[Warning: this one is heavy. I wrote this back in February. I haven’t posted it because it’s a tough read. But the TVPRA (Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act) is coming before the Senate, and I think it’s important to illustrate why this legislation is so critical.]
I just got back from downtown. Twice a month I go to the homeless shelter and sing with the praise team while a group of volunteers serves breakfast. I don’t always make it—when it’s 110 in the shade I just can’t bear the heat—but I go as often as I can, especially in winter. It was cold this morning, in the mid 50s.
Oddly, today I didn’t want to go. When I got downtown, there was a heaviness in the air. I was chatting with one of the other singers, a woman who is usually quite upbeat and positive, and she said the same thing: “I don’t want to be here today. Are we really doing any good?”
When we got started, things still felt odd. Usually we get a modicum of attention while we’re singing and playing, and people will sing along; today, we were ignored. People were chatting and laughing with each other or focusing silently on their food. No one looked at us.
I started to pray silently.
It isn’t fashionable these days to talk about the existence of evil. It affronts our Western sensibilities—that school-taught dogma that says that we are all that exists, that God and Satan and angels and demons are some imaginative bit of mysticism out of the Dark Ages. I can assure you—without going into detail—that over the course of years I have discovered that God is very real. And so (unfortunately) is His enemy.
By the second break, I had seen the prostitutes and the pimps in the audience, eating their free breakfast. It doesn’t bother me because I know that for some of these women this is the only meal they will get all day.
Just before we started our final set, I saw a woman saunter by, wearing a tube top but no jacket against the cold. Tattooed on her neck, in a beautiful, scripty font, was the word, “F***ed.”
I had heard about this—about the pimps tattooing the women they have imprisoned into this life—but part of my mind just rejected it as an exaggeration. This morning, up close and personal, I saw it with my own eyes.
Pimps permanently proclaim their ownership of these women through a specific tattoo. In some cases, if the pimp doesn’t want to spend the money on tattooing or he wants to teach the girl a lesson, he will brand her with a wire clothes hanger heated on a stovetop. The girls have no choice about what is written on their bodies.
No woman in her right mind would have that word tattooed on her neck—it is a word of pain, of failure, of degradation. I tried to imagine what it would be like to get up every single morning and look in the mirror and see that word, written on myself. I tried, and failed. Does she block it out, somehow? Like she blocks it out when a man rapes her and hands cash to her jailer?
Women—and in too many cases, girls—do not do this by choice. This is a form of slavery that is forced upon them. Usually they receive no money for what they do—it all goes back to the pimp. If a girl earns her quota for the night, sometimes he will feed her. Often the girls are forced into drug addiction because this makes them more malleable, depresses their appetite and solidifies the pimp’s control. It also ensures that the police, to whom they otherwise might turn for help, become the enemy, not to be trusted.
Often the girls stay because they believe they have no way out, that their only protection and salvation is through their pimp. Often the girls are in love with their pimp. It is a pernicious slavery that convinces a woman that her only value lies between her legs, that her only worth is as a piece of meat to satisfy a lust of the worst kind. This is no lovemaking; frequently johns will buy a prostitute because they want someone they can hit or punish while they have sex. It is a soul-destroying existence that we must never endorse, and yet we endorse it every day through our silence.
If movies showed the true impact of prostitution instead of romanticizing it, that might help bring change. Change is needed, because the darkness is rising. It is more lucrative now to sell children instead of drugs, so street gangs are changing their product line to include girls. The average age of children trafficked into prostitution in the U.S. is 13—meaning there are just as many 11-year-olds who are raped as 15-year-olds. Often the girls are runaways; often they are unwanted or unwelcome at home. Sometimes girls are lured into the life by men who pretend to be their “boyfriend” and shower them with gifts. Whether coerced by affection or violence, once a girl is raped, escape becomes incredibly difficult.
I was coming home on I-17 after our set and I had to take an exit and stop in a parking lot because the tears were blinding me and making it unsafe to drive. I think what upsets me most—even more than the slavery itself—is the indifference of society to what these girls endure, as if it is their own fault. It isn’t. No five-year-old little girl says she wants to be a prostitute when she grows up. No girl under the age of 18 has the wisdom to make such a devastating and radical choice for her future: this is why we have statutory rape laws.
Why do these laws apply to the upper-class white girl who is raped at 16 but not the poverty-stricken child of color who is sodomized for pay six times a night? Why do we see one as the victim, the other as “just a whore”?
It happens here—right here, in your town and mine. It happens in other countries. Lives are ruined—young lives, full of hope and promise. Evil exists, and it flourishes because it is allowed and encouraged.
But there is light in this darkness. Many organizations—Hagar International, World Vision, StreetLight, Not For Sale, and many others—are doing incredible, life-changing work in the darkest places, the places where evil breeds. They are driving back the darkness. But they cannot do it without our help—our support, our concern, our prayers, our love. They do it because they know that each and every child has value, that each girl is made in the image and likeness of God, the God who says He has given her a hope and a future. Dare we then turn away and call her worthless?
Please call your senator and support S 1301. You can find out more here.
Thanks for reading this post. I know it wasn’t an easy one.