sex trafficking

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

Discovering a Nation of Heroines in the Netherlands

We went to the Netherlands to bike. Amsterdamweb

We also went to see Corrie ten Boom's Hiding Place and Anne Frank's Annex. We went to experience their stories and immerse ourselves in their world, strong females whose voices still live. In a land that produced such women, I suspected there were more. I sensed we would discover them on the journey. Yet for all the heroines, I also knew the Netherlands had thousands of exploited sisters. Women from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East sex trafficked in the infamous Red Light District. I wanted to experience their stories too. If I'm going to invite my daughter into the company of women as a finale to this rites of passage year, she needs to know the breadth of the sisterhood: pain and need coexist with strength and hope.

In Utrecht, we searched in vain for a statue of Trijn van Leemput, pick axe in hand, symbolizing her rally of other women to demolish a castle-turned-Spanish garrison at the onset of the 80 years war. Historians have picked at the veracity of this tale, but I guess that a people who valorize women can have all the legend they want.

In Gouda, we stayed with Jet and discovered a woman motivated by God's love to care for people in her home: foster kids, long-term residents, weary travelers like us, and entire families during transitions. She lived in a 19th century town home, so narrow the stairwell resembled a ladder. It had one small toilet closet and a newish shower room on the 3rd floor. She had recently been to Cambodia to learn more about IJM's work and we connected over human trafficking.

In Oudewater, we weighed ourselves on the official scales used to acquit Dutch women accused of witchcraft during a time in which thousands of women were put to death. It was thought that witches needed to be light enough to fly and if one could prove her weight was "normal" on Oudewater's official scales, her innocence was sealed. We were appalled at the crazy false accusations and hysteria around women who deviated in the slightest way from the majority.

The scales used to weigh women accused of witchcraft

Haarlem gave us Corrie ten Boom, a woman compelled by her faith to protect as many Jews during the German occupation of the Netherlands as she could. A woman who sacrificed her own security and ultimately, lost her father and sister in concentration camps. We learned about Hannie Shaft, 25-year-old Dutch Resistance fighter known as 'the girl with the red hair'. She was killed by the Germans just 3 weeks before liberation for her ceaseless fight to sabotage their efforts. And long before WWII, there was Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, the fearless Dutch heroine who inspired Haarlem to rebuild the city's defense wall. Her statue stood proud in the train station courtyard, sword beneath her feet.

Corrie ten Boom's bedroom hiding place.  Six people hid and escaped while Corrie and her family were arrested.

 

Kenau: The Woman who Inspired a City

By the time we were back in Amsterdam, I was pretty convinced we were walking among giants. My daughter had easily named women who exhibited the categories we discussed all year: Jet loved, Kenau led, Hannie fought, Corrie sacrificed, Anne Frank created. And what about the women who have lived in the Begijnhof since 1150, the devout women (not nuns) who chose to serve the Lord in prayer and service within a circle of Amsterdam townhouses? Or all the brave women highlighted in the Dutch Resistance Museum for their courage during the occupation of Germany (in Holland) and Japan (in the Dutch East Indies/ now Indonesia)? What of the women we had met along our bike journey who went out of their way to escort us to the next path, stop others for assistance, and offer us shelter?

The Begijnhof: A Chosen Path of Quiet Service for Women

On our last day, we made our way to Dignita, Not For Sale's cafe and culinary training program site. I wanted to learn more about the state of the Red Light District and hear from on the ground experts. Secretly, I wanted my daughter to see the out working of a life lived with passion. My passion may never become hers, but I desperately want her to discover one as meaningful. In fact, I have a working theory that the antidote to a teen's obsession with boys, bodies, and besties is catching a vision for a bigger story.

[bctt tweet="I have a working theory that the antidote to a teen's obsession with boys, bodies, and besties is catching a vision for a bigger story."]

Dignita is committed to re-creating stories for the trafficked men and women they offer culinary certificates to. We didn't need to walk the district to learn about the women photographed like monkeys in a window; to hear that the majority are threatened to come under the rule of a trafficker. We were told the district is dying (because more tourists are voyeurists than paying customers), but that it is moving underground, online. Why pay 200Euros/ hour for rent when the sale of sex can be arranged online? My daughter was concerned about the laws (having heard all about human trafficking already). Why was this legal? Why were there not better laws to protect these women? Who is going to change this?

I saw her blood begin to boil. The first signs of a heart breaking is anger. Holy anger leads to passion.

[bctt tweet="The first signs of a heart breaking is anger."]

This is catching a vision for living a bigger story.

Experiencing the women of the Netherlands, the strong and brave and exploited alike, provided a framework upon which to hang meaning. These are lessons you can't just teach from a book or gain from a movie. Sometimes you have to walk in their shoes, see the places from which bravery sprung forth, imagine the moments in which choices were made.

[bctt tweet="Sometimes you have to walk in their shoes, see the places from which bravery sprung forth, imagine the moments in which choices were made."]

We've come from a beautiful global sisterhood. To this I invited my daughter: this, this is the company of women you join as you become a woman.

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

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.”

When Doing Good Gets Sloppy

When Doing Good Gets SloppyThe church is a beautiful albeit funny thing. Seemingly always a little late to the game, when she gets excited about the new thing, she does such a good job of rallying the troops, raising funds, and producing missionaries and programs and projects and mission trips. She is fueled by passion and principle, awakened to God’s heart in a new way. In the 90’s, the church fixed her attention on Russia and the countries which had suffered under Communism and Atheism’s absence of God. My husband went to Albania with Bibles. In the 2000’s, the church was ablaze with the 10/40 window and the vast number of Muslims who did not know Jesus as Savior. My family and I moved to Turkey. Now it seems all attention is consumed with Sex Trafficking. And today, I stalked a suspicious massage parlor.

Read the rest at Red Tent Living.

Scandalous Redirection @ Intervarsity's The Well

I was so honored to be selected as Honorable Mention in Intervarsity's The Well's Call for Stories. ___________________

She waved when she recognized me. A large smile streaked her face, her arm suspended above. Do you have more of those cards? Everyone wants one! Thrilled, I nodded positively and made a beeline for her, intent on handing off the pink gift bag.

Only later do I replay the scene in slow motion, noticing that she looms above me on a platform in front of a small “stall” with three sides. I see now that she’s topless, arm snaking through the air, mechanically seductive for her audience of one. While she dissociates, I do too, carrying on our conversation, losing time and clarity.

Another blurry night at the local strip club.

How did I get here? To a life of code words and hiding places as I parent three kids and minister to women caught in the sex industry? The books that arrive on my doorstep need to be tucked away before the school bus comes by and drops off my oblivious children. The YouTube documentary must be shut down before homework can be done on the same computer. How did a naive and prudish girl become this?

Read the rest of Scandalous Redirection here.

If we’ve found our “calling,” why isn’t life easier?

Vintage Typewriter-1 web I am pleased to be at Redbud Writer's Guild today processing a raw response to the IF: Gathering. Read a snippet here and head over to Redbud for the rest!

“I’m mad at God.”

It felt right and true as the words came out, even though I had had no such thought just moments prior.

I was huddled on my comfy couch with 3 women, one of whom I had met a mere hour earlier, to watch the live stream of IF: Gathering. Months before, when the leaders opened up registration and threw out the fee, 1200 women signed up in 42 minutes. The 4 of us were joining 25,000 others from around the world watching in living rooms, church halls, and cafes thanks to a decision to stream it live.

The sheer number of women gathered around a vague “conference” indicates the desire which exists in our generation for something different, authentic and raw. And from the get go, when each and every woman involved in the planning, speaking, and creating of the weekend came to the mic and prayed, authenticity abounded.

This was the atmosphere shaping the discussion time in which I took a question card that read, “What is in between you and peace with God?” I thought I was going to say boredom. It felt safer. But I didn’t. And even as I was speaking words almost too raw for my own soul to bear, I felt exposed and real and hopeful all at once.

I had been harboring a low simmering anger with Jesus.

Read the rest on Redbud Writer's Guild.