin to fall apart. Literally.

She also may die of AIDS, especially if she lives in Africa or Asia. The spread of HIV and AIDS is contributed to in large numbers by the sex trade: a girl gets infected by a client, and then all her future clients become infected... Other diseases and infections may kill her, too; no one is looking after her to make sure she gets help for diseases that are easily preventable and curable. She is almost certainly suffering from malnutrition and/or under-nutrition. Also, the body can't handle constantly broken bones or constant bleeding, and will eventually start shutting down. Or she may commit suicide, as many do, and end her suffering that way.

She's either going to die, or she's going to be rescued. It's our choice.

Rescue looks different everywhere you go, but includes several stages: identifying a perpetration of sex trafficking; making the bust; and prosecuting the traffickers. In the U.S., law enforcement has made good use of sting and reverse sting operations where they essentially infiltrate the sex trafficking ring by an agent impersonating either a potential buyer or a potential victim. They gather information on who the traffickers are, who they work for/with, where the girls are kept and where the "tricks" go down, and information about the girls (how many there are, what ages). For victims over the age of 18, they need to catch a pimp or john in the middle of an illegal act, prove that the girl is being forced, or be able to prove that the girl or boy was trafficked as an underage child.

Then they go in and make the bust. They arrest the pimps. The women and children who were being sold are given medical attention and, in the good cases, connected up with at least a domestic violence shelter or, even better, a home specifically for victims of sex trafficking.

In this country, it is not currently a crime to pay for sex, unless there's someone under 18 involved. This is truly a pity. You may say that the pimps are the ones who deserve the harshest sentences, and I'm not saying you're wrong: they rape hundreds of girls and are the reason they are being sold to be raped by others.

But the johns are still committing an evil act. It is evil to have sex with someone who, if they could, would be anywhere else doing anything else but this. You can say the john doesn't know the girl is being trafficked, perhaps he thinks she is a prostitute of her own free will (though is that really free will if she's there because she has no other options?), but it's his own fault for not choosing to educate himself about what kind of a girl he is buying. He has paid money to rape a girl, and that is simply wrong.

Prosecuting johns has been proved to be the most effective way of eradicating sex trafficking. Sweden made it illegal to buy sex services but not to sell oneself. This means that the victims of trafficking are not prosecuted for perpetrating a crime. The law doesn't even have to check if the girl was consenting or not. They recognize that you wouldn't be selling your body if you didn't have to, and their policy is to connect girls up with support services like safe houses and counseling.

However, if they catch a man or woman buying sex, it is a punishable offense. There are no questions about whether the person they were buying was a certain age, etc.: buying someone's body or services therewith is a crime. And you know what? This has drastically reduced sex trafficking in their country. No one wants to face the shame of being imprisoned or having to pay bail and your spouse, your coworkers,  and your family and friends knowing.

Rescue can involve people like you and me, not just law enforcement. Though they have task forces devoted to this and are generally more 'in the know,' the average person can also stumble upon something fishy and report it. An unusual number of men going in and out of a hotel. A massage parlor offering private services for men only.

We usually think, "ew, there's dark stuff going on there," but don't bother making any noise about it. We're afraid of what will be uncovered and we've bought into the Western idea that what other people do when they're alone is up to them. But we simply cannot let that mindset pervade when other people's lives are at stake. Other people's sex lives may be their business but not if it includes sex trafficking. Not if it endangers someone else's life.

If she's rescued and brought to a safehouse where comprehensive services are provided - food, clothes, counseling, legal services, loving people who will walk with her through it all - then she has a chance.

It is impossible for me to say what the number one thing she needs would be. After she is rescued, she needs to be brought as soon as possible to a safe location so that she isn't recaptured, hurt, or killed, nor can harm herself. Then she needs immediate medical attention. There will be lots of things that need to be seen to. Her body has been through worse trauma than some people see in war. She needs to not just be taken for a physical or to have nurses poke and prod. She needs a doctor to do a full external examination of every inch of her body. Most of her wounds will be in places that clothes normally cover.

She will also need a full internal examination. There can be internal bleeding, broken bones, or wounds that still have sharp debris stuck in them. Her word is not the best to take, either. She is used to lying and her pimp has probably told her in the past to not tell doctors about certain maladies.

The abolition movement is always in need of nurses and doctors who are educated about these difficulties and willing to offer their services, sometimes for free. One girl was rescued who had had her braces on for several years too long and was in extreme pain. A local dentist was found who took them off for free.

She will have basic physical needs that must be met: food, water, shelter, clothing. She may be underfed or malnourished. She will have educational needs: schooling, school supplies, tutoring and school help, and the money to provide all of these things. Legal services may be needed if her pimp is being prosecuted and she is called on to testify. (That involves a lot of emotional help too--imagine standing up and witnessing to the terrible things someone did to you. Imagine the shame of facing that room of people and the fear of facing the person who dominated your life. Legal help will require psychological help too.)

And of course, there are the psychological services she needs. She needs counseling. Not perfunctory counseling, either (what counseling is?). As we discussed last time, she is suffering from a range of PTSD, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, phobias, anger issues, and so much more. She needs help to learn how to handle her fears, how to learn to trust people, how to live a normal life. These are things that take a long time to heal from.

On top of that, there is the neurological damage that is caused by the constant trauma of daily sexual abuse. It takes careful help to get her brain to re-balance itself and get its chemistry to be what it should be. And not just careful attention but long-term careful attention. She may need help for years. That's okay. It's normal. She's been through so much and there is a lot to work through, and the issues are always changing. One minute she's angry and strong and violent and the next she's sad and small and helpless. One minute she starts to open up and be vulnerable and the next, some new pain has erupted and she shuts up her heart again with a resounding clang.

I love the way the organization I worked with (Courage Worldwide) handles counseling at their Courage Homes: they have individual counseling, group therapy, music therapy, and equine therapy. Quite the gamut of therapeutic outputs, but let me tell you, it is just what the girls need. Even the activities they encourage, like cooking and painting and running, have really helped the girls get a sense of themselves and find their purpose and passions - and freedom to be who they want to be. There is no one-stop option for how to find healing; she needs to be surrounded with love and help in many different forms.

If I had to put a finger on her number one need, I think I would put it on this: her relational need. I say this because it's a common thread through all of the other things that are involved in the term 'comprehensive' services: medical, legal, physical, psychological, educational... Through all of that, she needs a community, a home. She needs a family of people who are willing to stand by her even when she mistrusts them and screams at them and leaves them and hurts them. She needs people who will listen even when she won't talk. She needs people who will forgive her and keep loving her. No Matter What.

It's what she's never had before. She's never had people who will stand beside her through thick and thin. There was always a catch, always an angle. People wanted her for what they could get out of her. To reverse her thinking and help her heart to truly flourish, she needs people who want her for who she is. She needs people who love her for no reason at all. People who don't need or want anything from her. People who could care less whether she's beautiful or not or what she can and can't do, but who love her for what she is, even her mess.

She won't trust you at first. It will be a long time before you see any headway, any pay-off for your self-sacrificing love. You may never see it. She is going to suck you dry and she may never, ever have anything to give back to you. But the point is that we aren't loving her in the hopes that one day she'll love us back. You can't go into this with the gratifying thought that one day she'll be your best friend or the daughter you never had, because she may never have it in her to love you back the way you would like. She may never open her heart completely to you, no matter what you have done for her. You have to be okay with that before you start. She needs you, not the other way around.

However, know this: your "relational services" of loving her unconditionally are exactly what she needs for her healing process to work. I love it when an organization requires a long-term commitment from those who will be working directly with survivors. You can't come into their lives, help a little, and then leave. You become just like all the johns who came and left in a never-ending line. She needs people who won't leave her for anything. People who will love her even when she is unlovable.

This is what makes the unbelievable believable. Love couldn't be real. It didn't exist. But now someone actually loves her: not for what she does or what she looks like but for who she is, without expecting return, and with a willingness to stay by her side long-term even when she is wading through the midst of her pain and anger and fear. Your love proves that love is real, that love is attainable, and that love is something she can have for herself.

"Relational care" also includes someone who is there 24-7 to keep an eye on her when she goes through the really really bad bouts. She needs someone who can keep her from harming herself, cutting herself, or killing herself. She also needs someone walking and talking nearby as a constant reminder that the people who are helping her are indeed real, not imagined, and that they really are here to help and not here to use her. She will have psychological and medical needs that will pop up without a moment's notice, and someone needs to be there to deal with them and get her the help she needs.

I know one of these people who stays with girls and watches over them. She may not be a counselor or a lawyer or a police officer, but she is doing a great work in helping the girls she is with just by being present with them in their need.

And last of all, there is spiritual care. All the organizations I know of respect the religious choices of their girls, from atheist to Muslim to Christian and back again--regardless of whether the organization has a religious affiliation. But we have to recognize that there are always spiritual questions that arise in life, and the trauma she's been through will bring a lot of them to the surface. If there's a God, why would he let this happen? Do I have to do something to make God like me? Does this kind of evil disprove God's existence?

We would be remiss to not offer spiritual help, not that we know the answers to these questions at all! But what we can offer are doors and avenues for the girls to explore on their own. We can mourn and walk with them on their journey. The soul and heart have been crushed. We must revitalize them however we can, and being open to these hard questions and sharing our own spiritual journey is a step to helping her find her own belief.

That is comprehensive care. After years and years of it, she is - she will always be - a survivor. The day she is rescued, she is a survivor, and ten years later she is a survivor. She can have a "normal life": go to school, get a degree, find a job, get married to someone who really loves her, have kids. But she will not have a normal past. Here's the thing: she isn't less of a human, less worthy, or less beautiful for what she's been through. But she also won't necessarily turn out the way you want her in the amount of time you might like. She's a human being and, like all of us, prone to a messy, chaotic life. But with help, it can be a normal, everyday mess, not the abyss of sexual abuse.

Rejoice in the baby steps. Because they truly are enormous leaps of faith.


There is evil in the world. We cannot shut it out. There are people who want to have sex with children. There are people who see coerced sex--rape--as attractive and exciting; it makes them feel powerful and good about themselves, and they want it. They are willing to pay for it.

Thousands of people, men and women, go online every day to look at pornographic images of women and children who had no choice in that picture or video being taken. There are people who rape children, film it, and put it online--and there are a thousand more people who pay to watch it. These are evils that are real. Closing our eyes won't make them go away.

I know you wish there were one big solution. I do too. Every day, the first thing I pray is that this would end, TODAY, and be done away with forever. I know it hurts almost too much to bear.

I know there are a lot of stories you may have heard and even want to believe. I've heard a lot of the common ones: that the girls want this. That they make thousands of dollars off of this. That they sought this life out. That they enjoy lots of sexual pleasure and love from the men they service.

These are all myths. I could go into details, but quite simply, rape does not bring any sexual pleasure, satisfaction, or orgasm to the victim. Many of these girls are so scarred and physically broken that sexual pleasure is impossible without a significant amount of physical healing first.

They do not seek out this life wanting to be exploited; most are trapped into it without knowing what they're getting into, and those who do choose it because they think this will earn them lots of money and be a glamorous job soon find that this is rape, not love-making, that there are ropes to tie you down if you try to get out of a job, and that "daddy" keeps all the money. Pimps make thousands of dollars per year per girl, but the girls make nothing. Their pimp provides the clothes on their back and the unhealthy food they eat; that's all the girls get. That information is out of the mouths of the pimps themselves.

And no, john, she does not want you. Your fantasy of your desirability to her is just that: your self-made mirage.

These girls did not bring this upon themselves. She doesn't want this life. Being raped multiple times a night is not what any girl wants. No woman wants that. No boy wants that. It's not a life that anyone should have, let alone deserves. ALL people have the RIGHT to be free from sexual exploitation.

But for them to be free, someone has to set them free. She doesn't have the money to escape her life. She doesn't have the knowledge. She doesn't know who to go to. She can't just go out and get another job: she's lived in a different culture and doesn't know how to act or talk. Her brain's reaction to trauma has kept her from keeping up with her education even if she was still going to school while being trafficked, so she can't just jump back into school. Her trust issues keep her from suddenly becoming part of a family or making friends easily. She can't escape to somewhere else: she needs someone else to bridge the gap her trauma has put between her and a true, safe life. She can't do that alone.

She needs us. She needs you. It is a fact that fewer children would be raped and fewer people sold for money if we stopped always saying, "It's not my business." It is your business, your prerogative as a human being to look out for the rights of those who have no voice and to protect those who can't help themselves. And they're not going to come to you. One out of a hundred trafficking victims actually seeks out someone who can help them. No, you're going to have to go find them. You're going to open your eyes to what's going on out there and start caring. Your heart will break, and you're going to have to let it.

"You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know."~William Wilberforce

(True to my promise, a post with resources and references will come out in five minutes. I didn't want to make a long post longer by pasting it all here.)