End Slavery TN - Survivor Stories*
My mother will never receive an award for her parenting. I was always a commodity to her. Something to sell for drugs and booze as a six year old. Another hand to help her make crack in the kitchen. I have never been her child, her pride and joy. She never held me in her arms and whispered her love in my ear.
I was just Adela. The commodity. The nothing.
For awhile it felt like a blessing that she kicked me out of our apartment at sixteen. I went to live with some girlfriends and thought I’d be living the high life in the big city. Boy was I wrong about that! When the girls told me I had to earn my keep, they introduced me to a pimp. First time I saw him I thought he was fly. A real smooth talker. I felt flattered by his sexy talk and his coy smiles. But now I know, that was all just to butter me up. Get me to be his whore who’d turn tricks down at the track. Those flirty words were quickly replaced with hostile threats. If I didn’t make a thousand bucks a day, he would beat me. Or worse. One of them even cut up my face with a potato peeler just to mark me as his. It was still nothing compared to my best girl. She was killed in cold blood by her pimp, just as an example to the rest of us. "Stay in line and shut up" is what her body said.
I got sold so many times from pervert to pervert and pimp to pimp, I could hardly keep up with whose I was anymore. I was a dollar bill, folded up and passed from pocket to pocket.
I’m still not sure what snapped in me. Maybe it was having to ID my one friend down at the morgue. Maybe it was just that I was tired of being everybody’s nobody. Mostly, I think, it was that I got pregnant and I didn’t want my baby to grow up in the world I was living in. Whatever it was, I got out. I fled.
And when I was safe, I wanted to bring down every last one of them. So I talked to the feds, and I testified in court. They said I had been caught up in a major trafficking ring and that I’d still be in danger even though we got a bunch of them locked up. I didn’t care. I wanted to talk. Talk to anyone who would listen. Raise awareness about how trafficking isn’t just some foreign problem. It’s happening right under everyone’s noses in Good Ole America. This one nation under God with liberty and justice for all. Well, now that I got my liberty, I’m fighting for all those little girls like me that others can’t even see.
When I first got in contact with End Slavery Tennessee, I was a real mess. A hard life led to some real hard living for awhile. But advocacy groups like ESTN stuck with me through thick and thin. And now I’m about to graduate from college. College! Who could’ve dreamed such a thing just a few years ago?!
I was a sex slave in a slum city, but now I’m a blessed warrior with a golden ticket.
It’s like that verse in Genesis says – what they did to harm me, God used to bless me, so that many would be saved. I’m living proof that God uses the most unlikely of people to bring His own liberty and justice to those who need His deliverance
*These stories are written in the first person, even though they are not written by the survivors themselves. However, apart from the omission of names and identifying information, all aspects of the stories have really happened, right here in Tennessee.
by Shelbe Gibson (originally posted January 13, 2013 at TreveccaLive.com) This semester I am interning at End Slavery TN which is a non-profit organization that actually has an office right here on campus. End Slavery TN has a mission that I believe in very deeply. They work to provide victims and their advocates a single point of contact to services and service providers that can restore victims to wholeness in all aspects—spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc. So, End Slavery really is attacking the issue from all angles; working with the survivors, but also striving to make much needed policy changes, as they continue bringing awareness of this issue to local communities.
I feel the need to fight for justice for these young girls because I don’t think that most people even understand what the issue is. How can it be solved if the average person has the wrong idea of what human trafficking looks like? We have all heard about human trafficking from an international standpoint. We know about the impoverished foreign girls who are kidnapped and sold into sex slavery, and a good chunk of us have seen the movie Taken. But, human trafficking in America is very different from those pictures. And, unfortunately, escape and healing isn't as simple as it is in the movies—if only Liam Neeson was every girl’s father. In America, the words human trafficking are too often swapped with prostitution. It’s easy to have compassion towards a helpless foreign girl lost in America, but I have seen how quickly attitudes switch from compassion to almost disgust when a girl is seen as a prostitute. Prostitutes are there by choice, right? Wrong.
The truth is that a majority of prostitutes are NOT being paid for sex by their own personal choice—actually; they aren't being paid at all. The girls, who are many times under 18, are forced to hand over all of their earnings to their pimps. The pimps, aka traffickers, control every aspect of these young girls’ lives. With the average prostitute starting between the ages of 12 and 14, it’s super easy for the older men to manipulate and brainwash these innocent children. They are beaten, starved, humiliated and sold over and over. Eighty percent of child runaways will be exploited by a pimp, and this usually occurs within the first 48 hours after they leave home. Without exposing these ugly truths of the $32 billion a year sex industry in the US, how will we ever stop them? It’s time to stop glamorizing words like “pimps and pimping,” and it’s never okay to call a female a “whore, slut, or any other derogatory term.” Those are simple things we can and should do to alter this culture of wrongful sex.
It’s so important to care and love the victims of sex trafficking around the world, but it’s an injustice to ignore the ones living in our own backyards. The justice system in America cannot treat these sexually exploited children FORCED into prostitution as criminals as it often does. They are victims (more like survivors!!), and should be treated as such. These innocent babies are often times not even old enough to legally consent to sex, but can be thrown in jail for being paid for it. These contradictory laws need to be seen as such and then changed. Girls are not for sale. They deserve services, not sentences. John 3:18 says “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
End Slavery TN is a beautiful light in the dark world of human trafficking. They can only function with volunteer help, though! I encourage anyone who feels called to get involved without any delay. The organization can definitely utilize your goals and passions to fit into ESTN. Executive Director Derri Smith was so welcoming and great to me—intertwining my interests and talents into an awesome way to serve these wonderful ladies! To get on board with ESTN, visitwww.endslaverytn.org, “like” the Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, or feel free to contact me with anything at all!
For a more up close and personal look into today’s sex industry & the trafficking that takes place, I highly recommend Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us.
The Lord prompted me to begin blogging about my experiences as a human trafficking victim, and Derri graciously gave me an opportunity through End Slavery Tennessee. So grateful for this opportunity to help people understand what it's like during the holidays for people going through the horrors of sex slavery or in the healing process. I pray that my words will educate and bring compassion to the hearts of readers so that you will reach out to those who have been through what I have been through. It was through love that I was set free, and I believe that love is the number one ingredient in setting people free.
Holidays, especially Christmas, remind me of the children I had, that THEY aborted. I, and most trafficking victims, are not given a choice to keep the babies; as soon as they find out you’re pregnant they abort the baby quickly. My exploiters made me hold the babies, barely formed, and said to me, " if you weren't a whore , this wouldn’t have happened." This was another of many tactics to keep me thinking everything was my fault, and that I was the bad person, not them. I wonder what it would be like to hold my babies in my arms now and to tell them that I love them. I have so much love to give. But there will be a day, the Lord told me, when I will hold my babies in my arms! What a beautiful day that will be!
I was kept in the dog house most of the time when I wasn't being sold. My abusers named me the dog Lady, and they called me the Tramp. They made me watch from the sliding glass door, as they would eat and party during Christmas. I was too "naughty" to get food or presents, they said. If they gave me anything at all, I would have to perform sexually to get it.
Watching all of the families, and individuals celebrating Christmas and the holidays together was extremely difficult. My traffickers said that they sold me because I was such a whore and evil. This brought a sense of hopelessness, and dread too. There was always something to be afraid of; no security or place to rest. The people who tortured me were around more when there were holidays, because they weren't working, so every second was spent dreading what they were going to do to me next.
That was my Christmas and holiday time then; now my holidays are filled with love and freedom! I still get sad, and I get lonely, but I'm free!
One of the best things you can do for someone who has been in slavery is to give them freedom to be themselves... To be angry if they are angry, to be sad if they are sad, to be happy if they are happy... because in their past, there was never a time when they could just "be." And that is a priceless gift! Also, ask the Lord to help them see who they really are in Him, and speak encouragement over them! Believe me, that does more than you can ever imagine.
Some of the most difficult times for me to deal with, when I was healing, was when people would judge me. Normally, this was from well-meaning Christian people. There is no way you will be able to have all of the answers, or fix things, but you can love, listen, and accept! We survivors feel like little children in a great big world with no idea what to do, so be patient, like you would with a toddler. The Lord gave me a picture of myself when I was healing—I was a toddler, and I kept falling down OVER and OVER! The Lord didn't get upset with me, with every single step He rejoiced! He helped me back up, again and again! And He kept celebrating my little steps!"
Join me in giving thanks this Christmas that God’s Son came to break the yoke of slavery.