Reaching into the Darkness
“Sylvia” sits on the edge of a hotel room bed. Numb. Her most recent client, moments out the door on his way to whatever comes next. She needs to clean up before the next one arrives, but just can’t move. Her phone continues buzzing every few minutes with clients responding to ads on public websites offering her “services”. Hundreds of calls all day. At night, even more.
Sylvia is one of an uncountable number trapped in a cycle that leaves her prey to both buyers and managers better known as “pimps”. She’s fearful of authorities, and only a shadow of the young girl she was months earlier. Once in “the life” she’s not expected to last 7 years due to disease and a “workplace homicide rate” 51 times higher than the next most dangerous occupation, working in a liquor store.
At the Life of Freedom Center in the city of Miami, it’s our job to provide Sylvia with a way out, though most like her can’t imagine an exit other than death. They’re held by emotional, psychological and even chemical bonds too hard for them to break. It takes an average of 7 attempts to leave the life behind and not return. This is due to emotional and psychological trauma, arrest records, little or no education, inability to land a job or rent an apartment and countless other barriers.
Victims like Sylvia start down the path to trafficking for a variety of reasons. Often as minors (under 18) they’ve drawn in by a “Romeo Pimp” convincing a young heart and mind that they are in love. More often than not, though, youth are in love with the idea of being in love, and desperate for a first romance or some simple attention, making perfect targets for predators.
Others may see it as an easy way to make ends meet. Fueled by a society that increasingly considers sex and those providing it to be commodities, a girl may cover college bills by dancing at a strip club. Here in Miami, one particular club advertises “Tuition Tuesdays” to local colleges, even picking girls up by bus right from campus and delivering them to clubs that become recruiting grounds for buyers and traffickers alike.
Not all towns relate to having strip clubs, and most are shocked to learn that sex trafficking is present in every community across the country. The “red light district” is no longer off Main Street. It’s accessible from any smartphone or laptop, making purchasing sex as fast as a pizza, and at times, even more prevalent. Yet the real horror lies in the statistics of those being consumed:
- The average age of those being drawn into sex trafficking is between 12 and 14 years old.
- Half of all sex trafficking victims are children (under 18).
- In the US alone an estimated 100,000 – 300,000 children fall victims to sex trafficking every year.
These numbers continue to grow as our country’s hunger for sex is fueled by the internet, popular media, and an increasingly seared national conscience. Appetites with no boundaries seek satisfaction in ways considered unthinkable to previous generations. Yet in all this darkness, there is hope. There is a future for those currently being sacrificed in the name of selfish, unbridled lusts.
A few years ago, Claudia and I were introduced to the immense need closer to home. A trafficking epidemic in our communities, schools and with millions of at risk children throughout the country due to a crisis of broken families. In 2014 we joined the Life of Freedom Center in Miami, with the vision of “reducing the presence, influence and results of sex trafficking”. The LoF Center’s education and equipping programs train volunteers to do the heavy lifting in their own neighborhoods.
We provide churches, businesses, student groups and alternative break teams with tools to meet the needs of those at risk or already affected by trafficking in their community. The “Sharing 1 Love” campaign has been adopted by churches in Miami and visiting groups from around the country, enabling them to re-create much of our program and become beacons of hope to girls like Sylvia.
For those who want to go deeper, the mentor program trains and prepares women for something I refer to as “dirty discipleship”. Girls coming out of trafficking know only two types of relationship: the abused and the abuser, making healthy relationship nearly impossible. Mentors are trained to understand the effects of prolonged, repetitive trauma, since survivors have essentially experienced rape 20 times or more a day for months or even years on end, resulting in catastrophic damage to the workings of their mind and entire being. Mentors begin with an understanding that only the Creator and Sustainer of our souls can bring the profound healing needed, and then walk alongside survivors as they discover, fail, and re-discover what healthy relationships can look like.
Mentors also reach into the darkness with a simple candle of hope by actually responding to the very same advertisements that solicitors use. With training, women learn where to find ads, recognize patterns, call girls up to offer alternatives, and record responses allowing us to track their phone numbers though they are moved from city to city. That means if one team reaches a particular girl, the next team to contact her, even if she’s hundreds of miles away, will know how to approach her on the next call.
So, we come back to “Sylvia”. Sitting in the dark on the side of her bed.
She picks up her phone for what seems like the millionth time, and forces out a seductive “Hello”.
She expects the all too familiar opening lines. But then she hears something she’s never heard before. A kind voice says: “Hi, is there anything you need? Can I pray for you…”
It’s God reaching into the darkness to rescue one of His lost children.
By: Kevin Abegg, Serving in Miami, FL
The Life of Freedom Center, located in Miami Florida is a partner ministry with United World Mission.