I dreaded watching this film and I honestly only went because I can’t endorse or speak to a film I have not watched. I have been asked dozens of times to share my thoughts. My dread came because I already know the reality around sex trafficking and I fully understand that I cannot watch, read, or even have a conversation about the reality of what IS HAPPENING EVERY SINGLE DAY ALL AROUND THE WORLD without a broken heart all over again. Yes, I exited the theater trying to stop the ugly cry. My reaction is quite normal considering the subject matter: CHILDREN ARE BEING CAPTURED, SOLD AND BOUGHT FOR SEX. The theater was full, and everyone sat in silence for a good few minutes, following the film. It is painful to watch and at the same time full of hope. It is well done and walks the line very carefully of exposing the truth without sensationalizing the crime.
Some of our bravest survivors of trafficking have rightly expressed sadness about the movie and the fear that it could minimize something that is a very real for each of them. Or the film could show one limited angle to trafficking leaving their less publicized form of trafficking unaddressed. Most of their stories wouldn’t make a very interesting movie.
I have given the last 14 years of my life to fight this crime through the nonprofit I founded called Priceless. Every day in my work this is the subject matter. The stories never get easier to hear. The damage done in the life of a young woman or young man is devastating. Depression, suicide, mental illness, substance abuse are all the normal outcomes of being bought and sold for sex hundreds of times and beaten into compliance. The obstacles to fight this crime are getting worse. I often feel lonely in this fight and sometimes I fall apart and want to quit. I watch my team of case managers, mentors and admins and care providers be used, lied about, minimized, and drained by competitive social service providers, politically motivated leaders, and misinformed and untrained but well-meaning friends. This is all in addition to the expected difficult relationships they have come to expect from clients who have no idea how to give and receive love. So yes, going to a theater to watch a movie about a crime I fight daily, with a big bucket of popcorn sounds as appealing as a root canal.
The Sound of Freedom will be used mightily to shed light on a crime whose growth is out of control. I am grateful for this. I highly recommend the film for this reason. Go see it. Take your friends. Talk about it, post about it and see it again. But please don’t stop there. The rescue of children deep in the jungle or in third world country is necessary. But trafficking in our own country is out of control and can’t continue to be ignored. Most of us have become desensitized to just how common and out in the open or even normalized sexual slavery or trafficking has become all around us.
In Alaska a very necessary and important legislation carefully crafted by many people on the front lines fighting this crime has been brought to the floor twice in Juneau and failed twice to be made into law. Why? God only knows. My own suspicion is that we have a slew of law makers, and by extension a population, who do not like any language or restrictions put in place that would make it harder to purchase sex in our state and get away with it. Perhaps they like being able to “recreate” in this way. But if you do not follow the money and go after those who buy sex, we can’t end trafficking. If trafficking remains a 150 billion dollar a year business around the world, we can’t end this crime. The U.S. is the number one country purchasing children for sex. There is absolutely no way a purchaser of sex can know for certain that the person they are purchasing is of age. They can’t know if the person they bought is receiving the money they earn. If someone is of age how does a purchaser know that they did not enter the trade as a child, were abused as a child or used as a child in such a way they believe this is all they are worth or good for now?
In our country we use minimizing language to hide the reality of this crime. Calling someone an “unaccompanied minor” is a sanitized way of describing a likely a child slave sold into this country for free labor or sex or most likely for both. These unaccompanied minors will never end up on the back of milk carton nor will any of them raise the Amber Alert. They are flooding our borders.
We as a country, refuse to look at the fact that there is an undeniable link between pornography and how it fuels abuse and fuels trafficking. For some, a porn addiction is progressive. Looking at an image can lead to a desire to act out with someone younger and younger and even try more and more nefarious sexual acts. The rise of sexual torture is something that cannot be ignored.
Another key factor in the U.S. that is fueling sex crimes against kids is the mass sexualization of children. I was shocked to hear that in a health care training, the language around molestation had been changed to “unwanted sexual touch”. In other words, if a child is ok with the sexual touch, then is it no longer considered wrong. A five-year-old can easily be coerced into accepting unwanted touch in exchange for candy for example.
In the U.S. the number one form of recruiting a vulnerable young person into the world of trafficking is through the internet. This is rarely even allowed to be talked about in our schools. Are we training our kids to understand the dangers? The internet is being used to exploit vulnerabilities in masse of our youngest kids right from the privacy of their own homes.
I could drive you around Anchorage Alaska and show you where trafficking is happening in plain sight. We have cases of trafficking in all 6 high schools in Anchorage.
So now what?
-Reach out to vulnerable kids and teens in your own neighborhood.
-Pay attention and report odd behavior.
-Get some level of education on how trafficking happens in our state.
-Volunteer to walk with a survivor that made it out. They have a long and painful journey to healing ahead of them and they will need a village.
-Support organizations that are doing their best to fight back and reclaim the territory back from traffickers.
-Ask how we are doing or how you can pray for us. Send kind words of encouragement to my team and our amazing volunteers or anyone else on the front lines.
-Host or attend a training in your organization or church for the following:
-Internet Safety Training
-Trafficking In Plain Sight
-Mentorship 101: Walking with Those in the Margins
-Engage Training – Priceless’ Flagship Training
-Redefine Worth Event - Host a table or be a corporate sponsor at our yearly awareness funding event to fight trafficking
Thank you for letting me have a chance to speak my heart friends. We can’t do what we do without people all around us who care.
Executive Director of Priceless
Priceless trainings can be found on the following site:
Not one of us can escape the bloody reality. Eloquent sermons and piles upon piles of books about our faith can’t dismiss it. If we dare to whisper it out loud, our faith could be called into question. It is the foundation of our doubts and the centerfold of our fears. The truth of which I speak? God is good and life is hard. Yes, God is infinitely gloriously good and life is infinitely dark, painful and crushing.
The chasm between these too realities is too much to bear. When we finally see the truth of it all, we work tirelessly to close the gap. We minimize our pain and dismiss it as the method of choice by a God whose main goal in my life is to build character. We placate the pain around us by offering religious sentiments and slap on a few nice verses. The fixer inside all of us rises quicker than the tide on a full moon offering our best advice to make the pain go away.
But, if our problems can be minimized that easily, then God doesn’t need to be that good either. God doesn’t need to be powerful and miracles are well, something for another age. God becomes a weekend feel good sermon and pain becomes that one closet we can never open or me might not get it shut again.
But, what if, in our real need, we get to see the real Jesus? What if Jesus IS the solution and not simply the pez dispenser of answers in my broken world?
You couldn’t live in 2021 without wearing a shirt full of labels. For my Friend Group (our very uncreative official name for the past 19 years) we wore the worst ones. They were all middle aged, Evangelical, conservative, white, church ladies. Of course, that meant that in the broader filthy world of the internet we must be brainless racist buffoons that carried around the big Jesus book. We were too old to have ever heard the phrase “systemic racism” or understand that “woke” was a way of life and not simply poorly used grammar. We certainly never thought we would live in a world where viewpoints could be censored, and debate was replaced by something called “cancel culture.” But under the labels that we were all coping with wearing in this strange world, a depth and beauty shone. It was a soulish beauty born of the hardships of real life. None of us had been spared. And the kindness of Jesus brought us together in a most unusual way to remind us of who we really are…beneath the labels. And, in that strange reminder we would find our voices again. Between the 7 of us there were 22 children, all grown and out of our nests. And, with little time to plan or prepare we all flew to Portland to gather around a broken-hearted mom and bury one of our 22. We would be with Sue, right next to her as she had to do the most of unnatural endeavor that any mom of any age could ever face, burry her son. Moms are not supposed to say things like, “I have to pick up Ben’s ashes on Wednesday.”
And there we sat, face to face without masks and without a computer screen as one group again. After Ben’s memorial service, the friend group sat around talking, crying, sharing memories and even laughing about life. An emergent understanding fell upon each one. The bond between each other had outlasted more than a year of isolation from Covid19. It had outlasted political upheaval and the tearing apart of families over political alignment. It had lasted the absence of our church communities. But all of that was minor compare to our ability to outlast the conflicts, the hurt feelings, the miles and even, dare I say…theological and political differences (Yes, even Christians can have different views). Why was it so easy to be together? Each of us carry stories that correspond to scars we bare. If the healed over wounds were represented by scars upon our actual bodies, our group would certainly look as if we fought at the battle of Dunkirk and lived to talk about it. Those disfigured raised bumps on the skin had been tended to over the 19 years by those in the sacred circle. The women in this group were the ones that produced the balm and bandages. Some of those scars healed leaving only a faint discoloration that would require a bit more sunscreen when swimming at the beach. Other scars were felt every time the weather changed. They might have ached at night. Some would produce a yelp when bumped at just the right angle. None the less, every woman in the circle was scared in her own broken and beautiful way, including me.
I left that trip with a renewed commitment to thank God for the gift of the friendships that lasted over the long haul. I would make more time for us in my life. In these crazy times we all need a place, a sacred group of our very own people, where we can fall apart. I won’t be cancelled or shamed for thinking differently with them. I may be teased a little, I actually expect it. My doubts can be spoken out loud in their company and I will be challenged when needed. They hand me courage to face the days ahead. I can count on these women to actually pray for me, love me, like me, and laugh with me until the tears run down my legs if you know what I mean (we are all over 50 so that is my only excuse). I see Jesus more clearly in their company than nearly any place on earth.
I don’t need social media or the headlines of the day to tell me who I am. I couldn’t care less what a hip, skinny jean wearing millennial thinks of the way I do life. I don’t plan on reading a bunch of woke books written by people who deny the beautiful complexities of the million variations of shades of skin and cultures of people all around me. Jesus has already confirmed and celebrated my identity with my freckles and flaws galore. I am His very own hand-crafted daughter, and he gave me a group of women and a dear family who will remind of it as often as I might forget.
So, world, bring me your worst labels. I plan to take each one and redefine them and use them to the glory of God. Some can’t be redeemed so for those I plan to make some cool origami birds out of them before I throw them into the waste basket.
Raising four kids, born in a five year span of time, is my best bet for receiving an award. I have not decided if it is an award for courage and bravery or merely a survivor award. But, I do feel an award is appropriate. As I might consider an acceptance speech for such an award, it would be full of the mantras I repeated over and over again to each of my children from the time they were finally in pull-ups all the way through to them having their own families to raise. I have heard my self say these same statements under my breath to no one in particular during the year 2020 with a world wide pandemic, political unrest and upheaval, and the rise of the most heartbreaking pieces of humanity with human trafficking, opioid abuse and homelessness.