I went to a Candlelight Vigil last night at Breaking Free. Breaking Free is a survivor led organization that helps women break free from Sex Trafficking. It was a moving tribute to daughters and sisters, aunts, mothers, cousins and friends. Eighty names were read of people, known to our group, who have lost their lives in “the life.” Not named were the missing women . . . Women and teens who simply disappeared. Some were last seen going to a party on a ship in Duluth’s harbor. These indigenous women have never returned or been heard from again. Lake Superior holds many secrets. Among them are the stories of missing women.
As the names were read, we heard of deaths from overdoses and violent acts from pimps or men buying sex. Some of the murdered remain as open cases. Each name, each candle lit and each rose laid on the altar represents a precious child of God.
Women do not wait on street corners to turn a trick without being fortified with drugs. Most often, this cycle of abuse begins when a young woman or teen is approached by a pimp who tells her she is beautiful. He gains her trust, lavishing gifts and attention on her. When she is convinced he loves her he introduces drugs. Drugs will control her life. After she is addicted, he will withhold the drugs until she agrees to have sex with strange men. Soon she will find herself in the life of prostitution. What she had thought was a loving relationship now becomes a demanding one. The drugs her body craves will only be satisfied if she turns tricks. When she doesn’t earn enough money there will be beatings.
The group I volunteer at does street outreach, providing a drop in place for women to get a shower and some sleep. They are, as our director says, the ones who come with bruises. We hope being exposed to our programs will encourage the women to step away. But, they have pimps looking for them. This is a dangerous business. Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Our women carry the physical and emotional trauma of their life on the street. Many suffer from PTSD.
As I listen to the stories, I think of the pain and heartache in the community that gathers. I think of the courage of women who have escaped prostitution and the dangers they faced as they broke away.
The room is filled with pain and grief, but also hope. Hope for a day when daughters and sisters, moms and aunts will no longer be thought of as objects to be sold. Hope in God who loves us, whatever the state or our bodies or our soul. And the sheer confidence that God who loves and frees from bondage is with us – each of us, loving us in all places and all times. There is gratitude for the women who have broken free and in that freedom, have inspired others to do the same.
The psalmist says of God:
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.”