She has a name. She is my friend. Her name is not hooker, call-girl or prostitute. Her name is daughter, sister, mother and friend.
When we met at a social event, she had just come off of the streets. She was pale, skinny, and tired. She looked like she hadn’t slept in months. She ate like crazy that weekend. Her favorite food is fried rice. I was drawn to her and we began to talk. She was open with me from the start. I only remember one thing about our first conversation. She said she was worried about her kids. They were living with family. I felt it was necessary to say, “They will be OK.” At that time it was what she needed to hear.
No one wakes up one day and decides they are going to choose that life. At the age of 13, she left home because she was being sexually abused. That is one of the most common reasons for teenage girls to run away. Over dinner one night, she shared with me the many horrifying truths about her life. I have two daughters around that age of my own. It was hard for me to imagine my friend as a child, navigating the streets by herself. I had to hold back my tears as she spoke. Most of us lose friends to accidents or cancer. She has lost friends to overdose and murder. She traveled the circuit to various cities, advertising herself on various online sites. She was owned by someone else. Forced to work for very little or no money. I asked her why she came home. “I am scared,” she said. “Nothing good happens to women like me when they grow old.”
She thought she was home to stay. I asked her about her plans. She wanted to buy a bike. And she had plans to plant a small garden, which she actually did. We met occasionally for coffee or dinner, and each time we met, she appeared stronger and healthier. She began to take better care of herself, always dressing nicely. Her favorite color is pink. We both attended the same church. Her faith in God was strong. She knew it was by His grace she was alive.
She has spent time in prison, because prostitution is a crime. At least she is safer there. She has done drugs. Those who have had control over her have manipulated her, to keep her stuck and dependent on her street life. She also uses it to self-medicate. When she escapes the life for awhile, and becomes clean and sober she begins to imagine other things. She has a lot to share. Her dream is to help others just like her.
My friend has escaped the life several times. Years ago she even went to college. She graduated, but she could not get a job in markeitng agencies because of her history of drugs. So she went back, to the only life she knew. I recently read a story about a woman named Lysa who helped people escape Skid Row. She would take them to rehab, give them a safe place to sleep, and then help them get back on their feet. One day she ran into a woman named Janice, who she had just helped days before. Janice had left the rehab center and was living back on Skid Row. She had walked away from help and hope. Lysa asked her why she left the rehab center. “I don’t know where to put my blankets anywhere else,” said Janice. The street was her comfort zone. It is where she felt like she belonged.
As the weeks turned into months, I felt confident that my new friend was adapting to her new life. A group of us decided to throw her a small housewarming party. We had punch, food, balloons, and presented her with lovely gifts. She made a comment how she couldn’t remember anyone ever throwing a party for her. That night as we left, I drove her home and helped her unload her gifts. As we hugged, I smelled the scent of alcohol. I knew then that something was not right. Two more months went by, and then she was gone.
She is caught in a web. She can’t get out. It is the only life she really knows or remembers. She is comfortable there. Sometimes at night I lay awake and I wonder where she is. Is she safe? Is she cold? Is she hungry? When Christmas comes I wonder if it’s just another day for her. It has been a couple of years now since she left. This time she has kept in contact with a relative. It gives me some sense of peace to know she is alive.
Two months after she left, I attended a workshop on sex trafficking. The presenter was a former prostitute that now works at a center that helps women escape the streets, and educates others on how to help stop sex trafficking. During the question and answer time, I raised my hand and asked a few questions relating to my friend. At the close of the training, a beautiful young woman approached me and asked me how I knew her sister. She recognized the details that I had shared. I was speechless. We reached for each other and cried and hugged.
She has a name. It is daughter, sister, mother and friend. She is beautiful and caring. And she is living the only way that she knows how. Please don’t judge her. We love her.
Twenty-five years ago I walked through Amsterdam’s Red Light District late one night. To this day, those faces in the windows are etched into my mind. I remember the look in their eyes. Each one of them had a name, but no voice. There are 27 million slaves in the world today, and no plantation. There are more human slaves in the world today than ever before in our history. I encourage you to use your voice for those who can’t. With no demand, there will be no more sex trafficking. The answer is to act, educate, and speak out against modern slavery. Raise your voice!