Karen: Most people who are involved with the abolition of human trafficking and slavery know the horrors of this crime from books, movies, videos, on-line accounts, etc. However, on one night in January, some of the volunteers with End Slavery TN met these atrocities face to face. We were invited to spend a few hours with a victim of human trafficking. We sat mesmerized for two hours listening to a beautiful, courageous young woman, whom I shall call “Carrie” and what have been the horrors of her life. She talked about her drug addicted mother and alcoholic father, and how at the early age of six, her mother told her to go into a bedroom with drug suppliers and “play doctor” with them. “Carrie” had never been taught the values that most of us are brought up with, the value of one’s body and soul. She was a very bright, pretty girl and by the time she was twelve or thirteen, after having lived with other relatives in various places, been raped by her older brother, and abused by others, she became involved with a pimp and a life of prostitution. Over the next five-six years she was forced to have sex with “more men than she could hope to remember.” She was moved from city to city, was branded on her body and face, had both feet broken when thrown out of a moving car, had her teeth broken, and was beaten repeatedly for “not making her quota” or disobeying her pimp! From the time she was sixteen, she tried to break away from this destructive life. After being arrested and treated like a criminal, however, she would call her pimp to bail her out. After all, who else would help her? Until one day, she encountered a woman from law enforcement who offered to help her escape. In an agreement for testifying against several pimps, she was placed several times in foster homes or half-way houses where she was mistreated, eventually retreating to her pimp, because “at least he would feed her.” “Carrie” has, in her early twenties, finally escaped, but at a cost. She has been placed here in TN where she knew no one, can never go back home, can never contact her family, and fears that she will be found and killed. She is courageously trying to begin a new life as a college student and working to help other victims. However, it is hard! She feels alienated from most people because of her past, feels she may never have a normal relationship with a man and has difficulty with trust. Despite everything, she is upbeat and hopeful. I personally came away heartbroken for “Carrie” and all the “Carries” of this world. Most of us will never know the realities of trafficking, can never fully understand the dynamics that land victims in this path, or fully comprehend the consequences. We can, however, learn from these victims, share their stories, come to their assistance, continue to educate others, and do everything in our power to end human trafficking. There are laws in place against this crime. WE have to work to ensure these laws are enforced! Thank you “Carrie” for sharing your story and for your courage to escape and help prosecute these criminals!
April: At the special meeting in January of 2010, many abolitionists with End Slavery TN gathered to hear a devastating recounting of a sex trafficking victim’s testimony. Her story emphasized a common trafficking scenario that occurs here in the United States: young girls that grow up in physically and sexually abusive homes who are forced, coerced, and tricked into prostitution at a very young age (around 13 or 14 years old). In this particular victim’s case, she was told the message very early on in life that no one is trustworthy, especially your family. Introduced to her first sexual encounter at age 6, she continued to be abused by the help of her own mother. At 14, she left home only to experience continual sexual abuse from other members of her family, and finally found herself working the streets of prostitution. She traveled across state borders as she battled between being trafficked and trying to flee. Hoping to seek refuge with her father, she was turned out and sold back into the life she longed to leave. Throughout her time in bondage, she experienced continual sexual and physical abuse from her pimps, including daily rapes and branding on her body. Her story was insightful about the lifestyle victims are forced to have. Many women would live in the same house or apartment, either going out at night to work the streets or waiting for a customer in their home. They suffered daily abuse and threats from their pimp, succumbed to living in fear. They are taken from everything they know and are cut off from society, feeling alone and without hope. This victim was finally able to flee and is doing her part in helping educate people about sex trafficking. It was a special opportunity for the NFSTN staff, one that continues to spur our efforts in the fight against slavery.
To Be Continued...
Members of the Nashville Volunteer group had the rare privilege of hearing, in her own words, the horrific story of a rescued victim of human trafficking, and to be inspired by her courage. Below are the accounts and reactions of a few of those present that day:
At first I was sure there was some mistake.
The young woman I’d just met was a vivacious, energetic college student. She was very much like every other college student I knew, though perhaps even more passionate about life.
Could she really have been held as a slave for all of her teenage years, trafficked across multiple states, her body sold to the highest bidders, night after night?
I had the privilege – and heartbreak - of hearing her story personally, and now I have the responsibility to share her story with the hope of preventing other tragedies like this one…
Angel* had the misfortune of being born to a mom who was a drug addict and a dad who was an alcoholic. She was raped at 13 by a family “friend” and later by her own brother. When she was forced to leave home because she couldn’t pay the rent demanded by her father, she was enslaved by countless pimps, some “meaner” than others. They at least kept her fed and clothed… as long as she followed their every command.
Pimps became her “daddy”… sex a commodity.
She worked the “track” every night (every city has one), not able to rest until she’d earned the minimum required by her master. Then she showered and was raped by her pimp (to make sure she wasn’t hiding any of “his” money). If she didn’t toe the line (in any real or imagined way), she was brutally abused. Among the physical assaults she described were:
- Her face and body were “branded” by one pimp leaving deep scars.
- Her jaw and front teeth were broken from repeated kicking by pointed boots
- She was beaten until she nearly bled to death, miscarrying her baby
- Unspeakable things were done to her with a hairbrush.
And, perhaps saddest of all, some of her girlfriends, trapped in this hell on earth with her, just disappeared without notice, never to be seen or heard from again. Angel knows what happened to them, though she doesn’t want to think about it. But for the grace of God, she too may have ended up in a shallow grave.
Now in her early twenties, Angel has a passion to help others. She’s in college, majoring in social work. And she’s pursuing speaking opportunities, as painful as it is to relive her past. In addition to speaking to our Not For Sale community activist group, she’s also spoken to groups of young people, warning them about how easy it is to become trapped in this vicious underground world where one human being “owns” another.
Angel is out to save other girls from the nightmare she’s endured.
* Angel is not her real name.
...To Be Continued
End Slavery TN abolitionists recently completed participation in a project that epitomizes the grassroots nature of our work. The fruition can be found in the song “Stolen” and accompanying music video: WARNING. POTENTIALLY DISTURBING IMAGES. NOT FOR CHILDREN. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnK5mOgYI4c&feature=player_embedded]
The process, in microcosm, looked like this:
I shared some of my Power Points, information and the story of a local victim with a local pastor.
The pastor, Michael Reddish, talked to his congregation about Human Trafficking, and told the survivor’s story.
A musician in the audience, Brian Terry, heard the story, talked to me afterward, and bought the book “Not For Sale.”
The story inspired Brian to write the song “Stolen.” Reading the book burned the issue into his heart, inspiring determination to do whatever he could to cripple slavery.
3 Minutes to Live band members joined Brian, who is their lead singer, in performing and recording the song. Some who heard “Stolen” encouraged the group to create an accompanying music video.
I sent word out to our network of area abolitionists and:
- An apartment manager, Diana English, arranged for us to use one of her show apartments as a location.
- Bill Harding, a student and colleague working with Stop Child Trafficking Now, took on the role of videographer and was able to use his school’s equipment because he made this his class project.
- Marla Shelton, who works in the Service Learning Dept. at Volunteer State Community College, got the word out to students about volunteer needs. (Marla, and many of the students involved also heard me speak to their classes about Human Trafficking and were informed and eager for a chance to engage. )
- These students, along with Marla and other area activists and some of Brian’s friends and family, and the band members of 3 Minutes to Live, played the parts of victims and traffickers, made signs, took out trash, created bruises and black eyes from make-up , took down and set up furniture and props and did everything else needed for this work-intensive weekend. Other team members included: Kate Harris, Jamie Burton, Tina Newman, Amber Terry, Adam Wolfe, Brittany Bertolli, Isaiah White, Jerry Martinez, Megan Mitchell, Kiersten Joyce Butler, Leslie Zellaya, Raymond Wolfe, and Samara Williams.
- (I don’t want to brag, but I actually had the most important role as “Official String Cheese Provider” for the cast and crew. I did make people string their own cheese. Can't do everything.)
So now we have a powerful tool for raising awareness of this heinous crime and raising funds for anti-slavery work.
But the grassroots effort is not done. Now it is YOUR turn. You determine the effectiveness of all the work done thus far. Please send this blog or the link to www.3MTL.com to everyone you know. Or send them to our website where recipients will find the link and ways to become further informed and involved. If you have media connections, send the video to them. Rate it on YouTube to help it get more exposure there. Post it on your social networks.
Don’t wait for “someone” to do “something!” WE are the “someones” who can make ripples—and waves—with far reaching consequences for good. Take 5 minutes to pass this on, and be part of the grassroots movement to end slavery in our lifetime. Thanks, team!
To my non-Christian friends and readers: Not For Sale Campaign is not a Christian organization, but I am a Christian person. Sometimes that will be apparent in my personal ramblings. Like this one.
I've been thinking about my closest relationships. How I love to share day-to-day moments with my dear ones, washing dishes together, sharing meals and conversation and laughing at goofy movies. How wonderful it is to share their moments of triumph and celebration! But what a fair-weather friend I would be if I skipped out when the going got tough. When the tears flow and the hard times come, my relationship deepens with those I love, as I walk through those times too, feeling their pain to the core of my being and shedding my own tears. Relationships require walking through good times and hard times together.
And so, I find, it is with my relationship with God. I love seeing him in the beauty and intricacy of his creation. There is joy in watching the transformation of His people (including my own) , experiencing his daily mercy, being lost in the wonder and worship of who He is. There is, in just being with Him, joy beyond words.
But, as with any relationship, I cannot truly know God without entering into his pain. And what unimaginable pain He bears! Every time a child is held down on a bed and raped, He is there. Every time a woman is beaten into submission, He weeps. He feels the lashes on the back of the labor slave for some imagined infraction of a slave master's will. Wherever cruelty, suffering and injustice are found, God is found. Knowing the rage and heartache I feel when I learn about some of the situations of human trafficking victims, I cannot comprehend the suffering of God as He enters into the vilest situations on earth, every single one of them without rest, 24/7. I cannot fully know God without knowing, at least in part, His anger and pain over weak, vulnerable people exploited, used like commodities and forced to do things against their wills.
I find, as I enter into the horrors of free will bent towards cruelty, greed, selfishness and domination that I am also coming to know and love God more deeply. To appreciate the rightness of His ways designed for our own best interests. To love this omniscient one who agonizes over each injustice to a person lovingly formed by His own hands. As I taste some of his righteous anger at those who would take advantage of the weak and powerless.
And I hear His voice, filled with grief, telling me that He has a plan for justice. That just as traffickers have free will to carry out their cruelties, I have free will to work against them, to bring about God's desires for his creation. That His plan for justice includes ME.
I cannot reverse the tide of evil in the world. I cannot right the injustice that floods the earth. But I can, by God's grace, faithfully carry out my little piece of His plan and share my little bit of His love in action. And, as I do, in the midst of days when I am sometimes emotionally spent and physically drained, I find myself knowing God more intimately than I could in any other way, and that, my friends, is heaven on earth.
As you choose to enter into a world of suffering and are stretched beyond your comfort zone, what are you experiencing?