She tried to break up with her boyfriend before, but could never make it stick.
He wasn’t a regular boyfriend, actually. He was a violent young man who exploited her in the sex industry. He was a pimp; a human trafficker. His abuse toward her wasn’t random. It wasn’t brought on by his mood, or by drinking. It was calculated and methodical. It stripped her of her confidence and sense of worth. It left her believing that no one else would have her, and that she needed him. Her dreams of a very different future faded as she became resigned to the belief that her place would always be with her abuser.
This scenario is more common than we’d like to think. It happens to young people in virtually every community across Canada, and too little is being done about it. As God’s people, it’s incumbent on us to “rescue the weak” (Psalms 82) and “help the oppressed” (Isaiah 1). But even if you became aware of a young victim of sex trafficking, where would you start?
In my role with SIM, I teach adults from local churches to help young people who have been exploited in the sex industry. Sometimes it means being a mentor for a young person who needs a healthy adult role model. Or might be about supporting trafficking victims testifying against pimps in court. Sometimes it even involves housing girls who lack a safe and loving home environment.
The young lady who needed to break up with her “boyfriend” couldn’t do it because he was the only one who showed any kind of dedication to her. While she recognized his was counterfeit love, she clung to it because of the instability in her life. Then something changed. I was able to arrange for her to live with a host family from a local church. They not only opened their house to her, but their hearts, as well. She had never experienced a home environment quite like that. They refused to treat her as an outsider. From day one, she was considered part of the family.
My young friend was finally in a place where more than her physical needs were being met; she felt loved. Within a few short weeks, the psychological control of her abuser weakened. Eventually, it lost its grip, altogether. Now she could break off this exploitative relationship and make it stick! She could be free because she belonged somewhere else.
My young friend is finally home.
“…loose the chains of injustice…” Isaiah 58:6
Foot Note: For many exploited young people, therapeutic counselling is also an important part of recovery. For the sake of simplicity, I didn’t address that question in this brief story. Nor did I mention the significant amount of time I invested directly supporting this young lady and the parents who hosted her. But, by far, the most impactful and life giving thing was the hope that came with being part of a loving family. Sometimes the biggest needs can be met by simply making a little room for those who would have never guessed they could belong within the safety and care of a local church community.