Isn’t it interesting what “normal” is to each individual?
For one person, normal may be to brush his teeth as soon as he get up. Another person may see normal as waiting until after breakfast to clean those pearly whites. One culture considers belching after a meal a compliment, while another sees it as rude. “Normal” holiday traditions vary so much that compromises are needed when two families come together. But, really, all of it is “normal.” Sure, we may argue over which traditions and habits are better, but usually none of it is bad, just “normal” for that person.
Sometimes, what surprises me the most at Sox Place, is what “normal” is for the kids that walk through the doors. Food stamps, the hope of a disability check, the foster care system, spanging (asking for spare change, as in “Do you have any spare change?”), and lining up at a food pantry are what takes up their typical day. This daily agenda may not be normal for us, but for the homeless or poor it can be very normal. The worst, for me, is when the guys talk about “sharing” the girls or the girls talk about trading sex for a place to sleep. And they talk about it as if it was no bigger deal than the weather changing. It is the way of life for a street kid.
Then it becomes a perpetual cycle – the norm, if you will: someone becomes the victim of the foster care system, the street becomes their home, they find some sort of “street family” where it is implied that they are to trade something to be a part of the group (most likely, for a girl, this will be her body), she gets pregnant, has a kid, child welfare takes the child away, and the whole thing starts over again.
The problem isn’t that this is different from my normal or that I’m somehow better than these kids; the problem is that this should not be anyone’s “normal.” But these kids don’t know how to change when their only job experience is selling drugs (they know fractions and distribution) and the only shelter they’ve ever known has been full of hate; and they don’t want to be the kind of “normal” that they are told to be by the government officials and “yuppies” who look down their noses at the grungy kids with too many bags.
So, how does one demonstrate that normal doesn’t have to include trading sex for a place to stay on a cold night or drinking too much in order to numb horrific memories? Love; compassion; patience. When a life is lived with a true Christ-like compassion – seeing everyone as an equal, these kids will have an example of a normal that is not painful. Sometimes this may be simply acknowledging the bum on the street corner. But it also includes an everyday attitude of love, generosity, and humility, because you never know who is watching you.
A story of two who escaped a magazine crew in Denver
I got a phone call Monday afternoon, June 4 of this year. The voice on the other end was of Pastor Bob Blevins in Pocomoke, MD. He had gotten my name and cell number from our District headquarters; they had told him that I could help with his problem. The problem? A victim of human trafficking named Shannon was in Denver and wanted to go home. She had called her mother back in Maryland and she turned to Pastor Blevins, the only resource she knew to turn.
Pastor Blevins gave me a description of Shannon: tall, slim, 18 year old girl, and had a tattoo on the left side of her neck. She was supposedly at the bus station where she and a friend slept outside on the sidewalk Sunday night. I left the comfort of my home (actually reading in my hammock) and went to the bus station, but no Shannon.
I walked the 16th Street Mall from one end to the other looking for this girl I had never talked to or met. She was a statistic, another victim of the scam called a magazine crew. * But she was a daughter of a very worried mother who loved her; Shannon was worth rescuing!
I walked along Broadway Street where many of the street youth hung out. Walking up to choruses of “Sox!” or “Doyle!” I began telling a few of them what I was doing out on a Monday afternoon, that I was looking for this girl who was in trouble and needed to be found. Krazy said that she thought she had seen her, but didn’t know for sure.
Another youth, named JA, said that he would help put the word out. JA is a junkie, addicted to heroin and barely hanging on, but willing to help find this girl, a stranger from another state. Out on the street, a stranger is often taken in and watched over. Many of the youth said they would keep an eye out for her.
I was playing phone tag with the pastor, who was talking to Shannon’s mom on a borrowed cell phone; the leader of the magazine crew had stolen Shannon’s cell phone. The leaders of the crew use verbal and physical intimidation, along with physical and sexual abuse to get the workers in line. Shannon fortunately had not been subjected to the abuse.
I headed back to the bus station and found her along with her friend David, who also left the crew. They were shaken, but no worse for the wear. They told me that some of the leaders of the crew had come to the station and surrounded them to intimidate them into coming back. The crew didn’t want them to leave because Shannon and David were money in their pockets. Remember the whole deal is a scam to make money off unsuspecting youth selling a false product. They would have to recruit and “train” others if they left, but when these people saw me, they figured the kids were not stranded and left them alone.
I got them bus tickets back to Maryland, got them something to eat and a place to stay for the night (their bus left at 7:15 on Tuesday night). The next morning I took them to Sox Place for a while and then they went over to the bus station to wait for their bus.
When I took them over to the bus station, I took some time to speak with them about their lives and how they didn’t have to live under the curse of no father, but could, with God’s help, live a life that was different. I told them they were special and that I was blessed to have met them, thankful that God had let me be part of their lives. I then prayed for them and over them; that was really special!
Shannon is back safe with her mother and family. David is tagging along, hoping to find his way in this life! Thank you for your support that allows us to be part of the rescue of two very wonderful teenagers who had stumbled into a trap. Thank you for standing with us so we can stand with the fatherless and those that are at risk.
*Magazine crews recruit young people with enticing ads such as, “Travel the country and earn as much as $[some ridiculous amount of money] per day!” The crew then sends them somewhere far from home to sell magazines door-to-door. When pay day rolls around, they don’t get a dime. The claim is that the young person didn’t make enough in sales to cover the cost of the hotel, food, travel, and training, thus being in debt to the company. The truth is that they will never make enough to get out of debt, and they are often threatened, beaten, and molested to force them stay with the crew.
In Part I, I pleaded with you to do more than be angry about human trafficking, give your spare change to an organization, then forget about it until you hear another statistic.
Did you forget already?
If you haven’t read Part I, please do. Following is a list of ideas that you can do to get involved. Some of them take time and effort. But what could be more important than valuing human life?
1. Keep your eyes open – Do you see the people on the side of the highway, holding signs that ask for change? What else do they do to get money? Do you see that advertisement for erotic massage? Are those people forced to do what they do? Do you see that drug addict in the street? How did he/she get the money to get those drugs? Do you see that girl with dirty hair in your youth group who is having family problems? Who will she run to when she feels she has nowhere else to turn? Open your eyes! Take note of what is going on around you! Call the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 1(888)3737-888, or the U.S. Department of Justice Trafficking in Persons Complaint Line at 1(888)428-7581, if you suspect someone is in a trafficking situation.
What is Sox Place doing? Homeless youth are some of the most at-risk for domestic human trafficking. According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, “approximately 30% of homeless youth are lured into prostitution within the first 48 hours of being on the street.” Since Sox Place works directly with these youth, we work hard to build relationships of trust so that we can see when something is wrong and so that they feel they can talk to us about what they are going through. We are also beginning to work with Prax(us), who works directly with domestic human trafficking cases in the Denver area. We feel their programs go about helping these youth in the right way.
2. Give when and where you can – There are plenty of organizations out there. Choose one or two, invest in those, and keep up with what they are doing. You may not be able to give much. You may not even think you can give right now, but try to give something. Give up going out to eat once a week or your daily latte or a weekend movie, and give what you save to your favorite organization. Give intentionally! Here are some organizations to get you started:
Prax(us) – Primarily focuses on domestic human trafficking cases in the Denver area.
Project Rescue – Focuses on international human trafficking.
Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) – Focuses on rehabilitating girls in domestic human trafficking situations.
Stop Child Trafficking Now – Addresses the demand side of child trafficking worldwide.
iEmpathize – Focuses on unique advocacy techniques and events; located in Boulder, CO.
What is Sox Place doing? When you give to Sox Place, your donation helps to serve those at-risk for human trafficking. We, in return, make sure those who have been victimized receive the help they need.
3. Pray – Take the time once a week to focus your prayers on human trafficking. Pray not only for the victims but also for organizations, exploiters/traffickers (pray for your enemies), the culture and society that promotes the sex industry, etc. You can find prayer guides on various websites. The Salvation Army has a good one.
What is Sox Place doing? Most of the staff take one day a week to fast and pray. We pray for many things. One focus is the kids that come into Sox Place, who are one of the most at-risk groups for human trafficking.
4. Educate – Educate yourself on the issue of human trafficking. Watch videos, read books and articles, and research on your own. Keep up to date with the most current news and laws. Most of the websites listed under the “give” section have a page on educating yourself, but perhaps the most comprehensive is Project Rescue’s.
What is Sox Place doing? Sox Places hosts human trafficking seminars to educate the staff and community. We are also constantly doing research, reading articles, and watching the news.
5. Advocate – By now, you know the issue and you are moved to doing something. Passionately sharing your knowledge and what to do about it is one of the most important things. Have your church or business host a human trafficking seminar. If you live in the Denver area, Prax(us) has an amazing seminar that will be designed specifically for your organization. If you are not able to have your business/ church host a seminar, you can find where one will be and invite as many people as possible. Or you can host an advocacy night in your home. This could include a video (GEMS has a documentary “Very Young Girls” with questions for a group setting); a book study or article reading; or you can get others involved and have a theme, such as art or prayer.
What is Sox Place Doing? Sox Place has hosted human trafficking seminars and plans to host more throughout the community. When we find frightening statistics or horrific facts, we share them with each other and with our friends and family.
6. Volunteer – you may not have a center for trafficking victims near you, or, if you do, they may be extremely sensitive to who helps out there, but what about places who address problems behind human trafficking? Commit to one day a week or month to volunteer at a youth drop-in center like Sox Place, a homeless shelter, an advocacy group, or a women’s shelter.
What is Sox Place Doing? If you are interested in volunteering or bringing a group to Sox Place, you can find information under the “Get Involved” tab on our website.
Now that you know the issue and know what you can do, what are you going to do?
Written by Kara Knight
Exclamations of “How horrible!” Tears in the eyes of emotional women. Heads shaking. Questions, “How could someone do that to the innocent?” Mouths gaping in shock. Angry sighs. These are often our reactions to videos, statistics, and presentations on human trafficking… and should be. We should want to cry out for the innocent. We should be angry at those who exploit others – those who allow human trafficking to happen.
We should want to do something.
But how many times have we seen a presentation or heard a statistic about trafficking victims just to throw a few dollars – whatever minimal cash we happen to have on us – in the donation jar, discuss the horrors of the situation on the way home, and wake up the next morning feeling fine?
When is it time to do something?
“But human trafficking is a problem in faraway lands… it’s a job for social workers and missionaries. There’s nothing I can do besides give a couple of bucks when I hear a presentation.”
Wrong. Traffickers bring women and children to the U.S. from other countries right under our noses – Denver is one of the top ten U.S. cities for child sex trafficking (www.projectrescue.com/resources). But what about the blonde haired, blue eyed girl who looks like she’s been used up, standing on the street corner? What about the U.S. citizen who needs quick money to feed his drug addiction?
What are we, as a community, doing that makes it so people can’t meet their basic needs without selling their own or someone else’s body? What did we do for that girl when she was 14 and was kicked out of her house? A pimp was there, ready to “love” her – where were we? What did we do for the drug addict so that he could get help for his addiction and find a good paying, legitimate job? Where were we when he turned to drugs to ease the pain of abuse or neglect?
I could give quote and statistic a million times over as to why we need to get involved, but I don’t think I need to repeat the multiple presentations you have undoubtedly heard. The issue is less about statistics or categories (who deserves to be categorized as a victim) and more about every person deserving to live life to the fullest. My only plea is: If not you, then who is going to do something?
What are you going to do?
Read Part II for ideas and what Sox Place is doing.
Written by Kara Knight