As we leave 2022 behind one thing resonates with me- it is the trust these brave survivors give to us as advocates. In most cases (at least in my personal experience) it is given in a spirit of hope that we won’t let them down…like everyone else they’ve trusted has done. It is not given lightly but with the weight of their fragility and the past betrayal of this gift. This trust is not something one can put a price on to be sold and quickly discarded- it is truly priceless.
In 2016, when I met my first survivor, “K”, during street outreach, I was shocked when she shared that she had been trafficked in 43 states and had not been offered help- EVER! She told us the “church ladies” would judge them and offer food and a bible but she never felt “seen” by any of them- she only felt dirty and “less than”- until the night we encountered her in the parking lot of a Motel 6.
It was a cold Saturday night in January during a “War Weekend” and our team was cooking pots of chili for everyone at the hotel. We went door to door knocking and telling them we had plenty of food and to please join us. When a team member knocked on the door of K’s room it was obvious by what she was wearing that she was waiting for a “play”. The guy in the room with her said she was busy but that he would come downstairs. Surprisingly, he later gave us permission to take food up to her which gave us the opportunity to talk to her without him around. As she told her story we learned she had graduated from a prominent university several years ago with a degree in Engineering, met her “boyfriend” who became her first trafficker shortly after graduation, which led to drug use as a coping mechanism and now here she was “several pimps later” with no way out. We talked about leaving her trafficker and going to our safehouse but she told us she was too scared and would “think about it”. We gave her the Hotline number and waited.
K called several days later and came into the safehouse. She had trusted us with her story, trusted us to keep her safe and trusted us to find a long-term program for sex trafficking survivors where she would continue to be safe and begin her journey to healing and freedom. That was almost seven years ago and I wish I could say she completed the program and is now living her best life but sadly, that is not the case. She now has a serious addiction and is with one of the most violent traffickers in our area. However, the trust she gave us the night she came to the safehouse has grown over the years. I am the one she calls when she is in jail, when she has overdosed, when her pimp has beaten her so badly that she is in the hospital or when she is scared and needs to hear a voice that she trusts to not judge her but to love her unconditionally. Even with these circumstances, I am relieved when she calls because at least I know she is alive. I always tell her, “K, you know I am always here for you…are you ready yet?” To which she responds, “Not yet, but soon, I promise.” I am honored and blessed to be that voice, to be the recipient of the gift of her trust. I will continue to answer when she calls and I believe one day she will say, “Yes mam, I’m ready now.”