Video Games: A Gateway Drug to Gender Violence and the Purchase of Illegal Sex

Recently I was assigned a college paper that consisted of reviewing a video game. "Are you kidding me, I’m actually paying for this?" Was my response in the vaguest of terms. Although I am very aware of their immense popularity, I know nothing about video games nor do I play them. Due to their overwhelming acceptance, some of the information I provide here may be old news to you, but it was new news to me and what I found was shocking.

Popular games in a specific genre such as Grand Theft Auto have been the center of ample controversy. Many psychological studies have been performed to determine if these video game which condones violence, are linked to increased aggression. Analyzing whether there is a link between long-term exposure to games such as these and the moral apathy of the generations playing them, has been debated. Several video games are synonymous with murder, gender violence and the purchase of illegal sex. Players are actually rewarded for buying illegal sex. There are two camps in the arena of psychological study as to whether video games actually produce violent behavior. Although the American Psychology Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that violent video games should not be played by children and young adults, due to a potential adverse effect of increased aggression, other research shows that gaming may actually decrease aggression. Overall studies have found there is no evidence linking exposure to such games with gender violence or increased purchase of illegal sex.

Brad Bushman (2014) of Psychology Today stated, “One problem with violent video games is that they discourage players from exercising self-control. For example, in Grand Theft Auto players can steal cars, have illegal sex (then kill her afterwards to get their money back), and kill other characters including police officers. Rather than being punished for such behaviors, players are rewarded.” This has the potential to be an explosive cultural issue. But again there is no solid proof that video games lead to aggressive behavior, sexual violence or the purchase of illegal sex.

How does playing games such as these affect our world views? Is the buying and selling of illegal sex and violence in video games a form of anger management? (This theory has been signified on many occasions). And if this is a form of anger management, could it potentially lead to people acting out these violent scenarios in real life, with the impression that there would be no consequences? The answer is yes and there is proof.

Anita Sarkeesian, a pop culture critic set out on a campaign in 2012 to create awareness in the media about the opposed sexism and sexual exploitation in video games. Anita’s endeavor, Trope verses Video Games was a project that took a feminist view on women’s roles in these virtual realities. During her undertaking, Sarkeesian became the center of an epic cyber mobbing, which was initiated by anonymous online gamers. This unnamed mob, who claimed to be defending their right to purchase illegal sex virtually, hacked all of Anita’s social media accounts and distributed her private information. They crashed her website. She received thousands of emails and messages containing threats of violence, murder, and rape. The perpetrators created fake pornographic images of Anita and circulated them all over the world-wide-web. They also created an interactive knock-out computer game containing images of Ms. Sarkeesin. The premise of the game was to physically harm the main character which was Anita. Other bloggers and reviewers on the internet that claimed to support her work were also volatilely harassed.

Should such acts be labeled as common cyberbullying? Or are these actions by definition gender-based violence, subjugation of women and aggression with intent to harm? Although there is no “evidence” that video games have initiated violent behavior, I urge us to look at the context here. The framework of such video games glorifies the purchase of illegal sex, gender oppression, and sexual violence. The attacks made on Ms. Sarkeesian by the participants of these games reeks of gender violence. The notion that these strikes are not evidence of violent behavior in association with video games seems a general disregard for critical thinking and compassion.

Now any gamer you talk to will claim that exposure to such virtual scenarios does not change the psyche, nor is it unsafe by nature. We also know that the attacks against Anita are not a representation of the entire gaming population. There are many claims online that the purchase of illegal sex and gender violence is not the main objective of most video games. The women soliciting sex in these games are claimed to be nothing more than props, which set the tone for the game’s seedy realities. Yet an intention of the game is situated around the idea that having illegal sex is beneficial. Your player will actually gain more body strength and a longer life span. There are also several websites that produce an annual list of, “The Ten Best Strip Clubs and Brothels in Video Games.” I don’t think it is any secret that ten best lists in our culture focus on the most attractive features of places and products to drives sales.

Despite the violence and virtual reality debate which was reiterated by Cheryl Olson, public health specialist at Harvard University who stated, “One contingent warns that violent games reduce empathy and effective anger management skills. The other rebuts that such research is just playing into moral panic.” (Greenwood, 2010, p. 3). There is plenty of evidence that certain video games not only lead to a lack of empathy but gender violence. This is not a debate and yes we should be concerned. How else could we possibly label Anita Sarkeesian’s story?

How we spend our time matters. Sometimes things that may seem innocent are subtle attacks on the mind and the heart. In our culture we are inundated with images of gender subjugation, so let’s make sure we guard our hearts.

For more information on this topic watch Anita Sarkeesian’s Tedx Women’s talk, “Online Attacks Against Activist Who Oppose Sexism and Sexual Exploitation.”

Tara Madison is a published author, speaker and a full time college student whose chief aim is to educate the public on the dynamics of human trafficking. She has been a tattoo artist for two decades, who owns and operates Inflicting Beauty Tattoo Studio with her husband in Florida.

References

Greenwood, Dara. “Grand Theft Auto Is Good for You? Not So Fast…” Scientific American, Nature America, Inc., 2010, https://www.scientificamerica.com. Accessed 23 April 2017.

Bushman, Brad. “Violent Video Games Decreases Self-Control.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2014. https://psychologytoday.com/basics/sex. Accessed 23 April 2017.

Complex Trauma

If you are involved in direct service, which involves providing direct interventions to survivors of human trafficking or population who may encounter interpersonal violence, you may have heard the term "trauma-informed." This term refers to treatment methodologies that are inclusive to traumatic experiences as a focus in a survivor's case plan or treatment modality.

I have had the wonderful opportunity to work for a number of organizations who do include trauma into the focus of their treatment for assisting persons to overcome adversity. Including, an in-depth exploration to the neuroscience of trauma and its physical impact on the brain. Trauma information is presented during every training opportunity for all staff, including case planning and multidisciplinary action teams. Trauma-informed care is inclusive to survivors in the process and allows the survivor to become an integral part of the healing process.

While trauma-informed care is considered to be a best-practice model for serving individuals who have experienced trauma and adversity, there is another more advanced type of trauma that is rarely talked about and, rarely trained on—complex trauma. Human Trafficking (long-term trafficking) survivors often fall under the umbrella of complex trauma because of their repeated exposure to violence and adverse experiences, as well as a lack of available services for persons with this level of trauma.

When I was 16 years old, I was stuck in a relationship with Satan. My boyfriend at the time enjoyed the pain he inflicted on me. Physical, sexual, psychological, you name it, I lived it with him. The trauma I experienced took place during the limbic stage of brain development and rewired my brain to think that violence was normal in a relationship. This primed me for exploitation when I moved away from my parents' house.

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The National Child Traumatic Stress Center defines complex trauma as a type of trauma that occurs repeatedly, cumulatively and even increases over time. In a family context, a conspicuous example of complex trauma is ongoing (physical or sexual) violence against family members. There are many different scenarios that can play out when looking at what complex trauma looks like. A common example in my work with survivors most often includes someone with an extensive history of sexual abuse, starting sometime during their childhood. I've also met a substantial number of survivors who share that they watched a domestic violence situation play out over and over again during their childhood. Many survivors tell stories of watching someone murdered in front of them. All of these are severe levels of exposure to trauma, but what is signature to complex trauma is when the exposure is repeated over an extensive time period (more than a few weeks).

The main difference between the two include the symptoms. The image below gives a helpful guide on what complex trauma looks like.

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In this image, you can see that there is a solid base of re-experiencing, avoidance, and sense of threat in both PTSD (trauma) and Complex PTSD (complex trauma). What sets complex trauma apart is that on top of those signature behaviors of repeated exposure to trauma, you also see the person's affect becoming chronically dysregulated with difficulty seeing oneself in any positive light, and is constantly engaging in negative interpersonal relationships. This means that you usually see the survivor sabotaging relationships or allowing the lack of trust to prevent that individual from connecting or attaching with anyone. 

You can't talk about complex trauma without talking about brain science, specifically how early trauma exposure can rewire the brain, increasing vulnerability to adverse experiences later on. I am not yet a neuroscientist, but I will share information I have been given at the trainings I've been to recently. When a child experiences trauma during any of the various milestones of development, that trauma can leave a mark (or scar) on the brain until that child is able to overcome what they experienced. Someone who has experienced a lot of abuse can actually lose parts of their brain. This can impair the way the child (or later the adult) interacts with others, and even the ability to keep meaningful relationships. What is more alarming is that the complex trauma can actually alter the brain's responses to trauma, impairing judgment, and making someone susceptible to even more devastating trauma. There's a video of a Ted Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris of the Center for Youth Wellness in California that blows my mind every time I see it! She talks a lot about the ACEs Assessment (which is accessible at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/) and how the assessment is an especially useful tool to identify trauma histories in patients so that the treatment can be trauma-informed.  (https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime)


When I graduated high school at 18 years old, I was able to walk away from that relationship. I am making it sound really easy, but it definitely wasn't. After I was able to successfully end that relationship, I engaged in promiscuous behavior including sneaking out with boys and girls, drinking, and blatantly defying my parents. When I actually got to college, I was primed and ready for someone to take complete advantage of my vulnerabilities. Do you think that there were services for me out in Podunk, KS? NO! There was nothing. There's still nothing. How do you think that never getting services helped me? Spoiler alert…it didn't. 

Think about all of the amazing kiddos who are at risk for human trafficking. There are so many kids out there who have lived through worse than I did, at a much earlier age. There are so many kids who have lived in the shadows and grew into traumatized adults who later result to maladaptive survival behaviors because that trauma has disintegrated their temporal lobes (responsible for computer auditory information) or damaged their prefrontal cortex (responsible for managing impulsivity and judgment). These kids….who were severely traumatized….who were forgotten by the system…..grow into TRAFFICKERS. Complex Trauma creates Traffickers.

Listen, y'all – there's no justification for traffickers' behaviors. There's no making what they did okay. But we can learn from them. We can work to own up to and eventually fix the mistakes we have made as a society. WE can prevent human traffickers. Think about the impacts of the foster care system on children. Or what about poverty, dang it??? Think about how our society manufactures trauma that creates this everlasting river of cruelty. The river flows from population to population, shifting the blame, demonizing human beings, and never solving the issue of violence that perpetuates complex trauma. The cruelty moves and shifts so that it becomes unrecognizable in another form (until smart people like me figure it out). 

It's time to destroy this river (and only this river). You can make a difference by engaging in a conversation with someone you have had difficult relationships with in a way that is kind. You can start to challenge those "good guy/bad guy" ideas that are so blatantly part of our culture. You can raise your kids under a rainbow of glitter, unicorns, and kindness. Perpetuate a world where we accept one another, no matter anyone's views. Perpetuate a world where love is the goal.

Kristen Tebow is an advocate for survivors of human trafficking with almost a decade of serving marginalized youth and adults, developing programs, and educating the public on the indicators and red flags of human sex trafficking. Kristen is an artist, a dreamer, and a visionary. She is a respected member of the Human Trafficking Survivor Leader community and continues to empower, provide support to, and collaborate with Survivor Leaders from around the globe. Kristen is renewed through relationships with friends and family, especially her Husband and their two Jack Russell Terriers. K.T. enjoys painting, singing and dancing, and yoga. K.T. has been nationally recognized for her artwork, providing two paintings for the world-renown Pathbreaker Award at the Shared Hope JuST Conference.

2 Kinds of Faith

In the Bible there are only two occurrences that were recorded during Jesus ministry where He states that He was, "Amazed;" Mark 6:6 and in Luke 7:9. Both contrast one another. One was for those who were lacking in faith and the other time was for a man's great faith. I can only hope that one day I too can achieve such great faith that it amazes Jesus.

Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Many times, if I don't have faith in what I see, how much harder can it be for me to have faith in what I do not see. And yet…. Jesus waits for me and for you, ever so patiently. Have faith, my child. Have faith. Let's look at the two kinds of faith that amazed Jesus.

Lack of Faith

In Mark 6 we read that Jesus was going into His hometown with His disciples. When the Sabbath came, Jesus began teaching and although many were in awe of what He was doing, talk of doubt and disbelief began to show up in different circles. Can you imagine the scene? "Hey, isn't that Mary and Joseph's boy?", "Isn't that so and so's brother?", "Aw, we know who that is, we lived near him!" Does that sound familiar? I know for me it does. I've had looks before from people I knew or knew of me growing up. "Isn't that the one who was wild growing up?" "Wasn't she a stripper back in the day?" "That's just my niece, I know who she is!"

Jesus’ own family in Mark 3:21 traveled 30 miles from Capernaum to Nazareth and we read in verse 21, "When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for the said, "He is out of his mind!" See, doesn't that just gives you Jesus bumps! Even Jesus’ own family thought he was crazy. Ha! They traveled 30 miles and back then they didn't have Uber. I googled how long the walk would have been and it would approximately have taken them 10 hours to walk. Wow! They were serious in trying to tell him how crazy he was. Think about that for a minute. Some people may travel miles to tell you how they feel about you that is not aligned with what Jesus feels about you. In Mark 3:31-35, Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were outside of where he was teaching looking for him. And Jesus responds in vs. 34-35, "Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and brothers! 35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." What Jesus was saying here is that his family was those who hear God’s word and puts them to practice (keyword = practice). Jesus wasn't at all trying to disrespect them, rather he was making a statement and empathizing the point that one's spiritual relationship was superior to one's natural earthly relationship. He loved them all but his purpose was to do the will of His Father.

Philippians 4:9 says, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me. Or seen in me—put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."

In Mark 6:4-6 Jesus told his disciples that only in his hometown, among his relatives and even in his own home, was He a prophet without honor. And because of this, he was only able to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. The sad part in those verses is that it said Jesus couldn't perform any miracles there. Healings came but not the miracles. Meditate on that a bit, take your time to process that. There were healings. BUT not miracles. Mark 6:6, "And He [Jesus] was amazed at their lack of faith." It wasn't that Jesus did not want to, but that He chose not to- due to their lack of faith/unbelief.

Jesus wants us to know his heart. He left us the Living Word of God, so that we wouldn't be weary, or blind but rather see that Faith activates miracles, while the lack of faith deactivates it.

Miracle Causing Faith

So, now that we saw what lack of faith looks like, we now can move onto the kind of faith that causes miracles.

Luke 7:1-10, tells the story of a Centurion slave master who was concerned for his servant who was ill and about to die. He was so concerned that he sent some Jewish leaders to speak to Jesus, asking him to heal his servant. They begged Jesus, asking him to heal that man's servant. They told Jesus that this Centurion was responsible for building their synagogue and that he was a man who loved their nation. This man must've been a stand-up kind of guy, one who was wealthy. In order for him to be able to get some Jewish leaders to speak to Jesus on his behalf, he had to have a lot of respect in his community. Because of them, Jesus decided to go. Not far from the house the Centurion sent another word through his friends to tell Jesus that he wasn't worthy to have Jesus come to his house or for him to go to Jesus and be in his presence. BUT, he said that all Jesus had to do was say the word and his slave would be healed. He said that he understood authority; and that he himself was under authority and that he had led soldiers who were under his authority. Let's read in Luke 7:8, "For I myself [ the Centurion] am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, " ‘Go' and he goes; and that one, ‘come', and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘do this', and he does it."

It is this great reminder that in God's army when Jesus gives us a command (i.e Be well. Be healed. Go forth. Follow me. You are forgiven. You are set free.) that we should not doubt, but rather have faith and just be. Just receive it. And if we lack wisdom on how to do it we should ask him. (James 1:5).

The Centurion man knew that all Jesus had to do was say the word and his servant would be healed. All he needed was to hear the word from Jesus. The beauty about that also was that he didn't even have to be in the physical presence of the Lord or a word from a prophet this was normal everyday friends. And because of his faith, we read in Luke 7:9, "When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

When the friends turned back home to the Centurion's house, the servant was healed.

Three things we can learn from the Centurion:

1) Great faith activates miracles.

2) Humble confidence produces the result of a Character that pleases the Lord.

3) When God commands us- we need to think like a soldier and just do it, accept it, believe it.

May we all remember the that Centurion man had a faith that made Jesus amazed. And may we also be like the woman who knew that one touch of Jesus would heal her. It isn't material possessions, or status in society..etc.,  its Faith. I leave you with one more verse, the very verse that Jesus spoke to the woman who had an issue for 12 years that could not be cured until she reached out towards Jesus in faith. Luke 8:48, "Then He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in Peace."

May the Lord's words comfort you. Go in Peace.

Angelica Kauhako is a woman who is passionate for the Lord. She was born and raised in Hawaii. Along with being a born-again, Spirit-filled believer, Angelica is also a devoted, loving wife, mother, and, grandmother. She is a sex-trafficking survivor, mentor, college graduate and holds certifications in substance abuse counseling. Angelica is dedicated to ministering to women incarcerated in Hawaii. One of her greatest passions is seeing others accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior because it is through that acceptance for others and herself that she has seen miracles of faith, hope, and love.

Beautiful Faith

I want to address this blog to the survivors who are newly out of the life and not sure where they're stepping yet. To the survivor who is out, but on a roller coaster of highs, lows, and insecurities. To the survivors who understand how faith works and the ones who don't.

I'm talking to the people of faith here, all the ones who know: for the people who wonder and the people who HOPE that somebody is listening.

This is the story of how I built my faith early on, exiting the life, and trying to get my footing in a completely foreign world. It was like I was in Rome and I was doing my best to act Roman and fit in with the natives, but in actuality, my dress, my mannerisms, my language, my thinking, my understanding, and everything about me was more at home in another galaxy. Nevertheless, I tried and took heed of a piece of advice someone once gave me: Act as if!  Fake it till you make it!

And since all my game plans had failed me, I decided to throw myself into this role of high moral Christianity all the way. I went into it wholeheartedly, taking on the role: role-playing is something I had done before!

In my church, the sacrament of communion is a ritual reenactment of Jesus's Last Supper where he instructs his followers to eat broken bread and drink wine or water in remembrance of his promises he kept to us in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. It was at the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross that he showed us that he knew all of our pain and that he could bear it for us. So in the exchange of bread and a sip of water, I gave him my trust. I gave him a promise back...

My promise each week was that I would not sell my body and I would not allow anyone else to sell my body for any reason. Somehow, I trusted Jesus that he would provide—that for the next week, with no selling of my flesh, I would have a roof over my head, food on my table, and a safe place to be. There is no peace or happiness without security.

That was my covenant, my own promise to God from myself.

Somehow, not only did I have the bare minimum, I had my own house. An adorable little blue house with wood floors, trees in the yard, and even a cat. I worked a call center job I had to take the bus to and was not making enough to pay rent, utilities, and food, yet somehow each month all those amenities and blessings were met and taken care of.

I remember once when I was destitute (again) and I got a doorbell-ditch. The bell rang and when I opened the door, there were paper hearts taped to the windows and doors with messages of love and encouragement, and a fifty-pound bag of cat food—my immediate necessity for my sweet pet!!—on my step. This blessing came after someone at church heard me joke that I was ready to stand by the freeway entrance holding a cardboard sign that said WILL WORK FOR CAT FOOD!

It was a joke, but it was my need and my real worry at the time and some kind soul took it seriously enough to be God's hands for that moment.

I know that real evil exists and can seem overwhelming for new faith.

I know that are wars in the world and people who say, "where is God for those that suffer?" This question is an old philosophy question and it's a hard one. There are no easy answers, but I know there can be a comfort. I have felt it. I know that it sounds trivial that God cares about my cat, but after a dear friend's teenage son just passed away from a long illness, it seemed unfair to have faith in God. During this time, something I learned is that one way to avoid the bitterness of the sad situations where God seems to let us down is to think of the ways in which he doesn't and to think of the different ways he works through mere mortal individuals. For example, if people want to have a war, he won't stop them, but he might bless someone who suffers because of it, especially when they ask and stand ready to receive comfort.

God will not force anything. If we let him in, I have faith he will come in. It may not be the way we expect, but God is ready to meet us where we are if we're willing to do the work to meet him.

Of course, when I took on this role playing scenario I made lots of changes in my life. I became a lay minister, visiting the women I was assigned to and doing what my church leaders asked me to do to serve others. I took on a low-paying regular-life job. I quit hanging out with people (both in person and online) I knew could drag me back down.

Most importantly though was the meeting I had every week during communion—a sacrament between myself and God. I showed up every week because I knew I had to recommit my life to him. And when I recommitted my life to him every week, he showed up too. This step of faith was important to me.

One week at church I sat next to someone I had not sat by before. She was younger than me and had been born into the faith. She said to me, "You shouldn't take this sacrament since you haven't been baptized yet. I mean you CAN it won't hurt anything, but it can't MEAN anything to you...." She expressed this to me because it is what she had been taught. As she held out the tray containing the bread, I looked in her eyes and said, "You have no idea how much this means to me." I had built a testimony of faith and had seen it work in my life.

I kept coming on Sundays.

I have since been baptized and I continue to take the sacrament. And each week I make the covenant once again to not sell my body. Imagine how that covenant has grown; not only do I have a place to stay, but it is a safe house for others too. I have security. I have food on the table and I still have my cat.

Life is good and I have faith that it will only get better!

Laurin Crosson is the founder and director of Rockstarr Ministries. She runs a safe house and specializes in assisting in escape for victims still under pimp control. Laurin is a proud graduate of RBI and is grateful for their ongoing support.

6 Things I Have Learned About Faith

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith is the one thing that we need to please God as it states in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

In my experience faith is closely related to obedience and trust. I have been walking with the Lord for about five years. And I think the biggest thing that I have learned is the idea that faith and obedience are a must in walking out our salvation with God. It is funny that it seems so simple, but when push comes to shove, sometimes our own comfort and lack of trust seems like a way better choice than whatever God asks us to do because we can’t see what is on the other side of what He is asking of us.

I am going to get pretty vulnerable. My name is Devon Alexa. When I was 19, I was trafficked from Southern California to Las Vegas. Five years ago, I was introduced to the Jesus and for me, it took an encounter with His presence that convinced me of His realness. After that moment, I knew that I was going to give my life fully to the Lord, no looking back. And frankly at that point in my life, there wasn’t much to lose - I was just living to survive.

Meeting Jesus was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

Throughout my journey with God, I have had the best times in my life and some of the hardest. But through the ups and the downs I have chosen to never give up on Jesus - even in the times I haven’t been able to see the light. For example, the first two years of my walk with God were amazing: full of blessings and freedom. I was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life. I had amazing friends was doing ministry and loving life. About two years into my walk with God, I decided to pursue my first dating relationship with a Christian man. He was such an awesome guy and was intentional about pursuing my heart. I remember when he asked me to be his girlfriend although my response was "I’m scared," I was overjoyed at the same time. I couldn’t believe that someone like him could like me.

As the relationship progressed my heart for him and a vision for our relationship grew. Then one day before we were going to go on a date I heard the audible voice of God for the first time. In that moment I knew God was telling me that the guy I was dating was not my husband. Most people would have gone to their bedroom repented and broke it off. Right? Well, unfortunately, I doubted that I heard God’s voice and continued to date him. In my mind he was the best - I had never experienced someone treating me with the honor and respect that he did. As I made the decision to stay in the relationship I was bombarded with confusion and lies, like: It’s because of my past I could never be with someone like that, or it’s the enemy because we have a mighty call together. As I continued to doubt the voice of God and fight for the relationship, things got worse. I began to become jealous and spiraled into my first experience with depression. During this time I would pray and beg God that if He wasn’t the one to have him to break up with me. God whispered, "You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you." He was calling me to be courageous.

Eventually, I realized that things were not working and I finally obeyed. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life - and I have been through some difficult things. It’s easy to walk around and say, "I trust God and He is the Lord over my life, etc.” But what happens when he asks you to surrender something that looks good to you?

Through this experience, I was confronted with my beliefs of God and who He was to me. If I truly, in my heart, believed that God had the best for me and that he was GOOD ALL OF THE TIME, then I would have obeyed immediately and saved myself and the other person involved a lot of pain.

Although hard, I am grateful for that season, because it prepared my heart to receive the healing that it so desperately needed and launched me into a deeper relationship with God.

As I have grown in my relationship with God I have learned to listen and obey quicker because as I have stepped out in faith God has always been faithful. It is scary at times but always worth it. I have never regretted listening to God. It’s funny because usually, the things He wants for me are the things that I truly want in my heart but are unaware of at the time. He knows our desires more than we do.

Six things I have learned from this experience.

1. Obey immediately (Even if you think you hear God step out in FAITH. God will reward you with a greater measure of peace and it’s an invitation for an upgrade in trust).

2. Know your values.

3. Believe God has your best intentions in mind (He knows you better than you know yourself).

4. Trust that God is good all of the time (He only knows how to be good, he is good all of the time, rain or shine, no matter what you think or how you feel He is good).

5. Abide in the God who says, “My peace is priceless.”

6. Become whole before dating (learn to love yourself and love what God loves - YOU).

My favorite verse is Philippians 3:13: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. Not that I am perfect, but one thing I do is forget the things of the past and press forward to the prize of the upward call of Jesus Christ.

No matter what you are facing never give up. Remember that there is always something good on the other side of trusting God. He is faithful!  

My name is Devon Alexa, I am 26 and am passionate about people walking in freedom and life and finding the greatness that is placed inside of them. I believe that there is hope for everyone. I was trafficked when I was 19 and through Jesus, I have been set free. I love coffee, spicy food, and I love long car rides and plane rides. If the only thing I learn in this life is love then this life has been a success. 

3 Sides of FAITH

Whenever I hear the word faith, George Michael’s song “Faith” plays in my head, for the most part. Unless it’s been a challenging day, then it’s Limp Bizkit’s version of the song. Regardless of which rendition is going through my head, or the situation that I may be experiencing, the one thing that remains is I have faith to get me through the day.

What does faith look like?

For me personally, I have learned that it’s all about perception. Knowing that whatever way a situation, experience, or lesson plays out, is just the way it is supposed to give me a sense of solace. Obviously, we cannot SEE faith, which can make it difficult to embrace at times since it is not tangible. However, when you truly believe and are able to reach a state of having “blind faith,” staying reminded becomes just a tad bit easier.

“Faith does not make things easy, it makes them possible.” – Luke 1:37

I have not always been a believer in Christ. In fact, for so long I questioned everything. Thinking to myself, “If God was really real, then why would He allow me to go through so much suffering and trauma?” along with a slew of other negative thoughts. But here is what I have found out: God never intended for any of those bad things to happen to me, or anyone else. And I now know that despite all of the pain and suffering that I have endured, He uses that for His glory and to fight the good fight.

What does that mean?

All I can do is provide examples from my own life because that’s what I know. On June 3rd of 2014, my life was dismal and close to its end. Sitting in a cell, alone, in a city far from my family, and having nothing, I had finally reached my “rock bottom.” I decided to do something that I had never intentionally done before. I got down on my knees and prayed. I prayed to “whoever you are” to help me, guide me, and give my life meaning. Two days later I got the news that I would not be going to prison, and would be released after serving my remaining jail sentence.

Upon getting released I was scared. I was in a foreign place, with no money, food, or shelter. I only had the clothes on my back and some miscellaneous items. With that, I knew that I needed to figure something out, and quick. I had no resources or idea of how to do that. But I had this feeling inside of me, directing me and guiding me where to go. So I just kept going and doing what it was telling me to do.

Within hours I had found a place to stay - a faith-based transitional home and a support system to match. Within 2 weeks I was baptized in the Rogue River, and a week after that I had gotten re-enrolled in college. All of this was new, exciting, and slightly terrifying. But one thing that remained was this faith that I was doing the right thing, and it was working.

Fast forward to today, in 2017, and I am one term away from graduating with my Associates of Arts Oregon Transfer degree. I am a Life Coach at a homeless youth shelter. And have done a tremendous amount of work on myself. Most importantly, I have my family back and they get to have me too, as the person I was always been meant to be.

Faith for me…

Is knowing that no matter what I endure in life, I will be able to manage and conquer the complexities that arise… SUCCESSFULLY. I don’t always know what that looks like, and that’s half of the battle with faith - believing in what you cannot see. It is knowing that regardless of the pain and suffering I have endured, it is not for waste, and will be used in the most beautiful way. It is letting my faith be so much bigger than my fears could ever be. I feel like having faith is the simple most effective way to aid in combatting those fears that tend to cripple and defeat so many of us.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

With that being said, I challenge you. I challenge you to believe in SOMETHING if you don’t already. Whatever God you believe in, who or whatever your higher power is, latch on to that and believe with all your heart that it will guide you. All you have to do is listen. Listen to your heart, your feelings, and your senses. Wholeheartedly dive into your faith, because I can attest, that when you do, life becomes much more tolerable. And when confronted with the unexpected, unimaginable, unfathomable situations, you will already be prepared and ready because the battle will already be won. All that will be left is to navigate those situations, and when you are listening to your inner guide (gut instinct) life becomes a little bit more doable.

I’ve learned that God is just a prayer away. No matter what time it is, day or night, He is always there. I have that faith and that’s what I believe. What do you believe?

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Shannon Redline is a full-time student and works as a Life Coach at the homeless youth shelter, Hearts With A Mission. Shannon is a member of A.C.T. (Abolish Child Trafficking) of Southern Oregon, through which she has taught The Prevention Project curriculum to local high school students. Shannon is a survivor of sex trafficking and other traumas, which has given her a passion for helping youth and sharing her testimony whenever possible. Shannon is an advocate, volunteer, mentor, dog mom and lover of the Lord.

Complexities of Complex Trauma

For years, I had no idea why I behaved so horribly, why my relationships never lasted, why I kept going back to drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships…. why did I keep going back to The Game? It was always THEIR FAULT!!!!

Then one day while sitting is a training session, I got it... I was a VICTIM and suffering from “Complex Trauma”.

Allow me to back up for a moment, my name is Tammy, I am a CSEC Survivor, I am from Hawaii, I was born and raised on the Island of Oahu I am going to share my life with you and how I realized I have suffered from Complex Trauma.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma generally refers to traumatic stressors that are interpersonal, that is, they are premeditated, planned, and caused by other humans, such as violating and/or exploitation of another person. Child abuse of all types (physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect) within the family is the most common form of chronic interpersonal victimization.

For me, the abuse started when I was four years old, how you may ask do you remember back to 4 years old?  Well, that’s easy for me because I have seen the same incident in my mind for over 47 years.  You see my favorite aunt and my dad were the abusers and I could not understand how my favorite aunt would allow my dad to do those things to me. So, I relived the incident over and over in my mind.  The last time my dad abused me he violently raped me I was 13 years old.  All the years in between there was constant sexual abuse, some call that incest.

Rather than creating conditions for protection and security within the relationship, abuse by primary attachment figures instead becomes the cause of great distress and creates conditions of gross insecurity and instability for the child including misgivings about the trustworthiness of others. Whatever the case, the victim usually does not have adequate time to regain emotional equilibrium between occurrences and is left with the knowledge that it can happen again at any time. This awareness, in turn, leads to states of ongoing vigilance, anticipation, and anxiety. Rather than having a secure and relatively carefree childhood, abused children are worried and hypervigilant. The psychological energy that would normally go to learning and development instead goes to coping and survival.

I remember always dreading being alone with my dad.

Unfortunately, when such abuse is observed or a child does disclose, adequate and helpful responses are lacking, resulting in another betrayal and another type of trauma that has been labeled secondary traumatization or institutional trauma. It is for these additional reasons that complex traumatization is often compounded and cumulative, as well as becomes a foundation on which other traumatic experiences tragically occur over the course of the individual's lifespan. Research studies have repeatedly found that when a child is abused early in life, especially sexually, it renders him/her much more vulnerable to additional victimization. Such child victims can become caught in an ongoing cycle of violence and retraumatization over their life course, especially if the original abuse continues to go unacknowledged and the aftereffects unrecognized and untreated.

When I finally told about the sexual abuse I was taken away from my family, my little sister was just 5 years old, and now who was going to protect her from our abusive dad?

Occurring later in life, are often traumatic or potentially traumatic and can worsen the impact of early life complex trauma and cause the development of complex traumatic stress reactions. These adversities can include but are not limited to:

Ongoing sexual and physical revictimization and retraumatization in the family or other contexts, including prostitution and sexual slavery

To summarize: complex traumatic events and experiences can be defined as stressors that are:

(1)  repetitive, prolonged, or cumulative (2) most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and maltreatment including neglect/abandonment/antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults, and (3) often occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim's life, especially in early childhood or adolescence, but can also occur later in life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability/ disempowerment/dependency/age /infirmity, and so on.

Now in foster care without any therapy for the sexual abuse, I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the anger and pain I felt. Which led me to make poor choices, one that would change my life even more?  I met a pimp at age 15 and did not go home instead I went on the run for 9 months and was sold for sex in Waikiki and later Anchorage Alaska.

Although some individuals who were traumatized as children manage to escape relatively unscathed at the time or later (often due to personal resilience or to having had a restorative and secure attachment relationship with a primary caregiver that countered the abuse effects). For me my saving grace was my older sister she understood me, she helped me and encouraged me to do good. But when I was 16 years old she committed suicide. After she committed suicide I felt angrier and lost, my life spiraled out of control.

Aftereffects include the following: Anger and of tendencies towards self-destructiveness; dissociative episodes; ongoing feelings of intense shame; not being able to trust the motives of others and not being able to feel intimate with them;  "lesson of abuse" internalized by victim/ survivors is that other people are venal and self-serving, out to get what they can by whatever means including using/abusing others; abuse survivors may be unaware that other people can be benign, caregiving, and not dangerous; chronically abused and traumatized individuals often feel hopeless about finding anyone to understand them or their suffering.

Treatment

Exposing these patients too directly to their trauma history in the absence of their ability to maintain safety in their lives or to self-regulate strong emotions can lead to retraumatization, associated decompensation, and inability to function.

I feared ever seeking therapy or talking about any of my abuse or being with a pimp because I thought if I talked about it I would lose my mind.

The early stage focuses on safety, stabilization, and establishing the treatment frame and the therapeutic alliance.

The middle stage of treatment begins only after stabilization skills have been developed and are utilized as needed.

The late stage of treatment involves identity and self-esteem development and concurrent development of improved relational skills and relationships

The important consideration is that new and different approaches to the treatment of complex trauma are now available and effective. Survivors who were once confused by their symptoms and who despaired about receiving understanding and assistance now have the opportunity to receive effective treatment, to heal, and to get their lives back and on track.

I have never received formal therapy for Complex Trauma, I did, however, begin going to Church and found healing in forgiving others, found an identity in who I am because I have a Savior who is Jesus Christ.  The layers of my pain that I masked with drug and alcohol abuse were exposed and dealt with in a way that has allowed me to remain drug and alcohol- free for over 13 years.  I can now trust another and am in a healthy marriage of 10 years. During a training as I sat listening to the instructor I realized that I had suffered so many of the same symptoms he was describing as Complex Trauma, today I still contend with some symptoms but I am on my way to freedom.  I have done the Virtual Mentorship Program with RBI and learned more about who I am… There is hope! There is healing! There is a new normal for me and for YOU!

Do you know what Complex Trauma is?

Tammy (CSEC Survivor, Volunteer, Advocate, and Community Outreach Manager) is a wife to Jonny,  mother to Chad and her furry baby Frankie Boy, sister to Jo and many brothers. She is a friend to many & is a leader at her home church Legacy Christian Church located on the Island of Oahu.  She is a full charge bookkeeper for a prominent Honolulu law office. Tammy is a volunteer for Hoʻōla Nā Pua (A New Life for Our Children) a Hawaii-based, 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to provide renewal of trafficked girls who have been commercially sexually exploited (CSEC) through a comprehensive and holistic approach to Health, Education, Advocacy, and Reintegration. Tammy oversees the Annual Gala and Golf Tournament and as the Community Outreach Manager, she coordinates speaking engagements, awareness events, and fundraising events. In addition, she uses her powerful testimony to convey the reality and scope of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Hawaii islands.

Unlimited Truth

This morning I asked myself, what major lie am I believing that’s holding me back? For me, God is a big part of my life and journey, so I asked him. As I listened and pondered, it came to me that perhaps my biggest lie is that I’m not good enough.

Interestingly, my mind doesn’t believe this lie. My mind knows the truth that I’m good enough and I live each day believing I can do anything I set out to accomplish.

My mind is smart, it’s analytical, it can figure things out; it knows the truth. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t know this truth. It’s a part somewhere deep down in the very essence of my being; a place that feels this lie deeply. I’m not good enough so no one applauded me when I first learned something new. I’m not good enough so my dad felt he could lash out at me in anger. I’m not good enough so it didn’t seem important to feed me, care for me or loved me unconditionally. I’m not good enough so my dad could leave me and my family without as much as a glance backward. I’m not good enough so my mom could intentionally ignore me while lavishing attention on my brother. I’m not good enough so others could abuse me. I’m not good enough so I would have to live up to the high expectations of others in order to receive any kind of recognition or acknowledgment.

Realizing the lie, I go back to God and ask him what the truth is. I’ve never been all that good at hearing God speak to me in words, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hear him. Sometimes he speaks to me with a picture, sometimes he gives me an internal understanding and once in awhile a word or two come into my mind.

Today, after I asked the question, I had a sense. A sense that I am accepted. A sense that God and his angels are dancing in joy when they see me. A sense that I am his daughter, dearly loved. This all spoke healing truth to that deep inner place inside of me and made me smile the kind of smile that only true healing can bring.

What about you? What thoughts could be holding you back? What lies are you still believing? What truths does God want to share with you?

Last Night in Jail

Originally posted on April 1, 2014, this blog is a chapter taken out of Rebecca Bender's new book. Join our emailing list to stay connected and hear about its release date .

We got out of the “paddy wagon” and stood in a line, waiting for the door to the jail to open. As we walked into the main booking room, rows of chairs lined an open area like a classroom. On one side sat men in cuffs, and on the other side sat women.

All the men turned to look when the “prostitutes” came in, smiling and winking as if any of us were interested. As we stood in a single file line on the wall facing the rows of chairs, a uniformed officer working that night patted us down. A heavy chain was belted around our waist. Handcuffs fell to each side of the belt and as soon as we were adjusted for fitment, our hands were cuffed to each side. Before we could sit down, we had to walk to the back of the room where the contents of our brown paper bag appeared again. The guard standing behind the plated glass window, documented all our belongings.

We were told to sit, starting in the back row, filling up each seat. The men were seated starting in the front row. They continued to gawk at us, turning around in their seats to stare. The undercover officers that arrested us were long gone, having given us into the custody of the jail, they went back for more busts. The new uniformed officers yelled at the men to face forward.

It was about 1am. The next two hours of booking usually went by faster than the remainder of the night, waiting in the holding tank. Our names were called one at a time to start our rounds through six different stations.

“Rebecca...” The first lady yelled, standing with a clipboard at the front of the room. I stood up cuffed to my waist, still in my brick red pencil skirt, brick red Christian Dior heels and black, low cut Gucci blouse. My $2500 Cartier watch clinks against the metal of the cuffs and I cringed hoping it wouldn't scratch.

She took my blood pressure and asked me a couple of medical history questions.

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Do you suffer from any ailment?”

My health was great, so the last item on her agenda is the HIV prick test. She took my blood and labeled it with my name for processing. This is not because the LVPD cares about us whatsoever. This is so they could book us with attempted manslaughter if it came back positive.

The next station was mug shots. I stood on a white line facing forward and sideways while the flash goes off without warning. There are no-redo’s and they do not care how you look. I gave my fiercest eyes and flash a smile as if I were auditioning for America’s Next Top Model. This made the officer laugh and won me a bit of favor.

I am asked to sit back down in my row of chairs until everyone is through taking photos. From my experience, I knew that once all of us girls have had our “prick and pic”, we’d move to the next room together and finish the rest of the stations. This was my sixth arrest and little did I know but it would be my last.

As I sat there watching each girl get called, questioned about her medical history and tested for HIV, the time went fast. Suddenly an officer was standing in front of our row of chairs.

“Rebecca,” he looked right at me. “This is the one?” he asked another officer, who nodded to confirm.

“Yes, “ I answered slowly and confused.

“Come with me please.” He held a manila folder in his hands and gestured toward a private room. Girls started whispering. A shot of cold ran down my spine and my stomache turned. What is going on? I made my way toward the room carrying a confident face but trembling inside.

“Go ahead and take a seat.” He said nicely, sitting down. He set the folder on the table that sat perfectly positioned in the center of the concrete walls.

“So how long have you been in Vegas?” he asked.

I looked at him suspiciously. In all of my arrests, I had never been asked questions like these. I had never even seen anyone come in or out of this room. Most of all, what was in the folder?

“You’re in the game, obviously.” He continued to probe. “Do you have a pimp?”

He just crossed the line. Telling on your man was a big no no, THE biggest no no. Pimping and pandering carries a 7-15 year felony sentence. Prostitution is a slap on the wrist, a fine and a night in jail. I’ve heard stories of girls being murdered for telling on their man. If I told on my man, when he got out, he’d come find me. I stay quiet and look at the officer in the eyes.

“Lawyer.” Is all that came out of my mouth. That is the response I’ve been taught to say for years.

“I don’t think you can call your attorney right now.” He says smirking while glancing at his watch.

“I didn’t ask to call him, “ I reply smartly becoming defiant. “However, any further questions you have for me can be directed to him. Are we done here?”

I waited for him to stand. Calm down. Getting mouthy will only make things harder.

I was taken back into the main room. All the girls have had their pictures taken by then and they stood in line at the door big electric door that would lead us to the next room before holding. I got in line behind everyone as directed.

A small room, slightly bigger than a hallway separated us from the next area. It felt like a shower in a locker room, with a drain in the middle and no-slip mats lying on top of concrete. We sat down on a chair one at a time. A female officer gave us a thorough pat down and removed our handcuffs. We had to put our head between our knees while she shook out our hair checking for anything that could be used as a weapon, or contraband. We are asked to open our mouths while she looked inside. Then, depending on what we were wearing, we were assigned either an Orange CCDC shirt or pants.

This night, I was given a shirt, which I put over my black blouse. Other girls who are wearing very short skirts get pants. Our shoes and jewelry were taken and written on our sheet again. We’re all issued brown jail sandals, which look like something Scarface would have wore by the pool in the hit Mobster movie.

After the female officer is done checking my hair and mouth, I approached the counter as told. Another lady wass counting all the change at the bottom of my purse,

“$5.72. Sign here.” I scanned over the document list to make sure my watch and shoes are listed.

“Can I get some socks please?” I asked while signing my paper.

“None left.” The lady behind the counter replied without even looking up.

I couldn't tell whether she just dislikes girls like me or if she is annoyed having to count $5.72 in quarters, nickels and dimes. I was equally as annoyed. I loved having loose change in my purse, it was a quick and easy to pay a cashier without having to break a hundred dollar bill. When I left here, I knew they would not give my exact money back. All my change just went into their cash drawer and I will more than likely get a five dollar bill when I leave and seventy-two cents in change.

I stood up and waited by a double-sided plexi-glass door. The officer pressed the intercom button and I’m let through. Inside the next room, chairs again are lined up like the previous class style setting; men on the left and women on the right. At the front of the room is a wall of telephones that we were allowed to use one at a time after we finished the full six stations. But, there was no standing up front waiting in line. Around the perimeter of the room are cubicles for our next set of questions.

As women, we are instructed to cross our hands over our chest anytime we need to get up to walk either to a cubicle or to the phones. This must be to conceal anything from the men who continued to gawk at us, but I never could understand why; as if the full orange jail shirt didnt cover enough.

As soon as I sat down, my name is called. At the first station I was asked a series of questions: Name, address, phone number, employer, etc. I was taught to give “them” completely fictional information other than my name. At first I was concerned I would miss a court date or something. My pimp assured me that the attorney would give us all the details about court appearnaces and that we did not want the police knowing where we lived. He was right, the attorney always kept me up to speed on any information.

Unless someone would come pay my five hundred dollar bail, I am “released on own recognizance” or O.R.’d as we called it. The lady across the desk explained all of this to me again and handed me a pice of paper with details of my arrest, inmate number and false contact info I had just given her. I moved to the next cubicle like speed dating.

“Are you involved in any gangs?” The next officer goes over a checklist of questions they are supposed to ask in order to place us in the appropriate holding tank.

“No.” I reply knowing that we’ll go through all of these questions quickly.

“Are you a lesbian?”

“No.”

“Do you feel like killing yourself or others?”

“No.”

Onto station three... A nurse pricked me for Tuberculosis and we wait minutes to see if my skin rises. “Those bruises on your wrists look like finger prints.” She pointed out without a break in her routine. “Are you being hurt at home?” She looked up to watch my response. I’m startled by her awareness, no one has noticed yet. My bruises were faint and I had covered them up with make-up before I left. 'The concealer must have worn off' I think to myself.

“No.” I say looking at my forearms. I am sure she knew better, but she also knows that if I do not want to talk, that pressuring me will not help either. Little did she know that underneath my clothes were fist prints from my pimp. Two on my thigh and one on my side from when he punched me yesterday.

My skin where the TB test was administered did not rise and so I am sent to the final station: finger printing. I stood in front of what looked like an ATM machine. But, instead of a pin pad, it has a small touch pad. The next officer guided my hand and fingers across the delicate surface. My prints showed up instantly on the monitor. Little red dots scanned across the fingerprints. Like something you would see on the TV show CSI, my name and inmate number appear showing a match.

“Not your first arrest, huh?” the officer smiled kindly.

“My sixth.” I replied sweetly removing my right hand and preparing my left in the proper position. We went through the process a second time and he took the paper I’ve been circling the stations with and marked the name and inmate number with a check to ensure it matched the one on the screen.

“Alright, you’re all done. Go ahead and take a seat. You can use the phone now too, when it's free.”

“Thank you.” I crossed my arms across my chest and walk the long way behind the men and around to the phone. Girls who are attention seeking and disobedient always try to walk in front of the men to the phones and get yelled at by the officers. Not me. I know this sort of behavior makes the officers think less of us. The officers in the jail treated me with a bit of respect me as they watched my demeanor and behavior. They spoke to me kindly and without belittlement. It hadn't always been this way, I learned over the course of time what got me better treatment in jail.

I pick up the phone and dial “my man.”

“You locked up?” Kevin says after just a few rings. He must have known something had happened since he hadn’t heard from me in awhile. I usually checked in every couple hours. 

“Ya,” I say sounding disappointed.

“Well, try to get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He paused, “you alright?”

“Yep, I’m fine.” I did my best to sound cheerful so he wouldn't get upset.

“Ok, Poke. Call me later if you get bored.” I could hear his faint laugh through the phone.

“You know I will.” I laughed back.

I think about my nickname: Poc, pronounced Poke. Kevin gave all his girls nicknames if they made it a year with him. I remember when he started calling me that, it felt special; as if I wanted to be there and stick it out with the family. The term of endearment he chose stood for Pocahontas, because I was Choctaw and looked like her.

I sat back down in my seat and tried to close my eyes. There was no way anyone could sleep in this place. It was loud and uncomfortable. I didn't worry for even one second about my daughter. I knew Kevin has it handled. That was part of what our live-in nanny, Cecelia did. She woke up every morning and got my daughter ready for school. Because my daughter thought I worked nights in a casino, she was use to me sleeping while Cecelia got her breakfast, did her hair and walked her to the bus stop. I’d hopefully be out of jail before she came home from school and she wouldn't even have an inkling of what had happened.

Cecelia is from Chihuahua, Mexico and speaks no English. Our pimp only hired non-English speaking help because it was easier to keep them at bay of what was really going on. He also made sure to “take care” of my daughter, keeping up a family facade in front of her would make me feel guilty to leave the only family she ever had. He knew that and would play that card often if he could tell I was wanting to try to leave.

At 4am the officers finally took all of women into the holding tank. The single file march to the cell turns my stomach. Looking into each holding tank cell always made me rethink what I was doing with my life, even if the feeling and thoughts were fleeting. Women who looked hardened sat solitary on benches staring at us as we passed. Gang members grouped together in other cells making kissy faces when we walked by.

One man was brought from around the corner in what looked a wheel chair on the ground. His hands and legs were cuffed to it and a net bag was placed over his face. He was attempting to kick and scream and spit and wail his body in violatile motions, but the restraints were too much for him. “You stupid pigs!” He screamed as we stood still against the wall waiting for the group of four officers to pass by with him. One officer walked in front of them, taking backward steps while holding a video camera. I assumed that was to keep the incident on camera for evidence of their response.

We reached our holding tank- all eight of us locked up for soliciting prostitution, or in my case disturbing the peace. One concrete bench hugged three walls. A television was in a clear plastic case and was mounted to the ceiling playing the old 1990’s movie, “Space Jam.” On the fourth wall of our square tank, next to the door is the toilet and phone. A small wais-high barrier wall blocked anyone looking in, or walking by, from seeing us do our business.

A handful of women were already in the same holding tank. They were clearly not “working girls.” One woman was nearly 50 years old and looked homeless with unkempt hair and dirty socks and jeans. Another was an overweight black woman with cornrows, mid forties and clearly intoxicated: probably in on a DUI. The third woman was white, looked maybe mid-thirties with red shoulder length hair. It was hard to see her as she curled up in a ball under the bench trying to sleep. She stunk something awful and was having cold sweats while shivering. It was obvious to me that she was kicking heroin.

The tank was cold even with all of us crowded in together. I immediately grab toilet paper and sat in a corner on the bench. This way I can lean my head against a wall to sleep just as if I was sitting in an airplane. I started wrapping my feet with the toilet paper to make socks and slip my sandals back on to keep the mock fabric in place. Last time I was here we ran out of toilet paper and it took hours for the guard to bring any. We couldn’t wipe when using the rest room. I remembered it being so cold I had wished I had wrapped my feet right away, before the toilet paper became such a commodity.

Just as I laid my head against my paper on the wall, which seemed to me to keep a protective barrier from any germs that may have been on the wall, I heard someone vomiting. The heroine junkie under the bench was dry heaving and spitting out green bile right on the floor where she was laying. Her dirty red hair was greasy and sweat was beading up on her forehead. She laid there heaving, her body shaking while everyone stared at her in disgust. The smell from the bile was atrocious,` like rotten eggs and fresh laid linoleum. She pulled out a wadded up piece of dirty tissue that she clutched intensely in one hand and wiped her mouth.

“You sick?” one of the girls asked her looking frightened. The junkie just stayed curled up not responding. “I don’t want to get sick.” Another girl complained standing to pound on the window of the door.

“She isn’t sick, she is detoxing.” I finally speak up after hours of being silent. They all turned and looked at me. I have not engaged in their conversations up until this point. While they sat around the telephones joking about being locked up and swapping war stories; I had kept to myself until now. “So we can’t catch it?” one girl asked.

“No. She’s kicking, she’s a junkie.” I want to lay hands on her and pray, tell her how God can set her free from drug addiction, that I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But preaching the gospel up in the jailhouse is too hypocritical for me and so I sat and remained silent. ©

Crucifying Trauma: A Victim on Repeat

It took me over a decade to identify myself as a survivor of sex and labor trafficking. This has made the navigation of my trauma recovery tricky. I always knew there was a root cause; a diagnosis related to my crippling anxiety and deep anger, but for many years it had no label. Although I am a survivor in every sense of the word and have taken numerous steps in the name of health and well-being, there were many things below the surface that I just couldn’t unravel. Long after the panic attacks subsided, I was still executing my life in a way that kept me in this perpetual role that I just could not emancipate…

Why am I always the victim?

Freedom from my traffickers, a beautiful marriage, and a decade of therapy, recovery groups, and bible studies later, I was still chronically anxious and depressed. I knew I was not being true to myself and I still felt exploited. Something had to change. I had to figure out why I was always the victim.  

I was continually re-exploiting myself due to poor self-boundaries - an unmistakable result of trauma and abuse. In my professional life, I was allowing clients to treat me unjustly and pay me scantily, I was contracting jobs that my intuition protested, and was working for people who were unwilling to pay me fair wages. Even with twenty years experience in my chosen profession, I spent most of my career underbidding vacancies and receiving compensation that is below the industry standard.

These situations left me feeling apprehensive and sick to my stomach, yet I allowed this corruption to continue. At one time I thought the answer was to become self-employed. If I was independent then no one could take advantage of me anymore!

This lead to two short business ventures. In both cases, my establishments did not close due to a meager location, lack of leadership, stewardship, or talent. It was due to the constant devaluing of my time. I was terrified of rejection and embarrassment. “What if I’m not worth that?” I based the price of my production off of shame and insecurity, not off of my aptitudes and experience. I believed I could gain acceptance by overworking for an undervalued rate and as long as no one knew about my past I could stay afloat and manage my anxiety. I had become my own exploiter; I was a victim who kept hitting the repeat button.

These are all symptoms of complex trauma that tend to stay undercover. They exist behind the veil of “I’m ok,” and “I’m just a really generous person.” It was time for me to accept the responsibility that it was something internally that had to change…

Embracing Responsibility

The day I confessed that I was a survivor of human trafficking, everything started to change. I had been seeking resurrection, while continually crucifying myself and never experiencing death. The victim in me had already been crucified and needed to die in order for me to resurrect into freedom! In this resurrection, I learned that the manipulation of trafficking and abuse had been a root cause of my lack of self-boundaries. I learned to say NO. I learned that not everyone is willing to pay me for my experience and expertise. But more importantly, I’ve learned that it is ok. It has nothing to do with my value as a person and I did not need to sell myself anymore. That girl was dead and gone. Essentially, I started to understand that my past has nothing to do with the price tag on my life or my identity. Complex trauma can annihilate you, it will keep you in the crucifixion and never get you to Sunday. I had spent twenty years sequestered by my wounds rather than embracing them as a victory…

Jesus was Wounded and so are We

In John 20:27 Jesus said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." At this point, Jesus had been resurrected but was using His wounds to identify himself to Thomas who could not believe that Jesus was standing before him. So here we see that even in Jesus’ resurrection,

there were still blatant signs of his crucifixion and suffering. A resurrected victim that still has heart and head wounds, this is the definition of a survivor! Our wounds, just as Jesus’, tells a story.  Just as our wounds and trauma may still be apparent at times, it does not have to control us. Traumatic symptoms may act out occasionally and there are still parts of us that are not healed, but that is ok. I own my trauma today, it is mine, I am working through it. There may be times that I don’t like the outcome of my life because I preceded by my anxiety, fear, and the disenchantment of my past. I embrace the responsibility of my actions and I learn through every process how to grow, how to heal and become more than my story and live the intentional life that God has for me. It is all possible, Jesus’ story is proof of this and so is yours.                                                                                           

Tara Madison is a published author, speaker and a full time college student whose chief aim is to educate the public on the dynamics of human trafficking. She has been a tattoo artist for two decades, who owns and operates Inflicting Beauty Tattoo Studio with her husband in Florida.