Human Trafficking 8


By Kersley Fitzgerald

Human Trafficking: The Series

Statistics and Definitions
Labor Trafficking
Sex Trafficking
Selling Eve
Freedom for the Captives
The Church's Response
The Girls

Note: This series is on human trafficking, including sex trafficking. Terms are plain, although situations are not explicit. Still, reader discretion is advised.

We last left Annie, a sex trafficking victim, leaving her "boyfriend" and trying to find a new life. Safe in a shelter for battered women, she still didn't understand where she should go next. Not a group home, not foster care. But the social worker had another option. There was another shelter, just for minor victims of sex trafficking. Annie thought that probably meant teen prostitutes. After a few more cold stares at the shelter, she agreed to check it out.

This shelter was different. It was in a secluded area, outside of town. Even her social worker didn't know exactly where. Annie met her sponsor at the social worker's office, and her sponsor drove her to a farm. Along the drive, her sponsor, Marie, explained Annie would have her own room in a house with five other girls and a house mother. All of the girls were sex trafficking victims. There was a nurse and a school on site, although Annie would go to a doctor in town, and she could go to a public school if she wished. She could leave anytime, and was always welcome to come back. Marie hoped she would stay at least eighteen months, although Marie had been there over two years.

Marie showed Annie to her room — a dresser, a bed, and a few pictures on the wall. Annie asked why the pictures didn't have glass. Marie explained many of the girls were cutters, and the staff wanted to make sure Annie could work through the program without any undue temptation.

It wasn't until a month into her stay, at a doctor's appointment, that Annie realized exactly what was going on. Stomach aches weren't normal. Lack of concentration wasn't normal. Malnutrition — she had the development of a thirteen-year old. The doctor gave her sponsor a fist full of prescriptions and said they might have to do surgery. Annie looked down at her body and felt every ache. This wasn't normal? They had done this to her? But if this was true, if she had been a victim of a brutal man, and sold to brutal men for four years — if normal girls didn't have sex at ten or eleven or twelve — what did that make her? Not an independent woman who supported herself. She was a messed up little kid.

Her stomach aches got worse. She hated being around people, but she didn't want to be alone. When the trial against Tony came up, she was relieved when her lawyer cut a deal instead of putting her on the stand. She knew she still didn't completely understand what he had done to her, but until she did, she couldn't look at him. She knew at any moment, she'd be back with him, and for the first time in a while, she knew that wasn't right.

She didn't know what was right. What was normal? School, a job...she didn't want to leave her room. What was she? A prostitute? A powerless victim? How could she live a normal life when she wasn't normal? She could tell because of the way the staff reacted to her. It seemed like every word she said, every expression, was met with pursed lips, like she was doing something wrong. She didn't know how to talk without swearing or using sexual innuendo. She didn't know how to just ask for something without being expected to give something in return. The day Marie took her to a store and bought her an MP3 player to replace her old one — she almost ran away. How could she pay it back?

Marie promised she'd get there. She could stay at this new shelter as long as she needed. She didn't have to pay, she didn't have to do work beyond normal chores. And she could leave anytime she wanted. Doctor's appointments, counseling sessions, court dates, were all taken care of. All she had to do was breathe.

At the time of the 2007 DHHS report, there were four residential facilities equipped to help victims of sex trafficking, each with between 6 and 24 beds. 200,000 victims, and 45 beds.

According to the study, an ideal sex trafficking treatment center would concentrate on one demographic — only girls or only boys. While several victims could be treated at once, they should be grouped according to age or recovery stage, no more than two should share a room, and they should spend most of their time in smaller groups. Minimum stay should be eighteen months with continued contact after the residential program. The facility should be secure, but voluntary — the victims should choose to be there. A court-appointed stay would not be effective if the victim was not ready for treatment, and may seem like just a different type of imprisonment. If a victim runs away or relapses, they need to be allowed to return on their own.

There's a debate as to whether the facility should be near an urban area. The victims would have better access to healthy relationships, doctors, schools, jobs, and the courts. But PTSD recovery is often easier away from the environment that caused it.

People are stepping up. There are more sex trafficking recovery facilities than ever before. It is expensive to run such a shelter, but the girls deserve the best we can give. Most of all, they need prayer. The enemy hates any kind of recovery operation, and he will do his best to destroy and discredit those who do God's work. Pray for their safety, their integrity, and their girls.

Next: Making it personal: Fighting trafficking on the home front.

Image Credit: hel2 painting by John Tankersley; used by permission.

Links to check out:

Restore Innocence
Children of the Night
Juvenile Justice Fund
The Daughter Project

What to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked:

If the situation is urgent, call 911.
If there is no immediate threat, call the non-emergency number, often 311.
Call your local anti-human trafficking organization.
Call the national hotline — 1-888-3737-888.
(Hotlines will not necessarily be able to provide emergency assistance, but they will track activity to better aid the FBI and other law enforcement in determining where and how to act.)

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Published 8-26-11