The Secret No One Wants to Hear
words by: Elaine Tomski
God’s gift of loving intimacy is given to one man and one woman within the marriage bond. Any sex act outside of that union is not God’s plan and not in our best interest. However, human traffickers have a different plan; a destructive, abusive, deceptive one. Actual human beings are being bought and sold in a business generating 150-billion-dollars per year. The business is human trafficking, and two-thirds of its profits come from sexual exploitation. Men, women, and children are forced against their will and God’s will to commit unthinkable acts for monetary gain. Such knowledge is too hard to hear. But putting our fingers in our ears will not stop evil. Understanding how sex trafficking works will serve to protect our families, communities, and enslaved victims.
As with last month’s article on labor trafficking, this month’s topic is challenging to research, write, and offer. Still, our discomfort cannot compare with the horrors of sex trafficking. Please understand, everything I tell you will be hard to hear, but it will be helpful for the protection, rescue, and restoration of sex traffic victims.
According to International Justice Mission (IJM), “Every day, innocent people are beaten, raped, and abused in slavery.” Across the globe, more people are trapped in slavery than ever before in human history. Every one of those forty million oppressed human beings matters to God. Including Kashi, a precious girl from Mumbai, India.
Kashi In Her Own Words
Will you listen to me? I was only five years old when I was enslaved by strangers. They forced me to do all the housework, beat me, and didn’t let me sleep.
Listen. My identity was of thorns, amongst them and choked by them.
I was sold again. At the brothel, I was told, ‘Don’t scream, don’t make friends, just work. Attend to twenty men a day.’ These were the rules. I thought I would never get out of that place, but I did. IJM helped rescue me.
Listen to me. Now my identity is amongst the flowers; there are no thorns here. I am a woman who has overcome. I stood to fight for myself in court. I dream to build a small home, become a teacher and complete this fight. I want one thing. What I have gone through to not happen to any other child.
Listen. They need our help.
The story Kashi tells is short, but her imprisonment and time of restoration were not. IJM finds people like Kashi, brings them to safety, and helps them work through the trauma until they are restored. The aftercare victims receive from IJM is an essential part of restoring their lives. Jenn Petersen, IJM Director of Church Mobilization for the U.S. Northeast Region, says, “I’m inspired as we hear from our survivors and see the healing God has brought. It’s beautiful what God can do through a life restored. We rescue, work on restoration, and ultimately, we want to see reform so people are protected, as they should be.”
The first step in providing protection is to recognize the problem. Sex abuse and trafficking thrive in a culture of silence, so the more we know and talk about it, the better protected every vulnerable child will be. Thankfully, Kashi is not willing to be silent or held down by fear or shame. She says, “I will not be known as a girl who has gone through bad things. I will be known as a girl who has overcome bad things.” Kashi’s life has changed because of IJM.
Serving across the globe, IJM has also witnessed tremendous change in Cambodia, which was the hot spot of sex trafficking for so long. Jenn says, “The number of victims has dropped drastically, and we’ve seen a turnaround in the country. God is working!” IJM was able to shift their casework from commercial sexual exploitation to forced labor slavery because of the dramatic reduction in the crime. “It’s a beautiful thing when IJM can see crime reduced and lives protected because justice is now being served in an area, and our efforts are no longer needed. We give God all the glory!”
IJM’s efforts also helped lead to a ban on child marriage in the Dominican Republic earlier this year. Girls under the age of eighteen are no longer forced into marriage. Maggie Cutrell, IJM’s Director of Media and Communications in North America, had the opportunity to meet survivors of sexual exploitation in the Dominican Republic. Their stories of abuse are so hard, and their journeys of restoration inspiring. Maggie says, “I got to look survivors in the eyes and hear their stories. It’s just life-changing. Hearing survivors tell their stories of transformation brings my work in Washington, DC, to life.”
Jenn Petersen says, “We strive to give honor, respect, and dignity to the survivors. We want to do this the Jesus way of doing it.” Nearly 60,000 people have found rescue since IJM began in 1997, but this is only the start. Jenn says, “Our goal by 2030 is to rescue millions, protect a half-billion, and make justice for people in poverty unstoppable.” IJM needs our support and prayers. Here are some specific needs we can include in our prayers.
Pray for the IJM Kenya team as they prepare to launch work in Mombasa to address child sex trafficking across the coast. We are praying that God will open doors to relationships in this new area so that we can help bring freedom to those caught in slavery as quickly as possible.
Pray for a breakthrough in cases of online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines. Please pray specifically for cases being investigated that IJM and partners will gather the information they need to bring swift rescue and aftercare.
Sex Trafficking Close to Home
Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.
We sing and teach this song to our children because we want them to know how precious they are. Every person needs to feel loved and secure, including Angel.
Angel grew up in a family of love. In Hartville, Ohio, her childhood home is where family and school friends came to jump, splash, and laugh in their pool. Their backyard was a safe place for barbecues and birthday parties. Angel felt accepted and secure in her school and community. But then, when Angel was thirteen, her family moved to Arizona due to her dad’s job transfer. Rather than finding friends in her new school, Angel discovered bullies. They told her she was ugly, different; they made fun of her red hair. When Angel needed friends, she received insults and began believing she was unlovable.
Angel’s family occasionally visited with another family from her dad’s work, so at least she had one safe place to go. Or so she thought. That family included an older teenage boy. Angel says, “One night, the guy wanted sex, and I said absolutely not!” The guy responded, “Then I’ll find somebody who loves me.” Angel says, “The fear of him leaving made me do things with him that were against my own best thinking. So, I gave myself away.” The guy used Angel and moved on. She says, “From that point forward, I had it in my head that I had to give myself away for someone to love me.”
Feeling unloved and insecure, Angel did give herself away, over and over again. She says, “I took all of their lies and shoved them deep down inside of me and made it my truth.” Soon, Angel was drinking alcohol and taking drugs to numb the pain in her heart. Angel says, “By the time I was fifteen, I was snorting cocaine.” What began as a girl needing love turned into twenty-three years lost in drug addiction. All the while, Angel hoped for rescue. Eventually, she returned to Ohio, hoping to find a new start in life and her knight in shining armor.
Finally, that man came into Angel’s life. “He said he was going to take care of me, and I fell into a deep, dark, counterfeit love.” Young women often think they are in love with their traffickers, not even realizing they are in trouble. But, soon enough, Angel’s man of hope pushed her further down into darkness by pounding bruises onto her body and into her mind. Eventually, he forced her into her first car, selling her to other men and more violence. Angel increased her drug and alcohol use to deaden the pain of prostitution until she was so out of control, she cried out, “God kill me, or save me. I don’t want to live like this!”
God heard Angel’s desperate cry. She says, “On April 1st, I woke in Summit County jail thinking, God knows a fool when he sees a fool. Thank God he takes care of fools. And I felt something. I didn’t know it at the time, but now I know I felt the presence of my Savior, Jesus Christ.” While Angel was in prison, she began to find freedom from the guilt and shame she and others had placed on her.
Angel did not have many visitors during her extended stay in jail, but one day a voice called her name over the loudspeaker to come to the visitor’s window for a clergy visit. She asked a fellow inmate, “What is that?”
“Oh, somebody just wants to talk to you about Jesus.”
Angel flew up the stairs and met Becky. From RAHAB Ministries in Akron, Ohio, Becky Moreland looked through the glass directly into Angel’s eyes to say, “Jesus loves you.” Angel heard Becky loud and clear. Those precious words started Angel on a new path. She prayed, “Lord, please change my hard heart back into flesh.” Becky helped Angel uncover the truth about herself and her worth. The road to restoration was long and rocky, but Angel learned we sometimes get caught up in people’s opinions. She says, “That can be damaging, especially if there are unkind and evil people around us.” Angel also learned feelings don’t help. The truth helps. “Don’t listen to what the world says. Listen to what Jesus says.” It changed Angel’s whole world to understand Jesus was forsaken so that he can forgive her.
The women at RAHAB helped Angel find her way out of the darkness. Angel says, “Being raped does something to your body you think you can never heal from, but you can. I had to heal by bringing out the things that had happened to me, especially when it came to the sex part. It felt like broken glass coming up through me, but the more I could tell, the freer I felt. I have no more secrets.”
Now, Angel is helping other women caught in sex trafficking. She says, “God showed me that man doesn’t have the final answer. God has the final answer. He showed me I was created for a purpose, and that purpose is to show other women who they are in Jesus Christ. I am to be a part of loving them right where they are.”
Jocelyn Hamsher of Toward the Goal Ministries and Tusc Against Trafficking says, “There’s a lot of hurt and a lot of harm done when we don’t get help for a person who has gone through the trauma of trafficking.” Although she has survived, a trafficking victim is still in trouble. She needs support to work through the hurt she holds inside. “Restoration is possible for survivors of sex abuse and trafficking. However, if something happens in a girl’s past, and it is never dealt with or talked about, it affects her for a lifetime.”
Angel’s story demonstrates how feeling vulnerable or unloved can make our children put their trust in people who want to abuse or traffic them. Sadly, often a person known to the family can be the one to manipulate our children. Although we prefer to think of people we know as safe, unfortunately, we need to realize they sometimes pose a hidden danger.
Becoming more common is another hidden danger we need to expose. Traffickers are experts at making friends with our children online. The internet is a helpful tool I used to research some of what I share with you in this article. However, the internet is also a frightening place for children and youth who can be too trusting. On the Tusc Against Trafficking online safety podcast, Detective Sergeant Adam Fisher of the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s department says, “Strangers on the internet can be even more dangerous than strangers we meet face to face. We wouldn’t allow our kids to play on the playground with an unknown adult. Why do we allow it on the internet?” You see, an adult predator pretends to be a child or teenager online. Hidden, they can act as a friend while skillfully and patiently preparing a child to be trafficked. In a world where our children often understand more about technology than parents do, it is easy to see how predators can take advantage of vulnerable youth. So, what are we to do?
Detective Fisher suggests we need to educate ourselves and our children. Learn how to use their phones, know their passwords, and know what they’re doing online. He says, “Ask your kids questions and help them know what a friend is and what a friend is not.” Teach them not to share personal things about themselves or photographs of themselves online. Predators will use such information to lure and manipulate them.
The love146.org website provides 8 Red Flag Phrases to talk about with our youth, so they will know if someone has bad intentions, rather than just being friendly. The following are examples of online or text messages used by traffickers to befriend, manipulate, and locate your child. Have the hard talks and share these warnings with your youth who are online.
- DM me. Let’s go private. (DM means direct message) Leaving the group message site to talk privately allows a predator to learn personal information while not overheard.
- Are you alone? Someone may be trying to send or receive something they don’t want others to know or see. When others make you feel uncomfortable, it’s always okay to end the conversation and block this person.
- Send me a face pic. This request may seem harmless, but a predator will share your photo and can also determine your location by observing the background. Remember, you lose control over any image you share online.
- You seem sad. What’s bothering you? The person may ask what seems like caring questions to determine your weakness so they can take advantage of you.
- I know a way you can earn money fast. It’s never a good idea to get into a money deal with someone you don’t know, especially if a camera or webcam is involved. Even if they make it sound like no big deal, always avoid such situations.
- What’s your number? Text me. This request from a predator serves to build a false trust and can reveal your location and possibly your home address.
- I love you. We all like to hear these words, but sometimes people use them to make you feel safe and willing to do things you wouldn’t normally do.
- If you don’t do what I ask, I’ll show everyone the pictures you sent me. Even if you’re afraid of what they might think, tell a parent, teacher, or another adult you trust right away if someone tries to intimidate you like this. It’s better to deal openly with this problem than to think it will go away. With a secret predator, the problem always grows.
Remember, traffickers will be charming at first and for as long as it takes to manipulate and control their victim. You never have to feel pressured to do anything you are uncomfortable doing, no matter who asks you to do it. You can tell them to stop. It is always okay to ask someone you trust for help. If you’re a child or teenager, tell a parent. If you’re a parent, notify law enforcement. Detective Fisher says, “If people are after your child, they’re after other children. Protect your child and others by reporting anything suspicious happening online.”
Pornography is an awkward subject to discuss with our children. But authorities say the average age of a child viewing internet pornography is eleven years old. If our children are online, they don’t have to be seeking pornography; it finds them. Our children need to hear us say, “If anyone shows you a photo of someone with their clothes off, or you see them by mistake, you can tell dad and mom, and we will not be mad at you. We will listen and help you.”
Pornography Feeds Sex Trafficking
We’ve heard the excuses; they’re just photographs, they don’t hurt anyone. But these claims are misleading. Jocelyn Hamsher of Toward the Goal Ministries says, “Viewing pornography can be a factor in sexually abusing and/or trafficking victims. Pornography can serve as a trap in that we think it’s not hurting anyone, but in actuality, we are re-victimizing those who are being filmed. Many of those filmed in pornography are not always there by choice but are being trafficked or abused. By watching, we’re also hurting ourselves and our relationships. When we view pornography regularly, it changes our brain’s landscape and can take us into a downward spiral, much like drugs. We need more stimulus to get that high, leading us to view more violent material or even child-abuse content. Regularly viewing pornography can lead us to acting out, and over time can lead us from watching the screen to actually buying sex in person. Viewing pornography can change the way we see others, from people with God-given value to objects meant for our pleasure.”
Love is never abusive, forced, or for sale. However, the demand for pornography and prostitution keeps the sex trafficking industry alive. Think of it. When the purchase of pornography ends and no hands change money for sexual favors, there will no longer be the demand for victims of sex trafficking across the globe or in our communities.
The harsh reality of sex abuse and trafficking weighs heavily on our hearts, but there is hope. Jocelyn Hamsher says, “We can all join together in humility to help others. We all have our stuff. If we can come together and start walking and talking together and seeking health through Jesus Christ, we can help ourselves and other people beyond the secrecy. Whether it’s abuse, pornography, or any other thing that brings us shame, if we can talk and embrace grace, there is hope for all who are enslaved in sin and darkness.”
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
– John 3:17 –
Now that you and I have heard how sex trafficking works, let’s act by joining Kashi and Angel in doing all we can to protect our families, our communities and to restore freedom to enslaved victims around the world. Jesus loves them. We can, too.
Do Not Be Afraid to Call
For more information, to report concerning activity, or for the human trafficking victim to receive help call:
The National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888. Or text HELP to 233733
Trained people are always on call to help protect and free victims of human trafficking.
Or call your State Highway Patrol, Sheriff, or Police. They are equipped to help.
For more information about human trafficking online you can visit these websites:
To further educate your church community or youth, these organizations will provide resources or a speaker. Please call during the day.
In the Tuscarawas, OH area:
Toward the Goal Ministries // Jocelyn Hamsher // 330-231-7121
In the Goshen, IN area:
Bashor Children’s Home // Steve Riikonen // 574-875-5117
In the Lancaster, PA area:
North Star Initiative // Janelle // 717-568-2700
No matter where you live, you can call local authorities to request information about faith-based organizations willing to provide human trafficking resources or speakers for your community.
Elaine Tomski is the author of Pregnant and Praying, a gift book for expectant mothers. She and her husband call Ohio’s Amish country home. elainetomski.com