Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wonder Woman Wednesday-Ripples of light in the darkness

Today I received an email for a writing contest in 2015 that somebody wanted me to enter.  The title of the contest was The Human Condition, which both the sender of the email and I thought would be a perfect type of writing contest for me to enter.

I eagerly opened the email and read on.  The prize for this particular contest was $12,000.  Yes, twelve thousand dollars.  Excited much?

I continued reading on as if God just sent me the most amazing gift, and then the rules stopped me.  The author of this contest has to be a U.S. resident.  The article must be about the human condition in a third world country. 

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn't the loss of a twelve thousand dollar reward that frustrated me.  It was the fact that there is so much to write about the human condition here that I can’t even begin to focus any of my time on foreign issues.  Not that they aren't important, and God has charged people with the task of spreading awareness on the international front, but I know my coverage has to be on the human condition right here in our country.  Specifically the human trafficking condition.

According to Force For Compassion, 3287 people are sold or kidnapped and forced into slavery every day.  The largest majority of those people are woman and children being coerced into sex trafficking.  The FBI reported that more than 100,000 children are sold for sex in the United States each year.  It’s in every state, every city, and every county.  It’s not a problem of poverty or privilege; it’s a human problem spanning every race, class, and culture.  Everyone knows it’s happening somewhere, but the majority of people don’t acknowledge it unless it directly affects them.

Today, I want to tell the story of a girl who we will call Amber, because that was her street name.  She was a beautiful, 5’11” dark skinned beauty with Kenyan features and honey colored eyes.  At 15, she was an all-star athlete,  a rock star academically, and she loved her parents and family.  Part time, she worked at a convenience store in her upper middle-class suburban neighborhood. 

Every day, this beautiful man would come in just to purchase a drink so he could talk to her.  She knew her father’s rules about boys and dating, so it took this man a very long time to win her heart, but he kept trying.  The fact that he was well into his 20’s also made hard for him to get close to her, but she never told anyone about him because he made her feel so good when she saw him, she didn’t want that to end.  Amber was sure her father would kill an older man for trying to put the moves on his baby girl.

Over time, talking became touching, but only slightly.  He would tell her how beautiful she was and run his fingers down her arm, or brush her hair back from her face.  He lavished her with gifts, which she hid from her parents.  She always wore the jewelry he gave her while she worked, but would then hide it deep in her purse before she got home.  After more time passed, she would lie about doing things with friends to go on dates to the theater or to upscale parties with him.  He always bought her beautiful dresses to wear to these things, which she begged him to keep with him so her parents wouldn’t find them.  For her 16th birthday, he took her to a very expensive restaurant and presented her with a promise ring and said, “I promise I will always protect you as long as you trust what I say.”

She had no idea that by accepting that ring and his love she was also accepting his rule over her.  That night, he took her to a hotel room and she gave herself to him fully.  He asked her to run away with him and she could live in his mansion as his queen, and she accepted.  A week later, she was living in a mansion far from her family home.  That’s when the beating, the rape, and the forced drug use started.  He had other girls that lived there too, and they were all jealous of each other, wanting to be the queen of the household, so on several occasions, they helped him break her.  Within the first two weeks, she was working, both on the street and at the same upscale parties she used to be his date to.  She would stand in the corner, not taking any food or drinks from trays or looking anyone in the eye, and when she was summoned, she would go with whoever she was told.  Her features made her a commodity, and men gladly paid thousands of dollars for sex with her. 

The man she loved, who spent a year grooming her now only spoke to her as if she was a dog.  If she was really good, he would let her watch television during the few hours she had off every day.  He would fly her all across the nation to work high profile events, often being purchased by celebrities and rappers.  She quickly realized that not only did everyone at those parties know what she was, but knew what she was to become before she fled with him.

By the end of the first year, she was a hardened shell of the girl she once was.  Her heart ached for her family who probably had no idea she was even alive, but she didn't dare contact them, because her pimp said he would kill them all.  She believed him.

Many times he beat her so badly that a doctor had to come in and assess her wounds.  He didn't allow his girls to go to the hospital, and this doctor was on his payroll.  He would allow her visible wounds to heal enough not to bleed on someone’s white leather interior, but that was it.  The doctor would splint her, stitch her, and drug her.

Amber, who was provided a fake identity, had an arrest record a mile long, and was used to be called, “Another body” by law enforcement, which did nothing but make her feel like less and less of a human.

She endured enough beatings over the first few years of her enslavement to learn how to avoid them.  She must always call her pimp 'Daddy', and she must never, ever say no to him, no matter how much she wanted to.  To do so would invoke a beating with a weapon that he made from wire hangers and a metal baseball bat.  Not every girl who worked for him lived to see their 21st birthday.

She tried to escape twice unsuccessfully, and nearly paid with her life the last time, so she vowed never to try again.

Through it all, she says she believed he loved her and wanted him to show it so badly that she would do anything to please him.  Her work was often rewarded with trips to tropical places where she could work less often and enjoy time with him a little more.  She believed that being beaten, raped, and choked was love if it was from him on a trip to the Bahamas.  He would tell her, “I love you so much, you’re going to make me kill you, aren't you?”  She would think, wow, he really loves me a lot if he loves me enough to kill me. 

As she dove into her late 20’s, she became less and less of a commodity.  She was showing her age only slightly, but it was slight enough that she wasn't getting high profile clients any longer.  They wanted young girls, the younger the better.  Because of this, her pimp started putting her on the street more and more.  Less of her clients were in posh hotels and limousines, they were middle aged middle class men and cheap hotels that smelled like sex and cigarette smoke.  The beatings became more and more common over less and less.

One day, he found something she had written about sending her family some money and letting them know she was alive.  The beating that ensued from that left her bleeding, scarred, stitched, bandaged, stapled, and casted.  She couldn't get out of bed for weeks, and she knew that he was going to kill her.
It took months of planning, but she got away from her pimp and moved to a different state.  She still sold herself for money because she didn't know any other way to earn a living, and eventually was picked up by the police, who instead of treating her like a criminal put her in a rehabilitation program where she currently works to help other women.

For fear of her pimp finding her, she has asked that her name, location, and personal details not be used, because he is still out there and she fears he is looking for her.  He has deep pockets and a team of lawyers that has gotten him out of every single charge, and his clientele are high profile. 
For now, Amber has reunited with her family and learned that she was a slave.  It took years for her to love herself.

This is just a piece of the pie when looking at the human condition in the United States.  Amber was much older than most girls who are groomed into the life before the age of 14, but her distinguished features made her as precious as diamonds.  I don't need a writing contest to tell her story, and twelve thousand dollars wouldn't even scratch the surface of need in the United States alone.  The things that make a difference in the human condition are beating hearts and caring souls.

Today, even though none of you will know her true identity, we celebrate her actions.  Amber receives Wonder Woman Wednesday this week.  She spent over a decade in hell and has chosen to help other women see the light shining from within her and push back the darkness.   It gives me a new outlook on doing hard things to build strong women.  

If you or someone you know has a story, this is a safe place.  Your details don’t have to be revealed, just your journey and how it has shaped you into a Wonder Woman.  Together we can make a difference.  One more person given the gift of awareness is one more ripple of light in the dark.

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