Who Would We Be If We Were A People Of Grace?

For Red Tent Living this month...

If we agree on one thing, perhaps it is that we’re all human?

Since nothing else approaches unifying these days. Perhaps there is that?

A fearful mama writes a post that goes viral. Protecting 3 small children in Ikea, she fears a stalker and tells her Facebook community she is a target of human trafficking. The machine explodes, one side spreads her sincere warning while the other side blasts her misinformed reactionary response.

Mistakenly, she assumed her community was safe.

The same media blamed for not addressing the issue is now blamed for sensationalizing it, fueling stereotypes, spreading inaccuracies. If we didn’t have thoseshows we wouldn’t have these mamas: hysterical and wrong.

The #Ikeamom is not unlike #alllivesmatter and #weareallimmigrants. Well-meaning folks, learning about injustice, trying to synthesize newfound knowledge with lived-experience. Trying to be compassionate. Trying to engage. Trying to support. Doing what they know to do with the understanding they have.

But the machine is ruthless. And there is no space for wrestling truth, stumbling around justice, and just stepping on toes.

What if we all decided it was okay to step on our toes?

Keep reading over at Red Tent Living.

Exploring Shame and Grace for Men who Buy Sex

I am honored to be a new regular contributor for Red Tent Living, a space for reframing femininity alongside some pretty amazing women. I'll be offering thoughts and perspective on sex trafficking, such as this article. I do hope you'll finish reading over at the site. *****

Nine mug shots appeared in our local paper’s headline story this week. Nine men ranging in age and ethnicity, economic status and background. Despite their differences, they share both the cause and effect of their public exposure: shame.

Shame descended upon them the moment the paper hit the press. Employers and wives and neighbors judged and banished.

Shame had already met them in the station, at their booking, when the flash snapped, immortalizing their actions. Fingerprints and charges enlisted them as law breakers.

Shame was present at their side earlier, when they scrolled the ads, chose flesh and sacrificed money and time to possess it. Loneliness and selfishness and whatever else commercializes sex consumed them.

But shame’s origin in their lives was long long before. Shame’s birthplace is rarely in a newspaper.

Continue reading here.

Red Ten Living Shame

When Suicide Comes Close @Today's Christian Woman

Suicide For my lovely readers, I wanted to direct you to my article on Today's Christian Woman, How To Talk To Your Kids About Suicide.

When our family hosted a young girl who struggled with suicidal thoughts, our kids came face to face with the 3rd leading cause of adolescent death. Later, when a classmate took his life, we knew we had to do better to prepare our kids to handle this new reality. Hopefully, our game plan encourages you to make a similar one in your homes. Read about it here.

Can 1 million thumbprints change a woman's life? #1MThumprints

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We gather with our best friends every week for a family dinner. Eleven of us squeeze around the table and without fail, answer a "prompt" that the host gets to ask. This week Greg asked, "If you could change any problem in the world, what would it be?" Mine was easy. I would eradicate the devaluing of women that leads to so many more problems.

My 12-year-old daughter gave me a fist bump. She's learning a lot this year and somewhere along the way, I gained a friend, a comrade in my concern for our sisters around the globe. We're on a mission she and I.

Because when women are devalued, they cook the meal and serve the men and then the boys and eat whatever remains, even if there is no more meat, no more milk, and only a meager broth. So girls grow up malnourished and suffer physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

When women are devalued, they are not given an education because all they are ever meant to do is serve the men. So girls grow up illiterate, unable to read religious books used to control them or laws meant to protect them.

When women are devalued, they are groped, stared at, or cat called in public. So girls grow up feeling like sex objects and in some countries, cover up entirely to prevent such daily violations.

When women are devalued, they suffer horrendously in conflict and war. Subject to violent rape, kidnapped to become sex slaves, impregnated by their abusers, and other heinous forms of sexual violence.

Photo Credit Benjamin Edwards

And there is a lot of violence in the world right now. There are conflict zones in which women are suffering... alone. If they survive the sexual violence, they live with psychological and physical damage. If they overcome the effects of these, they live silenced and unwelcome in the community conversation. Why? Because they are devalued. Their voice is not respected, even less so once they have been violated, ruined.

Photo Credit Sean Sheridan

This needs to change.

But how?

Here's the thing. The UN has made resolutions, calling for an end to sexual violence against women and children in war. In fact, there is an International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 19. So, first off, we need to advocate for rigorous implementation of the UN's resolutions.

If that were to happen, and we saw a reduction in rape as a weapon of war, we still need to work on increasing the value of women. What happens after they have suffered? How do we remove the stigma of sexual violence? How do we engage their voice in community change? How do we empower them to be their own social change? They need to survive, then stabilize, then be sustained. And 1 Million Thumbprints seeks to do just that.

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Inspired by Esperance, a Congolese survivor of sexual violence, who after asking her story to be told, sealed her request with her thumbprint, 1 Million Thumbprints is advocating for and supporting local initiatives to address this very problem. Esperance's thumbprint became their mandate: Violence against women in war zones is violence against each of us. Each thumbprint collected for 1MT is a visual representation of solidarity, but it’s also a call to action. Each thumbprint collected will advocate for change and peace in the most dangerous nations for women: Sudan, Iraq/Syria, and the Congo.

On March 8, International Women's Day, a group of 15 women and 1 man will summit Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise the banner of thumbprints in honor of the women being fought for. In partnership with World Relief, this inaugural event hopes to raise awareness and funds for those whose voices have been all too absent in the conversation about peace in war zones. You can add your thumbprint or participate by giving here.

Personally, I'm excited to support two fellow Redbud Writer's Guild members, Kimberly Yim and Ruth Bell Olsson. Would you join me in adding your thumbprint to this campaign and taking one more step of your own toward solidarity with our global sisters?

She started selling herself at 14, but her journey is amazing

I'm pleased to have Sheli Massie guest post today. Her transparent and raw story informs so much of what I see in the youth for whom I give sex trafficking prevention trainings. Having a hopeful journey as an example is invaluable. Thanks Sheli for sharing! ***********************************************************

SHE SOLD

I started selling myself when I was 14. Not the on the corner selling. Not online selling. But the please pay attention to me and love me kind of selling. Please tell me I am enough selling. My mother did not drop me at a brothel in order for my siblings to survive. I did it to myself. Some choices I made. Some were made for me.

Me in my skin-tight jeans. Me in my overalls. Me in my long skirts. Me in my short skirts. It had nothing to do with what I was wearing or who I was. It had to do with who I wasn’t. I don’t ever dare compare myself to the millions of children each year that are forced into sex work. Or the girls who are walking the red light districts in their villages to survive. Never. I would never even think that the horror that they experience every day is in any way comparable to my mid-western western choices. But one thing I thing I can relate to is the shell of the person that I became. When you give yourself away and are left with just a shell of disconnect.

I turn forty next month. If I think about it long enough I can get anxious and start thinking of all of the things I have yet to accomplish and the things I never became or missed. Having lived forty years I have to say that the last five have been the hardest and yet produced most growth. Through being stuck in Uganda and not knowing when I would see my whole family again. To suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and attachment issues when I returned. And then to be hit with more news of another child who had been suffering all along. And to watch as she went through years of testing and evaluation in order to receive a diagnosis that is lifelong. I have walked through grief and relief all on the same breath.

But nothing can compare to knowing that I more fully myself than I have ever been. I am confident that I am stronger and braver than I ever thought I could be. I am more confident that my experiences in the past are ONLY used for good. And thank you Jesus that he is letting me see the fruit of that pain today.

But me taking off my clothes for years did more damage than anyone could see. It left me lonely for the next 25. I know that others argue when you give yourself away it won’t affect you. God forgives you and you are fully redeemed. Yes. Yes to all of that. But it does not take away the reality that you are not all of who you were supposed to be. There was so much of me missing. So many parts of me still lay in back seats, parks, beaches, hotels, and beds. So much of me lingered there for years waiting for my soul to collect me. Waiting for me to forgive.

And I think all the time of the sweet angels all over the world tonight that are asking others to love them. To buy them. To sell them. I want to scream and plead. I want to hold them and love them and tell them “you are already enough."

I want to tell them it will take years for the pieces of you to fully return to a new healed soul. But this is not my job. My job is to be their voice. I can. You can. I now work for an organization called Trades of Hope. We partner with marginalized women all over the world. We sell jewelry that is ethically produced by using Fair Trade principle. By marketing their creations we offer artisans a way to provide for their families without entering into slavery, a way to keep their children rather than giving them to orphanages or to the sex trade. I love everything about this company. But the thing I love the most is that 25 years ago God saw the mess that I was making of my life and continued to make for years and whispered gently “I will make all things new.”

Yet it wasn’t until now I that I hear Him.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

************************************************************ Sheli MassieSheli is a writer on good days when a child isn’t puking or screaming or the dog hasn’t run away for the zillionth time or when the house doesn’t look like a Hoarders episode or she didn’t forget to pick up one of the five children from school. She lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband who has pushed her to be a better version of herself for sixteen years. She adore my best friends and she gets anxiety attacks around anyone pretty or skinny, so she stays in her yoga pants and writes about her redemptive story as a proud member of Redbud Writers Guild. You can find Sheli at http://shelimassie.com/

When Fighting Trafficking = Hot Mess

Hot MessSometimes it all catches up to me. There are weeks when I crash. Emotionally, I get flooded. I cry and weep. I have nightmares. I get paranoid.

Each time I conclude a training on Domestic Human Trafficking, an audience member asks how I do it. Someone always asks how I sleep at night. And I say that sometimes I can't. Sometimes I don't. And I'm so thankful for those times.

Like last week.

On the heels of an intensely heavy month, an article came out in our paper that 6 minors had been recovered from sex trafficking from the Western National Stock Show (the super bowl of rodeos). The same evening PBS aired A Path Appears, an incredible documentary on domestic sex trafficking. Later that week another article published that 57 foster kids in our state are currently missing. And then the Super Bowl numbers were released...

And so it hit me anew that I'm not just making this stuff up! This is all real. Kids are being sexually exploited. And it crushes me. Just crushes me that we live in a society and in a time in which there's space for this level of exploitation. That we live in a space that raises over-sexualized youth that warps their sense of relational normalcy. That we live in a space in which money is exchanged for a kid's body! I am disgusted. And the sadness can be overwhelming.

So what happens to me in these times of intense feeling is that my sadness turns to fear. A day or two later, the nightmares begin. The paranoia grips me.

I had dropped my 11-year-old off at her basketball coach's dorm for a private coaching session and wandered around campus for an hour. When she was 5 minutes late and not answering her phone, I started to panic. What was I thinking? What if the sweet tiny freshman girl coach had a mean evil guy friend who was going to abuse my little girl? What if she was already gone? Handed off to a pimp and half way down the highway? I was a hot mess and already had tears dropping when she and the cute little coach rounded the corner. Hot mess.

That night I tossed and turned. A friend was spending the night. A friend I love and trust and have known for years. But I was a hot mess, right? I was in full paranoia. It was my week to freak out. So I couldn't sleep. Because what was that little noise? Was that the floorboard creaking? The one that creaks in front of the girls' room?

And friends, I just have to say... it is so.good.to.feel. The fear and the sadness keep it real. It makes me stay emotionally connected. If I felt less, I would care less. And I can't care less. I can't. What is one week every now and then of being a hot mess compared to the living nightmare 27-35 million individuals suffer each day? What is my fear compared to the mother whose daughter went missing for two weeks last summer, sold nightly by a pimp, and recovered just before he drove her to another state?

In my moments of desperation, my prayer is this:

Lure Me Deep

Lord, lure me deep. Lure me into the places in which you have you walked. Lure me into the space in which you weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Lure me into the darkness to join with you as light. Where there is courage untapped, give me faith to access it. Where there is strength unspent, give me cause to spend it. May I be filled with enough love and beauty and dreams that the risk is worth it. Lord, lure me deep.

And you, friend? Do you share my fears sometimes? My sadness? What do YOU do?

The One Book to Read to Learn More about Child Sex Trafficking

Having bombarded you this month with various posts regarding human trafficking awareness, I want to close out January's National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month with a book recommendation for you to read and learn more. Of the many excellent primers and memoirs out there, my most recent favorite is a combination of the two. Walking-Prey-Cover2

Survivor and activist, Smith weaves her personal story into an analysis of the cultural constructs that form the backdrop and path to trafficking. Unlike most books on this subject, Walking Prey thoroughly addresses the negative influence of media including the early consumerism of children, sexually explicit music lyrics and videos and television and movie industries.

The sexualization of idols in teen-driven media adds to a teen's self-objectification and self-sexualization.

Smith describes in vivid detail (readers beware) the compounding vulnerabilities she experienced before the age of 14. Media is merely one, but it fed into her low self-esteem brought on by substance abuse in the home, childhood sexual abuse, parental denial of abuse, and lack of mental health interventions. For various reasons, by the time she was trafficked, prostitution didn't seem so preposterous. "I already saw my body as a form of currency even before I arrived at that motel room."

I cringe when people refer to me as a former sex slave because if I was a sex slave to anyone, it was to popular culture. Advertisers, entertainment producers, and other moguls of the media were the ones who seasoned me to accept sexual exploitation and prostitution. My body was an object: its sole purpose, I believed by that point, was for sex.

For all the research I do and conferences and trainings I attend on this subject, Walking Prey is the first book that has really challenged me as a mother and trainer of youth. I thought I had crafted an awesome hour-long presentation to high school students. I thought I had all the right components in the arts prevention curriculum I wrote last year. Now I am seriously considering how to add media literacy to my training.

And then there's my home... The Disney Channel regularly promotes "dating" among younger and younger kids and yet before we got rid of cable, was often on in our living room. What is the message that our adolescents are receiving about needing to have a boyfriend/ girlfriend? What about the lyrics to the songs they listen to? One Direction has many catchy songs, but it took us really listening to realize almost every one was about relationships and sex... and our 7-year-old was memorizing them. These popular cultural messages which slip into our kids souls through Disney (at first) feed into an over-sexualized culture which lays the groundwork for exploitation.

Smith lists some interesting documentaries to watch and learn more. Some of the trailers can be viewed for free:

1. Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

2. Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex, and Power in Music Videos

3. Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women

I appreciate Holly Smith sharing her story and offering the anti-trafficking movement such a thorough resource. Right now, if you are a parent, I want to encourage you to take whatever seeds of guilt or condemnation you might be feeling (I don't intend that!) and turn it into prevention education. Would you at least consider the role of media and the over-sexualization of our kids... your kids... And consider the role it plays in allowing sex trafficking to prosper in our society.

My Favorite Training Trafficking Tool in 10 minutes

In 2003, to combat domestic sex trafficking, the FBI, Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, formed the Innocence Lost National Initiative. To date, more than 69 collaborative task forces have been formed around the country and helped recover over 3400 children. Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force (RMILTF) is one of them. In this 10 minute video produced by iEmpathize, Sergeant Dan Steele of the Denver Police Department and RMILTF describes the nature of a trafficker. It has become one of my go to training tools to educate audiences on the strategy of a pimp/ trafficker. Watch the video and consider the 5 tactics a trafficker employs.

1. Pretender 2. Provider 3. Protector 4. Promiser 5. Punisher

Ride Along: Detective Dan Steele from iEmpathize on Vimeo.

"You have to go on the assumption that this is happening in your community. First and foremost, be knowledgeable on the subject..." Dan Steele

Today's action, beyond becoming more knowledgeable by watching this video, is to put this national hotline number in your phone. Do not hesitate to call or text for help, a tip, or advice.

hotline

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Trafficking

Child Sex Trafficking in America January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. How do these months get decided? It is also the Cervical Health Awareness Month, National Birth Defects Prevention Month, National Glaucoma Awareness Month, National Radon Action Month, Thyroid Awareness Month, National Winter Sports TBI Awareness Month, Weight Loss Awareness Month, National Codependency Awareness Month, National Mentoring Month, and Stalking Awareness Month. That is a lot of things to be aware of!

When it comes to human trafficking, I find parents fall into two camps: 1) They assume their child is safe from harm because they live in a small town, go to a good school, have a nice boyfriend, have future dreams, _______________ (fill in the blank), or 2) They are terrified of their child being kidnapped in the mall, stalked online, drugged at a party, or __________(fill in the blank).

The NAIVE and the FEARFUL.

I have been both and to some degree, it is only natural to fluctuate between the two ends of the spectrum. But fellow parents, I believe there is a third way. The EDUCATED and PREPARED. Here are 5 things to help you be a more educated and prepared parent.

1. You should know it can happen in every small town across America. Your town may not have a "wrong side of the tracks," "seedy section," or "track," but do you have the internet? Do you have people? If you have those, you have sin, sexual deviance, and addiction. You have demand. Therefore, you have a market. Traffickers can both exploit and sell victims online. On any given day, on a number of websites, young girls and boys are being bought and sold and driven around to meet customers at hotels, rest stops, and parks. So, do not be naive nor deceived by the squeaky clean facade of your community.

2. Be aware of red flags. Here are a few and you can read more in this resource from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

  • Spending a lot of time online, in chat rooms, talking with "older boys" from other states.
  • Sudden appearance of expensive gifts, manicures, clothing without reason or from a boyfriend.
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities. Hanging out with a different crowd.
  • Running away. Staying with "friends." Truancy. Substance Abuse.

3. Traffickers do not wear gold and fedoras. While this is the image most people have of pimps, including Halloween City, it is far less common that a trafficker fits this part. Traffickers have been mothers, other teenage girls, gang members, and your average good-looking frat boy. They are young, old, white, black, asian, men and women, girls and boys. Our kids need to know that manipulation and exploitation comes in different packages.

4. There is such a thing as too good to be true. Our children need to know this lesson. As any good salesman will do, traffickers paint an attractive picture of what they want their victim to believe. Whether it's modeling agencies promising big jobs for little work, boyfriends asking her to just dance a few nights to make enough money to bail him out of a jam, or businessmen with a proposed (easy) job to pay for tuition, if it sounds too good to be true, be suspicious.

5. Talk to your kids about sex trafficking sooner rather than later. I suggest high schools incorporate training into the 9th grade health curriculum and if you can influence your school to educate their kids, do so! I suggest parents start talking about the risk of trafficking in middle school. The national average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12. In my state, it's 16. At the very least, when you give your child a phone and/or internet access, you should be having safety conversations and laying the foundation of open dialogue.

Ultimately, we parents know that we do our best and live in faith everyday with our kids. We need to be equally concerned about teen suicide, bullying, sexting, school violence, and a host of other serious issues. It can feel overwhelming. The danger is to be gripped by fear or immobilized by the enormity of it all. May I encourage you today to store this post in your heart, share with a friend, and offer up some prayers for our kids. You are one step further in being EDUCATED and PREPARED.

How FOX and Bones got it Right on Human Trafficking

FOX HT Last night I was ALONE in the house at 7:00 and wiped from a community anti-trafficking meeting I facilitate. Plop on the couch with a glass of red and my gluten free (yuck) pasta and remote. All I wanted to do: Veg. Options with our antenna derived channels? Big Bang Theory. Biggest Loser. Bones. No matter how wiped I am, I will still choose trauma and drama over comedy and reality any day. I'm sorry. This is me.

So Bones it is and I've already missed some of it, but when I tune in I am clearly watching a human trafficking episode. A group of Asian women have been brought into the U.S. for labor trafficking. They are discovered in a dirty room, some with bruises and evidence of brutality, all with pictures of their families back home.

They were not kidnapped. They are not chained.

But they were lied to, manipulated, and threatened. As the State Department agent says (basically), "It's far easier than kidnapping." They are all scared for life, but not theirs. Their loved ones have been threatened and they have complied with the trafficker in order to protect their children, husband, or relatives.

Kudos to FOX for tackling Human Trafficking. I'm sure there are many such episodes on Law and Order and CSI type shows and I believe that this level of Prime-Time awareness will gradually increase reporting and investigation and eventually decrease human trafficking.

A few corrections:

1. While it is true that trafficking rings of this fashion exist in the U.S., we need to be careful to not overly focus on internationals and neglect the domestic problem. Estimates say that between 14,000- 17,000 foreigners are trafficked in the U.S. each year whereas it is estimated that 100,000 American children are sex trafficked. The numbers are staggeringly different and media needs to reflect this. Nicholas Kristof's coverage of the teens suing Backpage.com for allowing them to be sold reflects this.

2. The State Department agent seemed more focused on the legal status of the women rather than their victimization. Foreign victims of human trafficking qualify for a T-Visa and are eligible to remain in the US under certain conditions.

Some praises:

1. The same agent correctly identified the use of coercion by the trafficker as a more powerful tool than force. A smart trafficker will threaten a loved one to coerce a person to do what they want, never laying a hand on the victim. Physical brutality is usually reserved for later when the victim begins to resist. While force, fraud, and coercion are the three means by which trafficking occurs, coercion is the most widely used, especially in the U.S.

2. The police uncovered the person at the top of the crime ring, a non-Asian business-woman, thereby taking down an entire industry, not just recovering a few victims. While this process rarely occurs within days (hours!) of an investigation, it is a vital part of ending human trafficking.

************************** If you are still wrapping your head around human trafficking, especially as it impacts your reality, consider some of these resources. If you are a parent, stunned by the estimate of 100,000 American kids being sex trafficked in our country, take a few minutes to read this Fact Sheet prepared by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Lastly, consider these words by William Wilberforce, "You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”