Trafficked at 11—outreach through the eyes of a survivor

Written by on May 9th, 2017

“Yesterday is not today.” Those words circled through me as we drove towards Houston. I knew I was meant to be in this car moving towards the Justice Rally outreach. What I did not know was what I was walking into and how I would be changed.

As a survivor of sex trafficking I live with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) every day. All survivors do. PTSD, basically, is when the past overlays your present. It is like having two videos of your life, past and present, playing at the same time.

In spite of this, I had signed up to do outreach in strip clubs, Asian brothels, the streets, the cantinas, and online this Super Bowl weekend, as part of the Justice Rally. For a survivor that is a minefield of triggers. Triggers—experiences in the present that remind us of the past—create this double exposure we call PTSD. So I had no idea what my experience of this weekend would be, but I was determined to step forward, not back.

Walking into the strip club that first day I locked onto the eyes of the girl closest to me and began talking to her. It was both a strategy and a defense. Minimizing my wandering through the club was a defense against the PTSD triggers that surrounded me there. My strategy was to connect to the girls through their eyes so that they knew I was seeing them.

No one really sees you in the sex industry. They are in you and on you, but they do not see you. They see delusions, illusions, fantasies, facades, and body, but they never see you. So I wanted each girl to experience me seeing them, if just for a moment.

No one really sees you in the sex industry. They are in you and on you, but they do not see you.

As I reached to see them, this moment of connection—in an unexpected turn—brought healing in me. Sometimes it happens like that. Sometimes as we reach to help we are helped. Seeing their present captivity made it clear that mine was in the past and I had freedom to give them.

One scary moment came on the streets Thursday night when my group of girls drew the attention of a pimp. We were distracting his girls and, wanting to shut it down, he began circling us in his car. I was never exploited on the streets, but I had been stalked. So the mix of fear and adrenaline flooding into me was familiar.

We were not hurt that night and as the fear quieted within me, clarity came. I realized that my instincts and reactions in this situation had been trustworthy because of my past exploitation. I was not disqualified, but qualified by my experience, to be there. Even my triggered “stalker feeling” actually informed and fueled my prayers for the girls I met on Bissonnette Street that night.

For four days straight, outreaches happened every afternoon/evening and in between were a million conversations where I spoke my story again and again. It was empowering to speak my story, to be heard, and to be welcomed by those who heard it. I felt a home, in the abolition movement, being built around me with each moment and experience of the weekend.

Coming Face-to-Face with My Own Exploitation

The Asian brothels outreach on Friday night rocked me to the core. Looking behind the iron door I could see rooms and hear the girls that I could not see. In the eyes of the girls which I did meet I saw the control that held them there. I saw the realities that they could not speak.

That night, at the brothels, I came face-to-face with what most resembled my own exploitation from age 11-14. I was behind a door like that then and I can still hear it clanging, locking behind me each night. “No one will hear you if you scream,” the guard would say, as another night at the warehouse began.

Now, standing there in the doorway, on the other side of the door, I felt our shared experience. I saw a piece of my place in the big picture of sex trafficking in the United States. I had struggled to connect my experience to a shared experience in the survivor movement. Now I had a clear point of connection, albeit an unusual one for a white girl.

Benjamin Nolot spoke Saturday night to conclude the weekend and one thing he said I will never forget. He said, “Jesus has the blood of prostituted women within him,” referencing Jesus, as a descendant of Rahab. Unhealthy paradigms and long fought misperceptions exploded as he spoke those words. Repeatedly, throughout my story, I had felt like the woman caught in adultery, at the feet of Jesus, waiting for a verdict.

Jesus was coming towards me to acknowledge me, and those like me, as His own blood.

You see, my dad was a pastor and he had called me a whore since I was 5. He sold me to these men when I was 11 and they saw me as a whore too. So I thought Jesus stood disconnected, disdainful, with that crowd of men. Now, as Benjamin spoke, Jesus was coming towards me to acknowledge me, and those like me, as His own blood.

Yesterday is not today. My experience in Houston made that as clear as day to me. In that setting, years of healing merged with my experience there to shift me into the #newdayrising that has come for me. I am an abolitionist and I will see the abolition of modern day slavery and a #newdayrising for us all.

If you missed it definitely check out Helen Taylor’s excellent blog post on our Houston outreach experience. It fills in the big picture of the amazing things that happened there—in a different way than my inside out perspective. And for priceless insight and dialogue about the fight to abolish modern day slavery tune into the Exodus Cry Podcast. I never miss it!

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  • Michael Johnson

    Wow Jewell, thank you for sharing this, it really moved me. While I was never trafficked, I am a sex abuse survivor (at the hands of a pastor and others) who also deals with PTSD. It seems that you’ve come really far in your healing, and I rejoice with you in being able to face your fears and see some of your most painful experiences redeemed and used to help others who are being hurt in the same ways that you were! I think you’re further down the path of healing than I am, but your post gives me hope and encouragement that I might also find healing for my pain and shame in Jesus, and that I might partner with him like you have. God bless you and this ministry.

  • Surina

    As a survivor of sexual abuse those words “Jesus has the the blood of prostituted women within Him” had me crying forever. More grateful than I can ever put into words for His love. Thank you for your story and your fight to be His light in the darkness.

  • Jewell Baraka

    Light, which is truth and hope, has been one of two the most powerful things on my healing journey. Love has been the other. May light and love always find a way into your eyes and heart on your own journey.

  • Jewell Baraka

    So love that it connected with you and your own journey. It is a long road back to Jesus when religious men are part of our abuse, but I am living proof that it is possible. Keep going. Keep reaching for healing. Do not worry about those moments you give up. Just remember after you are done with your giving up moment get up again. It is the getting up that defines us, not the giving up. Peace to you!