Monday, June 20, 2016

Christina's Story, Part One: "Before The Trafficking" #trafficking

What follows is part one of "Christina's Story." It is a fictionalized account based on the stories of several trafficking victims from the Houston area. I first encountered it at the 2016 Freedom Fest & Houston Human Trafficking 5K, sponsored by Free the Captives. Each entry will consist of part of the story (in normal text) and facts about human trafficking (in italics text). The original display included artwork by several of the victims that is at times informative, inspiring, and heartwrenching. Please pray as you learn more. Thanks for reading.

“Lines Blurred”

Growing up, I did not have a loving father. I never even met my dad. My mother’s boyfriend sexually abused me at an early age, but I was afraid to tell anyone. I had no one to turn to.

Children run a higher risk of being lured into sex trafficking if they have experienced physical or sexual abuse in their past. 1 out of 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys have been sexually abused. Sexual abuse can occur by family members, friends, or strangers. It is critical for mothers to believe and support their children when they report instances of sexual abuse.

“On Her Own”

After school, I would come home to an empty house. My mother worked two jobs to help make ends meet and was often not there for me, her only daughter. My older brothers were experimenting with drugs and were not good role models.

The risk of being tricked or forced into prostitution is higher for girls with no strong network of support and if there is a lack of supervision in the home.

“Blocking the Pain”

As I was growing up, I was haunted by the sexual abuse that happened during my childhood. Even when I was with friends, I could not connect or relate to them. To drown out my pain, I turned to alcohol and drugs, including marijuana and Ecstasy.

Resorting to drugs and alcohol leaves minors more vulnerable to manipulation, abuse, kidnapping and coercion. When their judgment is impaired, teens are more likely to make bad decisions. But they often turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and fight off depression and feelings of low self-worth, shame and guilt.

“Street Life”

Sometimes I felt safer on the street than in my own home. I was desperate for money, for support, for someone to take care of me, and for love. As a result, I ran away from home in search for these things.

Pimps are master manipulators who prey on girls who are already vulnerable and whose needs for affection from a father figure are unmet. They often find this combination of traits in runaways. Girls who chronically run away from home put themselves at great risk for being trafficked. The risk is greatest for girls who run away from home many times and stay away for one or two nights to weeks at a time. Two thirds of all girls who run away from home are approached by a trafficker within the first 48 hours. He offers them food and a place to stay. He offers to take care of them and often times the girls will go with a complete stranger.

“Social Media”

Unable to get love and support in real life, I tried finding closeness through social media. A seemingly affectionate older man started talking to me, and I was smitten.

Sex traffickers and pimps use social media to prey on vulnerable girls. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are used by traffickers to find girls. They pose as potential boyfriends and lure the girl into a relationship. After the girl has fallen in love with the “boyfriend,” he coaxes or forces the girl into prostitution. All the money that she earns must be given to the “boyfriend”/trafficker. Teens must be extremely careful of who they friend on social media and of what they post. Traffickers are looking for girls who post inappropriate pictures such as low cut shirts or pictures in just their underwear.

“Into the Sunset”

Finally, at age 13, I met the man of my dreams. He was much older. He had a nice car and a job, though I wasn’t clear on what he did. What mattered was that he had money and he promised to take care of me. He bought me a nice cell phone and new clothes. He took me to get my hair and nails done. Finally, I felt special. Someone was paying attention to me. It didn’t take long for him to turn me against my family and to run away from home. I moved in with him and dropped out of school.

When a pimp brainwashes the girl with gifts and affection, he is able to manipulate and isolate her. She does not hesitate to follow him with unwavering loyalty. This process can happen in as quickly as a few days. He is able to compel her to do sexual favors with men “because we need it for our family.” Often, having nowhere to turn to, she complies. The average age of a girl being trafficked by a pimp in the US is between the ages of 12 to 14 years old. Girls this age are highly vulnerable.

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