About a year ago I spent a day learning strategies to combat human trafficking from a guy named Brad Dennis. Brad works with the Klaas Kids, the search and rescue arm of the Polly Klaas Foundation. It was one of those days I can’t forget.
Brad told story after story of information he had gained form talking to pimps, girls in the trafficking industry, or grieving families hoping against hope to find their daughter or son alive. Some of what he shared was just what we expected: brothels hiding in neighborhoods, psychological abuse, a few cases of restored lives, the shining beacon that drives all of us on.
I remember one particular thread of discussion, centering on girls who should know better landing in the middle of trafficking. How, we wondered, did these girls voluntarily end up working for these pimps? Brad’s answer was disheartening. A pimp he knew boasted he could go to a mall and within a week have a girl working for him. He’d watch for that one girl…the one whose friends subtly excluded her, walked ahead of her. She was the one who never heard anyone laugh at her jokes. The pimp would befriend her, acting the part of one of any number of quirky characters at the mall. Within a few days, this girl would completely trust him. He was just that nice guy at the mall, a kind of Paul Blart from Mall Cop, the movie. Then the pimp would escalate their contact, offering rides here or there, buying a dinner, eventually pretending to date the girl. It was predictable after that. And all during this time, the underage girl never thought it strange that a man in his mid-thirties would want to date her. She was just thrilled to have the attention, the gifts, the food, the man.
Sounds like a movie. But it was real life, and the plot line didn’t usually resolve well.
And yet, as I listened to Brad, it was still “over there.” Removed.
It’s eerily familiar. An older man, living in Jupiter in a quiet suburban house like yours or mine, whose only defining characteristic in the neighborhood seemed to be a string of girlfriends that got younger and younger. True, one neighbor was creeped out by the way he approached her 13 year old daughter, but they were told just to stay away.
Wise advice, as it turns out. Read this:
The girl told a detective that her friend, identified as T.H., moved in with her family in August 2011. The girl said T.H. told her she worked for an escort service. T.H., about 15 at the time, introduced the girl to Smith, who was one of T.H.’s customers.
B.H. described the man to authorities as having a “big nose” and “slicked back hair” and positively identified him out of a lineup, according to the federal complaint. She also identified the Misty Lake Drive home as the home where the sex acts happened.
B.H. then told detectives that Smith would pick her and T.H. up in his white four-door Mercedes and drive them from their West Palm Beach home to his Jupiter home. He’d take them to the beach, out to dinner and on vacations to Daytona Beach. He’d let them get drunk on alcohol and high on pot and Xanax. He’d pay them between $100 and $200 to have sex with him, the complaint stated.
For about seven months, the girls answered to his demands and would do what he said while he taped it in exchange for cash
Right here. And the method was shockingly similar to Brad’s pimp story.
I don’t know what to tell you about this story. There’s no lovely red bow to tie it up with. This man was able to befriend young women (more than these two, according to the story) and use them. It hurts. It should hurt. Like God, we should be weeping when we think of B.H. and T.H.
A few years ago I had my “defining moment” when it comes to this issue. Sitting outside of our local PF Chang’s I heard two young girls being prepped by their “handler” to begin hooking down in City Place. I heard this adult woman tell the girls what to do if policemen approached them, where to park, where to return at the end of the night, what to do with their cash. I saw two girls dressed as if they were gong on dates — kind of trashy, not so upscale dates — smiling and giggling. “I’m so nervous, but I can’t wait,” said one.
I didn’t know what to do. I prayed. And hurt.
In every fiction novel and movie plot there is what is called the “inciting incident.” It’s the event that catapults the rest of the novel into action. Without an inciting incident the book is never published and the movie is incredibly boring.
What will your inciting incident be when it comes to trafficking? All of us can do something. Together we can change things. Watch this video made by my sixteen year old friend Alexx Duvall. It was her response to seeing life through God’s eyes for “just one second.” Then stop to think about what it is you can do. Even if all you ever do is write a check to an anti-trafficking minstry (Hope for Freedom is a great one!), you can do something. Alexx did.
I’ve been drifting at the edges of the human trafficking issue for a year or two now, joining my church in the Hope for Freedom cause, reading, talking, networking. I have sat with prostitutes who were trafficked into the trade by relatives and “safe” friends. I’ve heard their stories and seen their redemption. I’ve seen homes for restoring the souls of young girls. And I’ve read. I’ve read news reports of raids, successful and not. I’ve read books that were released, both secular and Christian. I’ve done what I could, within the confines of my suburban life, to engage in the fight for those with no voice, no justice.
Somehow, however, that deepest well of emotion that lives inside me has not been tapped. Maybe it’s the words we use: human trafficking, modern day abolitionist, modern day slavery. They are cold, distanced. Maybe it’s the size of the numbers: 27 million in slavery. It’s too big a number, and it seems unreal. Maybe it’s just my own selfishness and blindness, living in my insulated life. I have cared about the issue. I have worked for it. I have prayed over it. But I haven’t really lived it.
I just finished reading God in a Brothel, An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue by Daniel Walker. Somehow this book has hit me harder than any of the others I’ve read. For one thing, the book is written in the first person. There are few dry statistics here: most of the book is first hand experience. Walker infiltrated the kinds of places we’ve only seen in movies, the dark and dangerous corners of the world. He put himself on the line to covertly photograph and record financial transactions. He looked into the eyes of the six year old girl offered to him for his own pleasure, and he lived with the grief when he couldn’t find her again to rescue her.
Somehow, I felt it. I felt it in the pit of my stomach.
This is a dangerous book. It will wreck you on many levels. And I need to warn you, it is not a pretty book. Walker doesn’t spare us. He shows us how the go-go bars in South East Asia operate. He lets us feel the fear of girls who refuse to talk about their captors. Perhaps most gut wrenching, he talks about the temptations for him, bombarded on every side by the moral perversion of the sex industry.
And oh yes, just about the time my American soul feels self-righteous about the standard of our country, Walker takes us to Las Vegas and Atlanta. Ouch. Worse, he tells us why investigations in those cities will never go anywhere.
It’s a complicated world we live in. Some of these girls are in their industry by choice, and so do not fall under the umbrella of trafficking. Some of them were deceived by friends, or kidnapped by strangers. Saving them isn’t always easy, and the right answers aren’t always the obvious ones. But the cause of justice — the cause God gave to all of us — demands that we try.
Walker actually went and did something about it.
Read this book, if you dare.
I end with a card given to Walker following the rescue of 13 year old Melissa — a girl who now wants to be a lawyer to help fight the injustice of trafficking.
I wish that you will never be tired of helping such many children like me. I’m so lucky for the opportunity that you gave. Thank you for all the help and support that you have given and showed me. I promise I will try my best to achieve all my goals in life. I’ll reach for them, I’ll try my best to succeed. I will never forget you, never.
I heard a great story on Fox News yesterday morning while I was getting ready for my day. Since the story involved human trafficking, an issue that I care about deeply, I stopped what I was doing and watched.
I loved what I saw!
It seems that a group of nuns in Indiana is (rightly) concerned about the increased potential and reality of trafficking surrounding the Superbowl tomorrow. But these nuns didn’t hold a prayer meeting or a candlelight vigil. Ok, they might have, but that wasn’t the point of the story. The point was that they chose to get smart and creative in fighting evil. They used their investment funds (who knew?) to buy stock in the major hotel chains, and then used their leverage as investors to get the hotels to train their staff in spotting, repairing and stopping trafficking incidents this week.
Is it possible we are too busy praying about the issues…and perhaps we need to get a little smarter?
I’m not saying don’t pray!!! In fact, I’d suspect thats where the nuns got their innovative idea in the first place. Watch the report below if you want. And kudos to the nuns who are savvy enough — and gutsy enough — to leverage their investments into an eternal investment. Well done!
What an amazing weekend!
Some of the details will have to wait for another post, but I was so privileged to go and tour a completed and running safe house for girls rescued from trafficking. It is the only Christian safe house in the state of Florida. And while I was humbled at the dedication it takes to run the house, I was also overwhelmed by its simplicity.
You see, this wasn’t a huge home. It was pretty average. And they didn’t have ten and twenty girls. They had two, with room for five. And these two houseparents were not specialists trained for trafficking. They were parents who answered the call to love on two girls in a radical, unconditional way. The overwhelming part was this: it was all so doable.
And yet there is only one Christian safe house in the state of Florida.
This has got to change, and you and I are the ones who have to change it.
Later in the weekend David and I were at a weekend retreat sponsored by the Luis Palau Association. If you don’t know who Luis Palau is, click this link or google his name. We heard so much over the course of the weekend that confirmed what God was saying. This is our job to do, and so we need to prepare.
Luis was speaking on Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his son. True worship, he said, involves sacrifice. We are called into the world to tell others that Jesus loves them more than they could imagine, more than they’ve been told. He loves them so much, that nothing they have done could keep him from heaping even more love on top of them. He loves.
But for someone to hear that message, others must sacrifice. As Luis said, “Someone must pay the price. Someone must sacrifice to do the work.”
My mind flashed to the safe house.
I don’t know what it is going to look like yet, but that someone is me. That someone is you. These girls need a place to heal and be restored.
This is our sacrifice.
Sometimes it all seems too good to be true. God takes all the crap, all the smuttiness and grittiness of life and hits the delete button for us. Wow. Stop and think about that for a moment: He turns to a fresh notebook page, writes our name across the top, and starts to fill a blank page with mercy, grace, beauty, trust.
I found myself reading in Hebrews today. It was the next thing to read, but I wasn’t excited about it to tell you the truth. Let’s face it, Hebrews can be a tough read once in awhile. But today God did that divine weaving trick of his, pulling together a recent experience, my emotional state, and one of the stops on our trip to Israel. With scripture (active and living).
I will be merciful when they fail, and I will erase their sins and wicked acts out of my memory, as though they had never existed.”
So, my friends, Jesus by his blood gives us courage to enter the most holy of holy places. He has created for us a new and living way through the curtain, that is, through His flesh. Since we have a great High Priest who presides over the house of God, let us draw near with true hearts full of faith, with hearts rinsed clean of any evil conscience, and with bodies cleansed with pure water. Let us hold strong to the confession o f our hope, never wavering, since the One who promised it to us is faithful.
I was standing as close as possible to the holy of holies while in Jerusalem last month. With all the other worshippers, I put my prayer request on a slip of paper and crammed it into the rock of the Western Wall. I put my hands on the wall and prayed. Later, walking under the tunnels that surround the base of the Temple Mount, we saw the stones that are the foundation of where the holy of holies would have been. It was awe inspiring, and it stilled my heart. Even more so when I realized that through Jesus, we don’t need to cram pieces of paper on a rock: we have direct access to the Holy of Holies. If that doesn’t knock you off your feet, I don’t know what does.
Yesterday I had the chance to see what happens when the notebook page changes and the slate is wiped clean as we crawl to the feet of Jesus in the Holy of Holies. Yesterday I sat with three amazing women of God. I listened to their hearts pour out as they talked about their children, their pasts, the fresh notebook page that God’s given to them. All three of them had been drug addicts — in one case it only took three days to get so addicted to crystal meth that this woman was willing to throw her entire life away. All three have been clean and sober for years now. I looked into the eyes of these women as they described blackness and evil, situations they had been in for years. And what I saw was purity of heart, singleness of purpose and an overwhelming thankfulness that the Holy of Holies is a place where sins are forgotten, pasts are in the past. You see, each of these women also spent horrible portions of their lives being abused and later prostituting themselves for the drugs and the money.
But that was not who they are.
In Christ, they are free, pure, fellow travelers in the journey through the kingdom. These women offered their stories to me as a precious, precious gift. It is a way of redeeming the years “the locusts had eaten.” In other words, God demonstrated his ability to love extravagantly through them.
I’m so humbled by the faith of the three women I met yesterday, my sisters in Christ. I’d pray for the grace to walk as well as they have. I’d fight anyone who tried to hurt these white-robed ones. And I’m inspired to remember that God’s done the same for me. He’s turned that notebook page…why can’t I remember that?
They are restored.
I am restored.
The Holy of Holies…
This past weekend Christ Fellowship hosted over 400 garage sales all over the county. We did it to raise funds and awareness for the issue of human trafficking. So in our own yards, in our own neighborhoods we all did what we could. In the end we have raised thousands and thousands of dollars that are going directly to help free people kept in slavery all over the country and the world. That’s pretty amazing!
What amazed me more, is that apparently that’s not a big deal.
We couldn’t get any local news organization even interested in the fact that the Freedom yard sales were going on at all. In fact, trafficking in general is apparently not a very popular topic. It’s time to change that.
Today, in fact, was “Freedom Sunday” all over the country. Churches were preaching freedom for the captive, hope for the hopeless. I love that. David and I were worshipping at Ascent City Place this morning. I don’t know if it was the temperature (warmer than usual in the venue) or the crowd (more people crowded in than normal), but in the midst of worship I had a huge claustrophobia attack. If you’ve ever had an attack, then you know what it feels like to be stuck in a place (front row!) when your heart is pounding and the sweat starts pouring. I’ve dealt with these every so often, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve. None of them worked. I kept praying that I would be able to quell the rising panic and return to worship. I needed to worship. I needed to worship even in the middle of the panic.
I made it. In a few moments the attack faded, and I was able to go back to singing and standing next to David as usual. It’s been quite awhile since that happened to me, so I was surprised. And more surprised moments later, when God used it for an object lesson. You see, we began talking about the 27 million people in slavery today. People in bondage. People who feel, as I just had, utterly trapped and unable to breathe. With my heart-rate barely back to normal, I suddenly had more empathy for girls stuck in crowded brothels, never seeing daylight.
My attack passed, but theirs will only pass when we do something about it.
A scene from our garage sale on Saturday keeps running across my mind. In South Florida, you see, it is common to find Haitian women at garage sales, buying large amounts of clothing to send back home. This situation is even more pronounced now, in the aftermath of the hurricane. So often, we’ll drastically cut the prices of the clothing to help these women help their own families. But this sale was different: it was a charity sale. Knowing that the day was early and we didn’t want to cut prices too steeply, we were busy negotiating with the women. Sometimes these negotiations got firm, and lasted awhile.
One of these women drove a hard bargain. She wasn’t our toughest customer of the day, but she was close! She needed help hauling her treasure to her car, and we gladly jumped in. Half way down a long driveway she stopped and began hunting in her purse, her pockets, her back pockets. We assumed she was hunting for her keys, and began looking about for the set of keys. She kept digging. Eventually, this woman pulled out a folded up bill from some deep pants pocket, turned back and put it in the donations for “Hope for Freedom.”
I realized two things: she had negotiated down to nearly her last dollar, and then she had turned around and donated that last dollar to do what she could.
The news may not have thought that the Freedom garage sales were a big deal, but I did. I can hardly wait to see what’s next.
We are busy collecting all our old stuff around the house for our yard sale on Saturday. This is why.
If you don’t have time to watch the video above, or if you don’t think trafficking happens here in the United States, please, please take the time to watch this short piece.
Research the issue and take the time to donate whatever you can: time, money, awareness.