I believe that the majority of the young women that we come in contact with are there against their will or were at one point. Maybe after months or years of being raped and beaten into submission they have come to believe that their exploiters love them. They begin to believe that he is all they have; the only person who truly cares about them. Otherwise, why wouldn't someone have come looking for them? After all, I too wondered why my mother hadn't been looking for me. I wondered why my face was not plastered all over billboards and milk cartons for all to see. Was it because she didn't care that I was missing? Did she even know that I was missing? Or was it because she was unable to navigate the politics required to make that happen? For me, my heart said it was because I wasn't loved and was no longer worth the effort.
Put yourself in her shoes for just a moment. She has been raised by a single mother who has always struggled to make ends meet and therefore is rarely home to monitor the comings and goings of her daughter. She has the freedom to be out all hours of the night in any part of the town she chooses. Then one day she meets a man. He is probably good looking, well dressed, and incredibly attentive. He begins to describe a life that she has always longed for. He describes a life of fast money and the promise of love. After all, love is something that we all want. Matter of fact, it is a basic need. So she buys into the dream. She leaves town with this man and they travel across the country to a place where no one would ever recognize her and surely no one would come looking for her. Why then wouldn't she believe that he is all that she has? She begins to believe that he is the only means to her survival. The bond begins to form and is not easily broken.
I cherish the nights that Love Never Fails has street outreach. I get the opportunity to speak life into these young women. I get the opportunity to make their acquaintance and to inform them that someone in fact does care. I get to let them know that they are not alone as they have been taught to believe. That I too, was once a victim of love lost and began to believe that I was worth nothing more. That it is possible to not only recover from the damage that has been done, not only survive but to thrive. It is possible to be so much more than you could ever imagine for yourself. There is a glorious feeling that washes over me when I see their eyes light up with hope and appreciation. It is what drives me to continue to leave the comforts of my home and my family to journey out into cold, rain and danger. If I can encourage just one, even one, then I have achieved a small victory. And with a lot of faith and a little persistence we can continue to string those "small victories" together until we begin to have a huge impact on the well-being of our young people.
Of course, we all know that we must also focus on those that have not yet been recruited. That is where our education program, "Love Don't Hurt," comes in. It teaches our middle school children about what abuse looks like and what it looks like for a trafficker to begin to groom an individual. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for our youth to be educated. If someone had told me early on what it may look like when you are being recruited, I may not have fell victim. And I know for a fact that if someone had approached me late one night while I was out in the freezing cold, waiting to be bought by a purchaser, and offered me a way out, I most definitely would have accepted the help.
It has been said many times lately that our efforts to combat sex trafficking are pointless. That no matter how many times we hit the streets and build relationships with these young women, nothing is going to change. They say that since prostitution is the oldest profession, it will never end. They say there is nothing that we can do about it. I believe that what we are doing can and will make a difference. I was sold at 14 years old but through the work I have done to begin the healing process I am a survivor! I am a conqueror! I am a loving, doting mother of three. I am a strong, independent, intelligent woman with a bright future. Challenge accepted!