Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wonder Woman Wednesday-On the path to becoming whole

The story is often the same.  Predators seek out young pre-teen boys and girls with risk factors that make them easy to manipulate.  Risk factors often stem from any kind of abuse they experience from the people who are supposed nurture them.  Kids have a deep need to be loved and listened to, and predators know that.  Predators have a network of people who help them discover these children. 

Unlike on television, most human trafficking isn’t like a scene from Taken.  Most sex trafficking victims were not stolen from their beds or drug into a van on their way home from school.  Most of them already have broken spirits and desperately want to be saved.  Several times I have heard trafficking victims recount coming in contact with people who wanted to save them, and they thought, “I’ve already been saved,” because the life they are living as a trafficking victim is a better fate than they lived before.  At least they have a pimp who loves them at the end of the day.  He may be rough, call them every name in the book, beat them, and rape them, but he loves them.  He’s told them he loves them.  In one recent interview for Wonder Woman Wednesday, the girl who didn’t want to be named said her pimp used to say, “I love you so much, you’re gonna make me kill you, aren’t you?”  She believed it.  In her mind, with manipulated thinking patterns, she saw that as the most you could possibly be loved.

Lynda Oddo and her dog Ryder
Today I want to introduce you to Lynda Marie Oddo from Yonkers, New York.  Her parents, both drug addicts and alcohol, didn’t place her and her sibling as a priority at all.  One fateful day, they were taken away by the state and placed in separate foster homes.  Lynda was sexually abused in one of those foster homes when she was 6, and she was terrified to say anything.  When she was ten, an aunt and uncle with a loving family finally got her out of foster care and adopted her, but the damage had already been done.  She’d experienced sexual abuse already, started smoking cigarettes at age 7, pot by age 10, and by 13 she was using drugs, so she never felt she fit into this strait-laced family.  She was smart, but behind in school, she skipped classes, then she ran away.  She was a slightly overweight 16-year-old with zero self-esteem, and a desperate desire to be loved.

Lynda had a crush on a man with a hot dog truck named Joseph Defies, who acted like a gangster rapper.  Defeis introduced her to his friend Andy Fakhoury.  The two of them took her to parties, gave her drugs, and eventually, when she knew she would be in trouble at home for a bad report card, she ran away with them to go to a party. 

Joseph Defies on trial for his crimes
The men picked her up and took her to a hotel in Atlantic City where they partied until they passed out.  Lynda was drugged and could barely move when Fakhoury raped her.  She was terrified of him the next day because he acted like nothing had happened.  It happened again, and then Defeis started convincing her to sleep with people for money. 

She did it once, and she told them she would never do it again, but it was too late.  She had nowhere to go, no money to care for herself, and she felt trapped. 

Meanwhile, her uncle Steve Oddo and his four sons were breaking down doors trying to find her with no luck.

Lynda’s pimps kept her so drugged that often times she would be drooling on herself.  They also trapped another teenage girl into the same life, and the four of them moved to Rhode Island where indoor prostitution was legal, and proceeded to sell the girls for money on sites like backpage and craigslist.  Lynda, who looked younger than 16, was often forced to lie about her age and say she was much younger than she really was.

Andrew Fakhoury at his sentencing hearing
The two men also sold marijuana from their apartment and set up a music booth to make rap videos to celebrate the thug life.  Fakhoury called himself “Kash” and Defeis called himself “Jemz”, and they would rap about being gangsters in videos that showed them cruising around in a black SUV flashing fistfuls of hundred dollar bills.

They gave the girls drugs, didn’t allow them out of the apartment alone, and never in daylight.  They threatened them, beat them, told them they were worthless pieces of garbage and whores.

Lynda tried to escape a few times, but Defeis would always lure her back with promises of them finally being able to be a family.  Sometimes, after a long day of work, the four of them would sit on the couch and watch movies like they were just four friends again.  When the women fell asleep, Fakhoury would rape them, and if they fought back, he would beat them. 

When Lynda was 19, she was rescued by the police.  She is now 24 and she still struggles with addiction,  shame, self-worth, and the haunting memories of a sex trafficking victim.  Still, she fights those demons every day, offering up her story so that someone else in her situation might not feel as alone as she has.  She’s also connected with other victims in hopes that she can help them. 

Some days she curls up in a ball of tears and wants to disappear, but other days she wants to take up the fight against trafficking.

Lynda Oddo walks Ryder
Many of the trafficking stories you find are from women who are much farther in their healing path, and have established clear lines in the fight against sex trafficking, but at some point, they were all in Lynda’s footsteps, felling lost, vulnerable, ashamed, and dirty inside.  Escaping sex trafficking is the smallest part of the work they have ahead of them, which makes advocacy so important.

Lynda, you are not alone.  Your fight is not for nothing.  The shame you feel inside was not put there by you.  If I could say one thing to you, it would be to keep fighting.  Every day, no matter how hard, no matter how scary.  Keep learning, and keep reaching out.  There are huge networks of people who have formed a net to catch you when you fall.  You were not given a clear map on life, and you will have to look at someone else’s who has drawn a map from where you are.  Countless survivors have been in your shoes where you are right now.  You are not the first, you are not the only, and you are not alone. 

This week, Lynda receives the title of Wonder Woman Wednesday for her passion to spread awareness, for her survival, and for her dedication to helping others push back the darkness and shine the light.

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