The “Horrible Normal” of sex trafficking in the U.S. – don’t read unless you can handle it

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Reader Discretion is Advised: What I’m about to share with you may make you uncomfortable. It may shock you. You may not believe it. You may weep.  Honestly, I hope you do.

That beautiful 6 year old girl who lives on your street?

That 12 year old boy in youth group who doesn’t seem to fit in?

That 13 year old student at school that seems to be addicted to her phone?

Those 14 year old girls hanging out at Starbucks talking about how desperately they wish they had boyfriends?

That 15 year old girl you see alone swinging on the park swing?

That 16 year old girl who seems happy living in suburban, upper class Indianapolis?

You would never know it. You would never believe it. But these are our kids in America who are being targeted for sexual exploitation. The fancy terms?  Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC).   “Yeah yeah yeah, we’ve been hearing more and more about this and know it is here in America. ” Stop.  I don’t think you know this…

  • There are 8,900-10,500 teens aged 13-17 years old that are identified as victims sold for sex each year in the United States, according to a U.S. Department of Justice-funded study last year.  That number alone should make you shiver.  But it doesn’t stop there.
  • The study concluded that a 25% identification rate is the best case in the US.  Experts believe that the actual number of unidentified children and teens in sex exploitation could be 100,000-300,000.
  • We aren’t talking about only girls. 30% are boys, yet rarely identified.
  • Let’s stick with the identified teens for now.  Those 8,900-10,500 teens are being purchased on average 5.4 times each day.    Your blood boiling yet?
  • When you do the math, a conservative estimate is that our children…the child down the street, the student in your classroom, the girls at the mall, and yes, even possibly your own teenager under your roof, are being bought for sex 2,500,000 – 2,900,000 times each year.*
  • For you math nerds: 8,900 – 10,500 teens x 5.4x/week x 52 weeks/year. This is conservative since it’s looking at 5.4 times in a week when the normal is 5.4 times/day, and these are only the identified teens, aged 13-17! Only God knows the actual number of times each year all children and teens are being sold and it would be too high for me to type out because I’d be vomiting instead.

This is what columnist Tim Swarens, Opinion Director of the Indianapolis Star says is the “horrible normal.”   This is THE NORMAL?!  And it’s more than horrible, it’s hellish.  This is an industry that is making 9.8 billion dollars in the U.S.**  It’s catching up to the 13 billion dollars the NFL made the 2015 season.

Who are the buyers you ask?  They aren’t only the creepy guys in black trench coats. They aren’t only the weirdos we tell our kids not to talk to or to stay away from vans with no windows in Target parking lots. They aren’t only porn addicts, rapists, and sex addicts that we naturally assume….

  • 10% of men in the United States alone will buy sex at least once in their lifetime.
  • That’s 12 million men.
  • 5% of men will buy more than 1x/week.  Obviously, since 12 million men are purchasing sex at the very least 2,500,000 – 2,900,000 times each year. *

The #1 buyer in Boston….. attorneys.*

They are lawyers, doctors, businessmen, teachers, your kid’s basketball coach…  These are the men we respect and trust.  How can they justify it?   These buyers see children and teens as property. “I bought them, so I can use them.”

Who’s the seller then?  He’s roaming like a lion looking to devour.  Take in this scenario:

Three girls are sitting at Starbucks drinking coffee.  The first girl is very pretty, popular, has had many boyfriends or at least gets asked often on dates.  The second girl is the wallflower; she shyly sips her coffee in silence.  The third girl adores the first girl, lingering on everything she does and says because she so desperately wants to be popular and have a boyfriend.**

Who do you think the “lion” is going to devour?   If an older guy comes up to the first girl (the popular one), she shrugs it off because it happens a lot and is confident in who she is.  The second girl (the wallflower) wouldn’t believe it. There’s no way an older good-looking guy would be interested in her. The third girl? Bingo. She’s flattered, and all it takes is some attention, expensive gifts, and words of “you are beautiful, I love you, I’ll take care of you,” and she’s sold. Pun intended.  Next thing she knows she’s being made a fake ID and persuaded to make some fast cash at a strip club.  Then she’s being told she has to give sex so that they can earn more money to run off and “be together forever.”  She finally feels accepted, adored, fits in. She even has power for once in her life. She likes the idea of having this secret boyfriend.  Then once trauma bonding and Stockholm Syndrome has occurred, it is even harder to break her free. In fact, it’s common for girls to return to their “boyfriends” 4-6 times before finding freedom. **

After awhile, some girls start realizing there is no “being together forever”. Besides, there are other girls. She’s tired of being beaten, tased, and given more drugs so that she can keep performing without feeling.  But she can’t get out. Her “boyfriend” reminds her of the pictures and videos that will be splashed all over social media with the touch of a button. Everyone in her high school will know. Her parents won’t want her back.  Or if she tells someone, he will go after her younger sister.  He will kill her brother.** (Note: this example is not every norm, but definitely a common scenario).

This is reality, not another Taken movie by Liam Neeson. This is the “horrible normal.” And it’s happening right under our noses. It’s in our neighborhoods, schools, parks, and even our homes.  And Satan doesn’t want me telling you the truth because it’s a part of his plan to blind us from the destruction right in front of us to keep us living apathetic lives.  He wasn’t too happy that I told you my experience with spiritual warfare. The response of that post was overwhelming and encouraging. Some people thought they were alone in this spiritual oppression. And Satan wants to continue to cripple me and shut me up.  In fact, a few nights ago I was oppressed again. This time I felt calm knowing exactly what was happening, even though Brett woke up from a deep sleep because the bed was shaking from me convulsing and breathing fast.  I tried to call out Jesus’ name again, and this time instead of panicking, I was at peace waiting for Jesus to touch me so the demon would run. Sure enough, Jesus touched me when Brett pulled me into his arms since His Spirit lives in Brett.

Sorry Satan. I won’t stop.  I’m calling Christians out. I’m calling them out of their Christian bubble. I have lived it in far too long.  I thought that it was safe, but truly following Jesus is never safe.  Not until I met a girl who told me her story of being sold for sex by her mom for drug money starting at 6 years old, then growing up in continued sex exploitation. My life was forever changed by this girl, and I praise God for bringing her into my life.  She wasn’t being sold in a brothel in a third world country.  She went to 1st grade like every other kid in a US town, dreading coming home to what awaited her.  And that was 25 years ago. By God’s grace she is still alive and a restored Child of God. Many youth involved in sex exploitation don’t survive due to drug overdose or suicide.

Because of the deep impact that this girl had on Brett and me, God started a deep passion that has been growing this past year for children and teens in DMST.  I have written about my ministry involvement with Unconditional, where we love on woman in the sex entertainment industry in Indianapolis.  But that wasn’t enough. I was hungering for more, so Brett and I went to a sex-trafficking awareness event the other week.  From there, we signed up for a life-changing event this past weekend.  We went on a “prayer journey” with an organization called Ascent 121, which “provides a full continuum of care for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation” here in Indianapolis.

We took a physical, emotional, and spiritual journey through the story of a survivor, starting at 6 years old.  We drove to the Department of Child Services where this young girl was taken because her mom’s boyfriend raped her. We then stopped at the detention center where she was housed because she kept running away from foster homes and getting in trouble with the law.  The next stop was a specific park in Indianapolis that has made headlines for teen violence, kidnapping, murder, and trafficking. We drove to an inner city high school where many trafficked teens seem to live “normal” lives and then go out that night to be sold. We sat outside a strip club where as many as 95% of dancers are exploited as young girls. Oh, but then the hope of driving to Ascent 121’s residential facility where they provide a recovery program (last year they serviced 110 girls). We ended at a popular gas station in downtown Indy that is a hot spot for prostitution and picking up vulnerable teens.

After 2 hours of driving and praying at each of these stops, Brett and I were bawling in the parking lot of the gas station. This isn’t just something we were reading from another Facebook article (yes, I’m including my blog in this)!  We felt like we were actually living out the horror of sex exploitation. It was tangible. We even saw 2 men on each corner of the street scouting. God has opened up our eyes to the tragedy and hope of DMST. His compassion is flowing out of us as we have popped our Christian bubble and literally drove within minutes to the other side of our town.  We know God is calling us in some way to bring awareness and hope to trafficked individuals. We don’t even have to go to another country; it’s in our town.  Brett and I spoke to the director about becoming speakers to raise awareness.

This is our story of the Spirit’s leading. And we cannot ignore the tug on our hearts.  In fact, the demonic oppression I wrote about above happened the night before the prayer journey.  I couldn’t help but leave that experience joyfully laughing and spitting in Satan’s face because he cannot touch me nor scare me because “He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world!” (1 John 4:4)

Are you weeping?  Are you bothered by this? If not, ask yourself why.  Even if God is not calling you to be hands on in solving this problem doesn’t mean that you cannot do something, anything:

  1. If you live close to Indianapolis, I strongly encourage you to take time the third Saturday of the month to experience Ascent 121’s prayer journey. Here is more info.
  2. Become educated and share awareness of DMST.  January is actually Human Trafficking Awareness month.  Check out events from Ascent 121. Like their page on FB, or find programs and advocacy groups in your area. Restored, Inc. is another restoration program in Indy.  Share this blog post, so that more people can hear about the “horrible normal.”
  3. Give financially if the Lord has blessed you.  Recovery programs can only do so much and even have to turn down trafficked individuals when money is not sufficient to meet needs.
  4. Consider becoming a foster parent.  There are so many children and teens who need stable, loving homes that display the unconditional love of Jesus, to pull them out of this world of DMST.
  5. Pray – the greatest thing that everyone can do that has the most impact.  When you drive through your neighborhood, pray for the kids. When you drive by a school, pray for the students to be unafraid to report suspicious behavior and for the teachers to be educated and take necessary steps.  As you pass a strip club, don’t judge; instead pray for the customers and the dancers that they will experience God’s grace and seek Him for satisfaction. Pray as you pass a park.  Pray when you walk into Starbucks and see teen girls laughing on their phones.  Oh, and hit your knees hard in fervent prayer for your own children still living under your roof.

The solution is that every seller, buyer, and victim needs Jesus.  Without Jesus, this problem of “exploitation of vulnerability”** will never go away.  Yet find hope in this: He has called us to be His hands and feet.  Our Shepherd left 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep. And there are possibly hundreds of thousands of lost sheep scattered in our own home towns hiding in plain sight. I want to keep finding that one…..one at at time.

 

  • *Statistics are from ongoing research by Tim Swarens, as of January 2017. For more info, read his latest article here.
  • ** Info from Ascent 121
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Do the Demons Know Your Name?

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I can’t breathe.  My throat is constricted like hands grasped around my neck.

I can’t move. What’s holding me down?

I can’t see. Heavy darkness surrounds me.

I can’t speak. I’m yelling and nothing is coming out because the hands are too strong around my throat.

“In….the….name….of….Jesus…” I try to scream out but there’s no voice. I try again. Again. Silence. Suffocation.

“BRETT!” I try instead, forcing my arm to try and hit it him as I lie paralyzed in bed.

Finally after fighting, I feel him. He moves but rolls over.

Then I’m released. I sit up exhausted. Confused. I lie back down and fall asleep.

Yes, this happened to me one night last year.  When I woke up in the morning, I asked Brett if he felt me grab him. He said no.  I told a close friend of my experience and she said it was similar to what she experienced in her life from her past: demonic physical oppression.

The next night, Brett and I prayed over our bedroom asking God to remove any spiritual darkness and protect us.  However, for whatever reason it happened to Brett.  I woke up to him screaming, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” over and over again, which released the demon’s hold on him.  Prior to the oppression, Brett was dreaming about the calling God has given him to be a missionary who makes movies.

Some people may read this and be skeptical or think it was just a dream. Or wonder why we would be spiritually oppressed like this. It was real, and here is why. Let me start from the beginning.

Brett became very active on Facebook at the beginning of 2016 using it as an avenue to share the gospel and minister to people. Brett led a girl to Jesus, whose powerful transformation by the Spirit was a domino affect to leading others to accepting Jesus into their life as well.  However, this new daughter of God had a horrific past of abuse, and specifically to this topic, demonic oppression.  Let’s just say, Satan was not happy that he was losing more and more people from his grasp as they were found by the Savior.  And if Satan can’t have our souls, he will try to ruin us in any way possible by distracting us from our mission on this earth and forgetting that he is the real enemy.  He causes as much confusion and disunity among believers as he possible can to deter us from our calling and winning more souls for Jesus.

Facebook can be a great tool for Christians to use to share the gospel; however, more often than not Satan is in the background playing his games of destruction.  Brett, this girl, and others were being attacked by satanists on Facebook.  Yes, you can block and report, but it won’t stop Satan’s work.  Then one February night, Brett was messaged by a satanist.  Over the course of 2 days, Brett talked to him. He could feel the presence and weight of darkness through his computer screen.  He responded with the only thing that has power over the darkness: the Word of God. The man was demon possessed at times throughout their conversations and the Word penetrated making him physically sick and blurring his vision, until Brett told him to cry out to God and ask if He was real.  Immediately he was made well. Sadly, he still did not choose Jesus in fear of what his cult would do to him.  He ended his conversation with Brett by telling him he failed his mission to distract Brett from serving God.  Then the words that I try not to let haunt me, “Just know that the demons now know your name.”

Brett and my physical oppression is one evidence from this past year that the demons know our names. The satanist told Brett that since Satan and demons are not omnipresent like God, they do not know every Christian. They know only the ones who are a threat to their mission to keep souls from Jesus.  This is not bragging rights; this is the reality that we are in war.  This may be changing very soon, but here in America we have not been in war against other people for our faith. Yes, you may get criticized, rejected by a friend, unfriended on Facebook, laughed at, questioned, etc.  However, unlike our brothers and sisters over seas, we are not getting tortured, shot, burned, beheaded.  It may only be a matter of time, but at least right now, Brett and I are not being thrown in jail or threatened for being missionaries who make movies.  No one is stopping us. Except….Satan and his demons.

The year of 2016 has been a year of waiting. God has made his mission for us known, yet like David, Joseph, and even Jesus, we must wait for His timing to live it out. And in the wait, Satan has been working behind the scenes trying to distract with sin, plant seeds of fears and insecurities that have grown to paralyzing mountains, discourage us from our calling, doubt who God really says He is and who we are in Christ, destroy relationships….all to hold us back from obeying God even in the wait.

Satan is the real enemy.  Even for other believers who face persecution from people, Satan is still the enemy behind it all.  This sounds pretty discouraging and even haunting, especially since our culture has its own ideas of the spiritual forces around us.  My response can be to fear him and be intimidated by him.  Honestly, that is has been my initial response and I’m still battling it. And I can tell you by experience, that’s exactly what he wants. It gives him more power; he knows my weaknesses and can shoot his flaming arrows right where my armor his down.  He sets up camp in my territory and whispers that lie. That thought of doubt or insecurity. That tempting fruit of desire that if I don’t take captive it will lead to sin. He also likes to give me the club and I beat myself over and over with it while he sits back and enjoys the show.  Many times I think I came up with the thought or lie, and because “there is a way that seems right to a man (Proverbs 16:25),” I don’t instantly shove it out. I easily think it could be truth.   Where as if I focus that my enemy, the devil, who is prowling around like a lion looking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), spoke that lie, doubt, tempting desire, it’s easy to fight back! To face him and chase him out of my territory.  To speak the truth of God’s Word to shine the light which scatters the darkness (1 John 2:8).

Not only do I need to remember that Satan is the enemy, but that people are not the enemy. Even people who do not have the Spirit inside them are not the enemy. They have been blinded by Satan from the truth of Jesus Christ and his saving gift of grace that He offers them (2 Corinthians 4:4).  I was once lost and blinded; yet in God’s grace I have been found and forgiven.  This past year I have understood the grace of God more than ever before.  And because of that, the Spirit has enabled me to show more grace to others and look at them differently, no matter who they are and what they have done.  I have been living my life with fuzzy blinders over my eyes.  Now, God’s grace, unconditional love, and forgiveness towards me overflows even more to others.   Whether it’s someone from a completely different walk of life or someone who has sinned against me, they are never the enemy.  I can love with open arms. I can be rejected and know that I’m still a daughter of the King and no one can change that.  I can forgive completely when someone has hurt me.

Instead Satan wants division, arguing, unforgiveness towards one another.  When we see people as the enemy, it is so easy to do this!   Someone hurts us or someone we love, and we want to fight back and get revenge.  We feel unloved or unwanted by someone who should love or want us, so we start to believe we are unloved and desperately try to find love in the wrong places. Or we stuff down pain from the past and put up a wall from those who do love us, causing bondage rather freedom.   We fight over the meaning of a Scripture passage and churches are split into two.  Our spouse sins and we add it to the list of wrongs, and even bring it up in a later argument.  Our children are acting like little demons (can I get a raised hand!?) and we yell, become impatient, and frustrated that they are not obeying every word we say.  We even can struggle to forgive ourselves for hurting the people we love.

And Satan loves it.  He is the master of disguise. He is not the devil with the red suit and pitchfork. He’s beautiful; he even twisted our minds in our culture to think that beauty is to strive for and without it, you are not worthy. Another deception.  So he is weaving himself unnoticed throughout our minds and our relationships, and without realizing it you are believing that you (beating myself with the club example) are the enemy, or your spouse, children, friend, coworker, annoying Facebooker who won’t shut up about the election, the persecutor, yes, even the ISIS leader who has been brainwashed by THE enemy.

My friend who is reading this, there is hope.  Satan is a wimp.  It doesn’t sound like it from what I wrote above.  And as I said, I struggle with seeing him for who he really is: a punk with cheap parlor tricks as Brett tells me.  But the only way I put him in his rightful place (um…hell), is to look to the One who is on the Throne.  When I see Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, in His rightful place, everything changes. I remember that the Spirit of God lives in me!  He’s not in a tabernacle where I go worship.  He’s not here in flesh and bone like Jesus walked on the earth 2000 years ago. He is here with me. In me.  And that blows my mind. That God the Creator, the powerful I AM would come live inside me.  I have the same power to defeat Satan and my sin as Jesus had to raise from the dead!   I do not live like this every moment of every day.  What would my days look like if I did?  Satan’s doubts, lies, deceptions, luring temptations would have no place in my mind.

Oh but if only it was easy. This is war. It’s a daily battle. Some days the struggle is so real and I feel so weak. I have sat in my shower crying out to God to take the battle away because I don’t want to fight anymore.  I have 2 choices in that moment:

1. Allow Satan to stay in my territory, giving in to despair while focusing on my fears, doubts, insecurities, and temptations of sin. Which then paralyzes me and weakens my effectiveness in the mission God has called me on this earth. Causing me to miss out on receiving and giving blessings. Wondering through life without joy or peace.

-OR-

2. Ask God to fight for me, to give me the strength I need when I am weak. Take his grace that is sufficient for this day (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Give up control. Close my eyes and see Him as John did:  “…like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:13-16)  Then I stand up and be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that I am ready to take my stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

The best part: we already know who wins the war. And it surely is not Satan. He will be thrown into the lake of fire for all eternity (Revelation 20:10).  Meanwhile….

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

This rider called Faithful and True is on my side.  I have nothing to fear when I trust the Word of God.  What about you? Do you see the war around you? Is the king of kings and lord of lords on your side?  If so, are you allowing Satan to devour you or are you standing firm in the strength of the Word of God?  Do you think the demons know your name?

The battle has been won. The victory is ours. Let’s live with this Truth in mind.