Healthy children do not run away from healthy homes.
I’ve prayerfully debated sharing the subject matter of which I’m about to post. I feel obligated to warn you, it is not for the faint of heart.
I met an extraordinary woman this week. I work with women, and meet amazing women every week. Every amazing woman has a story. Extraordinary women have stories, too. The difference between amazing and extraordinary? Extraordinary women are led to share their story, and are then compelled to act upon it.
Several months ago, I had one of those shift change conversations with one of my dearest friends. She has experience in forensic nursing, and knows I share the same interest. She’d recently attended a conference focusing on women’s health issues, specifically sexual exploitation and human trafficking. She shared the speaker’s name and organization with me, and I filed it away for later.
“Later” wasn’t so much later.
I was personally invited to join a group of court appointed special advocates. But I sat on it. Reaching outside my comfort zone is very difficult for me, and I completely bailed on the first opportunity, but they called again. When they did, I jumped in. One of the first courses required was actually designed for law enforcement officers, who frequently encounter “women” in precarious circumstances, seemingly offering pleasure for profit. But the focus of the class was not how to identify prostitutes. The objective was to learn to identify VICTIMS.
The material was difficult to comprehend, not necessarily because it was technically or intellectually challenging, but because it flew in the face of my own beliefs as they relate to the mass marketing of sex in America. I was sitting in a large group of fellow advocates, most of whom were at least twice my age, with only two nonwhite, nonfemale among them. Of our group, more than half excused themselves within the first hour. And who could blame them? Unfortunately, they are the majority. And if, then, we are the norm- the standard for middle upper-class Americans, the children we’ve vowed to advocate FOR, easily become invisible because they do NOT conform to any such standard.
To change the outcome of any circumstance, we have to let go our errant notions and labels. The idea that she “asked for it” doesn’t hold water. Sexually exploited children are still, in fact, children, not disposable income- not commodities.
For me, the pivotal point came in the middle of a local detective’s presentation. He put up slides-mugshots, of recent prostitutes, charged with solicitation. He gave a cursory bit of information with each slide. The one fact omitted from each slide, and redacted from each mugshot, was age. Date of birth.
Each arrest seemed incredibly typical, on the surface. We’ve all seen them- “lot lizards”. The truck drivers in my family can attest to how readily available, and for just how little, sex is offered and purchased. Any military member ever to venture off base, both home and abroad, can quickly identify the same.
Well, Mr. White Detective wore his blinders for several decades, too. Now, though, he heads a task force which covers a jurisdiction that includes the fifth most affluent neighborhood within the Lower 48, along a corridor of interstate interchanges making up a “circuit” of human trafficking: Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta… Birmingham. Yeah, that’s where my jaw dropped, too. Seventy percent of sex trafficking takes place in the Southeast.
The average age of entry into prostitution IN THE UNITED STATES is thirteen.
A thirteen year old girl cannot legally purchase alcohol, cigarettes, or over the counter cold medicine. She cannot legally marry. She cannot legally carry a firearm. She can’t even legally drive a tractor. She is not old enough to consent to sex, yet she can be arrested and charged for selling it.
Sex was not even on my radar at thirteen, but the youngest patient I’ve ever had deliver a baby was eleven. Ten, when she “got” pregnant. At the time, I knew- we ALL knew- there was no reasonable expectation of emotional or physical maturity for that young lady, but the law declared her emancipated simply for birthing a child, turning her directly back into the hands of her “family”.
The more I learn, the more convicted I become. Not many people can even wrap their mind around the degree of suffering that our society can inflict upon the most vulnerable among us. I live in an area that still ranks near the highest in the country for substantiated cases of child exploitation, neglect, and abuse. Our laws are archaic. Americans suffer from and abundance of technology, and are cursed with an acute lack of morality. We legislate prayer, marriage, and voting rights. Yet, discrimination STILL pervades our culture in race, gender, and religion. And sex sells.
Mr. White Detective had his blinders ripped away when he arrested Tajuan McCarty. She’d been drowned in “the life” since running away from a toxic home at age thirteen. She’d been subjected to violent rape and exploitation in all fifty states, trafficked back and forth within “the circuit” for more than twenty years. But this time when she was released from jail, she didn’t go back to the pimp she’d been forced to refer to as “Daddy”. She took herself to the university and enrolled, ultimately obtaining a masters in social work. Then she set out to rescue others like herself only fifteen years old the first time she was sold.
As incomprehensible and unconscionable as it is, trafficking of young women for the purpose of commodity is a ten billion dollar per year enterprise. Look at your daughter- every mugshot represents middle America- they are all somebody’s daughter. I challenge you to look around, without judgement or prejudice, and consider the ramifications of losing an entire generation of women to modern day slavery. It is simply not acceptable.
Tajuan tells her own story very well. I won’t butcher it by trying to summarize, retell, and rationalize her horror. She says only God himself can mold so much wrong into so much good. Tajuan rose out of her circumstance, determined to live her purpose, and founded The WellHouse, a trafficking rescue, crisis center, and advocacy mission in Birmingham, Alabama.
She is truly extraordinary. Be blessed, Y’all.
More information, Video: The WellHouse