A survivor’s story: Rescue and redemption

According to End Slavery Tennessee human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year, international industry involving organized crime, corrupt governments officials, cultural expectations, orphans, poverty and more. It is as real in small town America as in a village in Cambodia or the underground of Russia.

Over the course of this week my friend Z has been sharing her story of surviving the sex trade. Trafficked by her father beginning in middle school his actions and control dominated her even as she went to college. Today is the final segment. A few observations will follow.

Click to read the introduction to A survivor’s story. Part two explores how the sexual abuse began at an early age, while part 3 recounts the depths to which Z was exploited by her father and others.

KM: Obviously you kept a lot of secrets over the years. When you were a teen did you ever tell anyone what was happening?

Z: At one point when I was in high school our church called a youth pastor who meant a lot to me. So did his wife. She really helped and was always encouraging. Once when I was really discouraged and broken she reached out, but I didn’t tell her everything. What I did tell her was about my bad home life and my parents’ problems. I didn’t tell her about the sexual abuse, so when I begged her not to tell anyone she didn’t.

KM: You’ve noted a lot of this stuff was happening while you were at college. Describe that transition.

Z: I moved to college with a friend from my hometown. Pretty quickly it went downhill when she met other people and made new friends. She eventually just left me in the dust. This made things really complicated for me on a lot of different levels. I had no idea what to do because I lived with her. I was really depressed and stuck because I was now alone in a city I was still too nervous to drive in. She was basically the only person I knew.

Survivor of sex trafficking human trafficking

Untitled painting by Z.

One week I decided to go to a Christian student ministry meeting on campus. They have a worship service on once a week. This ministry is where J works. The night that I went, J was preaching. It was a miracle that I even decided to go, because at that point in my life I was so done with Christians and any sort of organized religion it wasn’t even funny. If you told me you were a Christian I would have been tempted to spit on you, and that’s a dangerous feeling when you live in a highly “Christianized” area. Something in me, however, was really desperate for people and community. So I went and J was preaching, and I was crying the whole time. I’m not even completely sure what she was talking about anymore. All I know is that whatever she said didn’t sit with me well. It didn’t sit well with me in a way that convinced me that I needed help – I needed people, and I needed to talk. At first I thought it was just about my friend who was no longer my friend, but it was about so much more. I just didn’t know it yet.

When I met with J the first time (after a long series of emails because I knew I wouldn’t just start talking to a complete stranger) I went in with a plan to only talk about my friend and the hurt and abandonment that I felt in that friendship. We talked for a while and something came up about my dad. I don’t remember the exact words or the question she asked me or what was said after that, all I know is that somehow she knew to start asking me those questions and I broke into a million little pieces. God used her to break through a wall that had been rock solid for 18 years, and the life that I had been carefully balancing for so long, quickly (she would probably say slowly) started to fall apart. J started speaking to me about a lifestyle that I couldn’t understand – a lifestyle that felt completely foreign to me. She started telling me how I didn’t have to live controlled by my dad. I didn’t have to continue to be hurt and raped and tortured. That was evil and was not love. I couldn’t understand that. When with her and listening to her say these things I wanted to believe her. Desperately. But, I knew that what she was saying was too wonderful for me. I was the exception to every other rule, so why wouldn’t the same be [pullquote]I don’t remember the exact words or the question she asked me or what was said after that, all I know is that somehow she knew to start asking me those questions and I broke into a million little pieces.[/pullquote]true here? There was nothing better waiting for me, and I was doing exactly what I was made to do and deserved. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. I couldn’t receive it. I continued to live in fear of and controlled by my dad. But God used her voice to keep whispering truths in my ear, all the same.

KM: I assume there was overlap in the time that J began ministering to you, your dad’s control and your ultimate escape.

Z: Yes. I eventually found another place to live. There’s nothing I wanted more than to belong, to be wanted to have real friends and real relationships. Even though I had dropped out of school I was able to live in a house for girls involved in J’s ministry, which for a while worked pretty well. I got a job and things seemed to be stabilizing. There was even a brief period when my dad lost track of me, but it didn’t last. Mentally and emotionally, though, I was still enslaved.

I still, at this point, felt some responsibility to my dad and to making my family appear perfect. He would call me sometimes and say he was going to be in town and wanted to take me to dinner. Sometimes I think I hoped that maybe something was different now, and he really just wanted to have dinner with his daughter. Sometimes I think I’m just too terrified of him to ever say no. Things were never different and he would always hurt me.

After I saw him I would try and stay away from my house for a day or so. I looked a hot mess and was too embarrassed and scared to go home and answer questions. Questions came nonetheless, and I would feed them some BS sensationalized story. Sometimes they bought it; mostly they didn’t, and I eventually just stopped caring about appearances at all – my own and others’. J was the only one who ever really pushed it and pressured me to tell her the truth. She was the first person I felt I could be somewhat honest with, and she was the first person who seemed genuinely concerned. I don’t mean in a pitiful oh-I’m-so-sorry patronizing kind of way. She seemed concerned in a way that was scary to me. She was concerned in a proactive “Let’s-do-something-to-end-this” kind of way. That was new for me and I didn’t trust it.

The living arrangements didn’t last long anyway. When I applied to live there again the following fall I was honest about my reasons for living there – I would be homeless otherwise, it was cheap, J thought it would be wise, I didn’t need to be alone. I was also honest about where I was with Jesus and Christianity. My answers, which included things like how I hate church and think religion is asinine, were not what they wanted to hear; I got voted out. It was kind of like being on an episode of Survivor. They snuffed my torch and I got kicked out of the cool tribe. I was pretty frustrated and embarrassed. I have always wondered if I had been less than honest about those things and faked it like I felt everyone else was doing, would I have been allowed to stay? I don’t know. Ultimately I wound up living with J, any number of friends or in my car. Basically, I moved all the time.

KM: Looking back, even in the middle of the hell you were enduring, what do you see?

Z: It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but looking back I can see that God had his hand all over the places where I lived and the people I lived with during my years at college. Aside from times my dad dropped me off for days on end, or took me out of town God made sure I had a “safe” place to sleep. Places and people would basically just fall in my lap. One of my biggest desires is to have a home and a sense of belonging. Looking back, sometimes I think that God has allowed me to feel out of place and homeless my whole life because he wants me to continually find my identity in Him and His truth about me. I know that I am always trying to find a place or person or family to attach myself to because I desperately long to be connected to someone or something – anything – I don’t want to be alone and not have people. I would always find myself crawling back to Him to find him saying, “I’m still here, I didn’t leave. You’re still mine. You belong to me and are part of my family.” Coming to that conclusion wasn’t easy; it still frustrates me like nothing else. It frustrates me because it’s in my nature to want to be as detached from Christianity as possible, but I know such a mindset isn’t truth.

KM: So, at some point you got away.

Z: I think everyone, except myself, knew things in my life would get so bad that I would either have to willingly disappear or I would disappear. That’s exactly what was happened. A couple of years ago my dad was planning to take me out of the country for an auction comparable to what he had forced me to endure in this country. He had my passport and control enough over me that I would have had no choice. It’s possible to hate someone and obey them at the same time. I don’t know that I can explain it; it just is, or was. At some point I told J what I knew. She started asking lots of questions, and was far more concerned about it than I knew or cared to be.

As the date drew nearer J and a few other confidants were getting more and more nervous about me leaving the country. There were probably other people that I don’t know who were working with them to keep me safe. I’m sure that was hard and frustrating for them because I was never super cooperative. I wanted to be, but I was so terrified of my dad I could not function in any rational sense. Plus, listening to them meant relying on them for more than I thought was appropriate or acceptable.

My dad must have suspected something was up, though. Before I could leave, two men also involved in trafficking found me outside a store. I have absolutely no memory of the following 24-hour period. I woke up in the hospital with J and another friend. I had been drugged and raped, but somehow I was still alive and in my city. The next day they took me to a rescue center.

KM: Tell us about being at the rescue center.

Z: Being a big bundle of (silent) attitude I showed up and hated everyone. I didn’t want to be there. When I realized J wasn’t coming back to get me after a couple of days I started plotting my escape, but I was in a completely different state and had no transportation, money, or phone. If had any one of those things I would have been gone.

I was not interested in building relationships with any of the people in the center. But they knew – divinely or otherwise – exactly how to start building trust with me. It’s always the little things, seemingly insignificant, that count the most. I met an amazing counselor there who helped me work through things and begin the healing process. At first, I wouldn’t talk about anything. I had no desire to let her know me. She started, though, by asking about things unrelated to the trauma and abuse. I have some mild sensory problems that definitely affect the way I interact with people and process the world around me. She wanted to know about them. I thought that was cool. Unimportant but cool. This allowed her to build rapport with me. From there we were able to transition into the darker and heavier things surrounding my life.

KM: You touched briefly on how God watched over you at different times. Anything to add to that?

Z: It’s a little confusing to talk about because I don’t have one date when I can say, “This is when I became a Christian and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” It’s been a much longer – a lifelong – process for me.

When I was seven my Sunday school teacher literally scared the hell out of me. She was teaching us about the horrors of Hell and proceeded to lead us in the sinner’s prayer. From that day forward, and for many years, I fervently prayed that prayer many times a day and every time my dad would hurt me. I didn’t believe it worked the first time because my dad used my “badness” against me. He told me I was going to rot in hell because I was such a terrible little girl. This was all very confusing theology for my seven year old brain. [pullquote align=”right”]I’m now to the point where I can really comfortably say the words “I’m a Christian” and not cringe. And that’s a big deal.[/pullquote]Because of the lies from my dad, God for me was only interested in my ability to be good. He was only needed as a savior from the scary eventuality of death and hell. At some point, however, something shifted within me. Something deep within the core of myself knew that what this man I called daddy was teaching me was wrong; I knew my church didn’t have it quite right either.

At first my desire for truth was fueled out of rebellion against my dad, but it didn’t stay that way. I knew I had to find truth for myself–the truth–if I was ever going to make it out alive. Then there were times when I didn’t want to make it out alive, or I didn’t believe I could or would. There were times when I didn’t want to get better or live differently. It was during those times of raw and real hurt and honesty that I wanted to be as far removed from Christianity, as a faith and a culture, as I possibly could. I couldn’t ever leave it behind completely, though. I knew that was just as heretical as the things my father instilled in me.

I’m not saying it has always been peachy (because it definitely hasn’t) or that I haven’t resisted God (because I did and still do), all I know is that I can’t deny the existence of something that doesn’t exist. I can’t deny the fact that God has shown up in my life in unexplainable and unfathomable ways. I can’t deny the love I’ve felt as intensely and tangibly as a hug. I can’t deny my God full of mercy and grace. It doesn’t always make sense to me, and I have frequent moments of doubt where I want to call myself crazy, but maybe I’m now to the point where I can really comfortably say the words “I’m a Christian” and not cringe. And that’s a big deal.

KW: How has your life been since the rescue center?

Z: I laugh when I think about that question because my life now is relatively in exciting – in a good way. For the first time, my life is calm and stable and safe. I’ve felt peace and rest – that’s remarkable. I have a wonderful job with wonderful employers. I have great friends that I care about deeply and I have no doubt they care about me tremendously. I am able to more fully enjoy music (also a really big deal) and have time to do art and enjoy being me, and figuring out who I am.

Those are the good things. I don’t want to lie and wrap up my story for you and make it pretty. There are still bad days and really hard moments and feelings. I miss my home state like I can’t even explain, and I struggle maintaining relationships with people I love. I still don’t always trust the authenticity. That’s kind of unilaterally true for my relationship with God as well. It’s funny, maybe, but one thing I’ve noticed is that is was much easier for me to feel secure in God and his presence when things were really bad. When things are good, I seem to really struggle to trust and know that I’m still His. It’s so much easier to begin looking for my identity in things of this world. But one thing that seems to be very anchoring for me me is the thought “I am NOT of this world. This is not my home.” It just reminds me that I am one small piece of an ultimately beautiful story. Remembering that is why I wanted I share my one little piece.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • This is an amazing story and has opened my eyes to the issue of human trafficking in our own back yard. I will be praying for Z and all that law enforcement will deal with her fathers and others engaged in this industry.

  • Pingback: A survivor's story: Sexual abuse started early | Kingdom In The Midst()

  • Pingback: Webb and What Matters More | toddlittleton.net | toddlittleton.net()

  • SisInChrist

    From a book called death by love by mark Driscoll. –
    To every unbelieving eye, the Great Dragon was the crown Victor, standing over Jesus Christ in the ring of human history, spewing blasphemies, spitting up on his face, placing a crown of thorns upon his head in mockery, and pulling out Jesus beard as he lay beaten and stripped naked on the dust of his own earth. Placing a knee on one limb at a time, the Great Dragon held in his hands over his hammer and spikes to nailed Jesus body to a roman cross. With his army of demons and Human Servants cheering their king and his conquest, the Great Dragon laughed loudly while nailing a mocking banner above Jesus head that read, “king of the jews”.” the Great Dragon raised up the broken, beaten, and bloodied crucified Jesus for all to see, so that Jesus would be shamed by the people and spirits he had made who gathered to cover him with spit, curses, and jeering. Jesus breathe his last as the Dragon raised his head in pride to declare his ultimate victory as new king and Lord. Meanwhile Jesus body was laid in a tomb, and his followers left in utter silence, leaving a path muddied with tears behind them. But… Three days later, Jesus your warrior king rose in victory over death. Seeing Jesus alive, the great dragon snatched you as his captive, drew his sword of law, covered with the blood of your sin, and thrust its razor-sharp point at your head, naming every sin you had committed along with every boy who had ever touched you. Smiling, Jesus stepped forward and declared that he already paid the penalty for your sins on the cross, cancelled any right satan had to hold you captive, and defeated your enemy along with his servants and their works and effects in your life. With fear in his eyes, the great dragon dropped his sword from your head and was overcome with dread as he understood the victory Jesus had won for you through his seeming defeat. Drawing his own sword of truth, Jesus landed a crushing blow on the head of the great dragon, shattering his helmet and bloodying his head. Jesus step toward the Great Dragon and thrust the pommel of his word against his mouth, shattering his teeth and sending them by violently down his throat. then with a bow to his armor, Jesus doubled the great dragon over leaving him gasping for air and unable to blow his curses and blasphemes anymore. with a crushing elbow to the back of the head, Jesus dropped the Great Dragon into the very dust in which Jesus himself head lain three days prior, and the blood of the great dragon fell upon the dried blood of your savior. Jesus stripped the great dragon of all him armour and clothing as he bowed his head and his bloodied mouth moaned in agony of utter deafeat. Ashamed of your many years at the dragons side, you stood off to the side alone, gazing at the ground until Jesus came to you. Taking your chin in his hand, Jesus lifted your face, looked you in the eye, and told you that your sins were forgiven, your enemy conquered, and your life liberated from captivity, and that God is now your father, new life is your gift, and heaven is your home. As tears streamed down your face, Jesus asked you to always remember to see yourself as he does, not in light of what you have done or what has been done to you, but rather solely by what he has done for you as your victorious warrior king. At that moment, you felt freedom for the first time. At that moment, what Jesus had done for you was made known to you by God. At that moment, you stepped over the fallen dragon and embraced Jesus with a passionate joy you had previously never known. You were finally know. you were finally loved. You were finally safe. You were finally free.

  • Paul Coneff

    Jesus has earned the right to heal her because Jesus was;

    1. Sold for the price of a slave to identify with all those sold into slavery

    2. Betrayed by someone close to Him as He was sold into slavery for the price of a slave so He

    could identify with anyone who has been betrayed

    3. Stripped naked so He could identify with all those who have been stripped naked

    4. Physically violated so He could identify with all those who have been physically violated

    5. Shamed and humiliated so He could identify with all those who have been shamed and humliated

    6. Verbally and mentally abused so He could identify with all those who have been verbally and mentally abuse

    7. By groups of men over Him who should have been protecting Him o He could identify with all those who have been abused by a man or men or groups of men who should have been protecting those under them

    Jesus’ story is this girls story – as the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the world,” (Rev. 13:8) so He could earn the right to heal her and set her free…..rebuking Satan on her behalf (Zechariah 3:1-2; Jude 9), because He has ALREADY defeated Satan (Colossians 2:15).

    Our ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, offers healing and freedom, sharing the simple – yet supernatural power of HIS-story connecting with our story.

    http://www.straight2theheart.com

  • Paul Coneff

    Because Jesus was abused and marred more than any man, scarred more than any man (Isaiah 52:14), He can identify with all the physical, mental, emotional and religious abuse, shame and humiliation she has gone through…. He knows and He wants her to know that He knows what she’s gone through.

    I’ve spent thousands of hours praying with people who have been physically, sexually and mentally abused and I’ve seen the Lord do a lot of healing that only He can do because He has been through all the abuse, carrying all our sins, and all our suffering to the cross when He combined humanity with divinity. While I have a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy license, I have found that prayer is the greatest power on earth because it connects us to the healing power of Jesus Christ.

    And I know that God can heal her heart, her mind, her body and her soul. Even more, Jesus can reveal and release all the lies, all the negative messages she has received from her abusive, wicked and evil father (who will be held accountable on the day of judgment, along with all the other men involved in this kind of despicable abuse and torture). And He doesn’t stop there. He can also replace those lies and all the sense of being dirty, being unclean, being unable to trust, being unworthy with HIS purity, HIS peace, HIS wholeness, HIS faithfulness, HIS worth HE has placed on her – based on everything HE has ALREADY done for her, which is a deeper, stronger identity for her than all the wicked, evil things that have been done TO her.

    Dear Lord Jesus, Thank YOU for choosing to be betrayed for the price of a slave, stripped naked, physically violated, scarred shamed and humiliated, verbally, mentally and emotionally abused by groups of men in power over YOU, men claiming to represent God, so YOU could embrace all the physical, mental and religious abuse “Z” has gone through, “being tempted in ALL the ways “Z” has been treated and lies to” (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16), being tempted to believe YOU were dirty, YOU were unclean, YOU were unworthy, YOU were unlovable, YOU were bad and it was YOUR fault all the abuse happened to YOU, being tempted to numb YOUR pain on the cross, as YOU cried out to YOUR heavenly FATHER, “Why have YOU forsaken ME?” so YOU could also rise again with “healing in YOUR wings,” (Malachi 4:2), so that with YOUR scars and YOUR stripes/wounds, YOU could heal “Z” – filling her body, mind and soul with YOUR peace, YOUR purity and YOUR faithfulness to her. In YOUR name, JESUS, Amen.

    This kind of prayer is part of our prayer and discipleship ministry at http://www.straight2theheart.com as we help people to see that Jesus is truly a “Rubber-Meets-the-Road-Saviour” who has gone through what she has gone through…. A Savior who can give her hope, increasing her faith and trust as she realizes that He has already gone through a similar, horrific experience at the hands of men representing themselves as respectable religious leaders. May God bring HIS holiness and purity into her heart and the hearts of all those mistreated and violated and betrayed in a similar way, as HE also prepares HIS judgment for all those who would dare to intentionally, willfully harm HIS children.

  • Kgarcia

    This story has turkey impacted my life. Now I know that us, as gods followers need to put an end to human trafficking. Z will be in prayers aswell as for j who has helped z. Thank z for sharing your story and god bless. I’m sorry for up your past but now u have Jesus who would never hurt and will always love you and neve pr leave you. Stay with him always. Take care.

  • kendm1

    “It’s funny, maybe, but one thing I’ve noticed is that is was much easier for me to feel secure in God and his presence when things were really bad. When things are good, I seem to really struggle to trust and know that I’m still His. It’s so much easier to begin looking for my identity in things of this world.”

    This is the same scary truth for the majority of Christians.. when things are going good, “God time” and prayers are not as fervent or often, and our time “being real” In The Word is far lacking.. it is the failures of His People and our own lives that allow these things to happen because we are being too much “of this world”.
    When was the last time any of us slowed down to see the people around us for what they need instead of our own lusts and desires? I truly believe we are on the very threshold of this becoming an everyday event even more widespread and as borders are more easily crossed and neighbors more easily ignore each other, we will be allowing them to hide amongst us in our own areas.
    It is time for The Body Of Christ to wake up and come together as intended and fight the good fight and push back against these things and the evil that is in our families, homes and communities.. evil can only win when good does nothing.. we have already overcome and been guaranteed victory but it came and still comes at a high price, your life!