Imagine this scenario. You are fourteen years old. You grew up in poverty, and experienced both physical and sexual abuse. One day, you meet a youngish man (maybe at the mall, maybe online). He is nice to you. He tells you how wonderful you are. He buys you gifts. Eventually, he offers to take you away from the difficult life that you live in.
You go with him. You are taken away from your family, away from your community, most likely even out of your state. And once he has you completely isolated from everything familiar, he starts to beat you and sexually exploit you.
One day, the police finally show up.
They arrest you.
The scenario sounds crazy, right? But it happens all the time. And I’m not talking about far away places. I’m talking about right here, in the United States.
If you read my blog with any regularity, you are aware that I have developed a real interest in the subject of human trafficking. Up to this point, I have read about the horrors that happen to people of other countries, where civil liberties aren’t as valued. I have been surprised at the number of these foreigners who find their way into our country where, frequently under the control of massive crime syndicates, they are forced into slave labor or gentleman’s (snort!) clubs.
This weekend, for the first time, I had my eyes really opened to the fact that, sadly, there is tragic problem of domestic trafficking within our country, too. Child prostitution.
Prior to 1974, children who ran away from home were actually arrested and placed in juvenile detention centers. In 1974, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, ending the practice of incarcerating runaways. While, on the surface, not punishing kids for running away from something may sound like a fairly good idea, not enough was done to help solve the underlying causes and protect kids from whatever they were running away from. Where, in the past, they went someplace (even if it was punitive), many of them now ended up on the streets trying to fend for themselves. Pimps saw an opportunity (why the heck are these awful people strangely glorified in our culture???), and child prostitution exploded.
It is estimated that, of the one to one and a half million children that run away every year, approximately one third will end up being sexually exploited, either through prostitution or pornography. And, despite how our society tends to view prostitutes, these girls are generally doing what they are doing because they have been isolated and genuinely fear for their lives (thanks again to those lovely pimps who beat them if they don’t meet their nightly quotas).
Despite their age, despite having been moved across state lines, despite the beatings and rapes that they endure, if the police pick these girls up, they are generally treated as criminals, rather than victims. With very few exceptions, a child prostitute is placed into juvenile detention, given no real counseling to deal with the trauma they have encountered, and are eventually released back into the situation they were running from initially. Frequently, they end up back out on the streets, believing they don’t deserve any better.
I used to live in a city. As I drove to and from work every day, I became quite adept at picking out the prostitutes. I recognized the girls in my area, and noticed when someone new showed up. I don’t know how much control these (older) women had over their situations. I admit to frequently being disgusted by them. But, in my more charitable moments, I would wonder how God saw them, and the extreme sorrow he must have felt at what their lives had become. Even if they were there as a result of their own poor choices, I know that a loving God wept for them.
And now I think about these young children (typically anywhere from 11 to 17). Our laws don’t recognize them as old enough to make certain choices for themselves. In most states, even if they consented, having sex with an adult would be considered statutory rape. But, since they are accepting money for it, they are losing the protections that those laws would normally provide.
It is tragic. And it makes me wonder what the heck our law makers and enforcers could possibly be thinking.
Today, I am Thankful For:
Having had a relatively normal, happy, and secure childhood with parents who did their best to protect me from the evils of the world.
My ability to provide a normal, happy, and secure childhood for my children, and try my darndest to protect them from the evils of the world (and that it truly a daunting task).
The opportunity to see the world for what it is, and the desire to change it. Even if I don’t know how.
The fact that there are people and organizations that I can look to who are making a difference in the lives of those who suffer.
The knowledge that there is a loving God that weeps for our pain. And the belief that, someday, somehow, He will make it right.
Edited to add: I had meant for the title to be “Seeing the World Through Different Eyes,” referring to myself. I have decided to let my slip stand, though, since I really hope that, if nothing else, I can help encourage others to see what is going on, unnoticed, all around us.