Sex trafficking is happening all around us every day, and many people don’t even realize it. From California to New York, the United States is not immune to the horrors of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of men, women, and children. Some of the most horrific stories of abuse at the hands of pimps and traffickers have happened right in our own backyards.
I recently heard the most harrowing journey of a woman named Jane* who was sold to sex traffickers almost every night by her father, who happened to be a pastor. From the age of 11 to 14, she was sold along with dozens of other young girls in what she called a “warehouse.” No, this sex warehouse wasn’t in Cambodia; it was in Portland, Oregon. Men from all walks of life lined up to sexually abuse and consume her. Doctors, lawyers, fathers, priests, teachers, cops, and other men who seemed trustworthy, were the ones purchasing these young girls night after night. After being trafficked in prostitution, she was then trafficked in pornography until she finally escaped at the age of 17.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, Jane was able to find healing, and we at Exodus Cry were honored to be part of her restoration process. Now she is a strong advocate against sexual exploitation and even reaches out to others being sexually exploited and trafficked.
The church is called to engage those being exploited in the sex industry.
Fighting trafficking through texting
Sadly, Jane’s story is one of thousands who are being sold for sex in America, many of whom are underage. One place where exploitation in prostitution abounds is online. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 73 percent of all its child trafficking reports stem directly from Backpage.com, a site that enables the explicit advertising of human bodies for sale. A Senate investigation concluded that Backpage knowingly profited from prostitution and the sexual trafficking of minors, increasing its revenue from $5.3 million in 2008 to $135 million in 2014.
In 2013, our Intervention team at Exodus Cry pioneered a new model of outreach, texting girls from online Backpage ads where girls are sold for sex. According to this model, if a girl is open to meeting with us, we take her out for lunch in a public setting. From there, the relationship begins, and we come alongside her, offering support and empowering her to escape exploitation. The journey to freedom is sometimes long, but we are committed to being there with each girl, every step of the way.
For example, we connected with a girl named Gabriella* after she responded to one of our texting outreaches. We met nearby at a fast food restaurant where we heard her story and her desire to leave “the life.” She had run away from home as a teenager and, as commonly happens, exploitation soon followed. She ended up being prostituted on the streets in various places all over the United States. Over the next two months, we met Gabriella twice a week and helped her apply for jobs, both online and in person. In the midst of providing the practical support of rides and applications, these meet-ups were intertwined with building trust and friendship. We had many opportunities to pray for her and share the gospel.
Gabriella adored the Bible and journal we gave her in her Hope Bag and copied Scriptures she liked, as well as quotes from a devotional book. Her favorite verse was Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
One morning, Gabriella texted our team that her father had contacted her and invited her to permanently move back in with him and the family, who lived out of state. She had not seen them in many years. In the time since she had run away as a teenager, her parents had kept in touch with her but were completely unaware of the horrid situation their daughter had been trapped in. We had one last meet-up with Gabriella where we treated her to a professional makeover and bought her a new pair of shoes to symbolize a new identity. Upon arriving at her parents’, she was able to obtain a job immediately and is still with them to this day, rebuilding her life step by step.
Fighting trafficking through prayer and action
Through this journey we came to see, once again, how vital it is that we minister to these girls from the place of prayer, connected to the Lord’s heart found in the truths of Scripture. The ultimate breakthroughs come from God’s intervention, but we must commit to pray for his truth to be made real in the lives of these precious girls who long to exit a life of sexual exploitation.
Finally, our prayers will ultimately lead us to action.The church is called to engage those being exploited in the sex industry. The church has a mandate to go after the broken, the hurting, and those suffering from injustice. This is a clear reflection of Christ our Redeemer and the call of the gospel. We encourage you to get equipped, trained, and begin the work of helping to set the captives free. It is the heart of God to “set the lonely in families and lead out the prisoners to prosperity” (Ps. 68:6).
Join the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family in Washington D.C. on January 18-20, 2018 for Evangelicals for Life, an important event on human dignity. Learn how to make a difference in your community and stand up against human slavery as we march for life in our nation’s capital with thousands of our fellow countrymen.