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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