“… I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:36 (NIV)
Where do we locate women who have been sold for sex? There are many answers to this question, but one may come as a surprise.
Jails and prisons across the nation are home to thousands of women who have been sexually exploited. In the United States prostitution is illegal, so women (and many transgendered men) on the streets can be charged and placed in jail for soliciting—many of their stories of longstanding exploitation and abuse are incredibly tragic.
Our good friend and fellow abolitionist, Christina Rangel, (founder of Extreme Love Anti-Trafficking in Redding, CA) was put in prison for crimes that her trafficker coerced her into. In her cell, she had a profound and dramatic encounter with Jesus that changed her life forever. Her story, among others, inspired us to start doing outreach in a local jail.
While in jail, exploited women are away from their pimps, abusive relationships and drugs, and are momentarily distanced from the chaos of the streets and prostitution.
For many it is a time when they hit rock-bottom and cry out to God.
We meet them in a crisis moment as they’re re-evaluating their life and recognizing more than ever their need for a new start—and we know that a worse story may await them once released if they aren’t offered a new path.
With several years’ experience doing Intervention outreach to exploited men and women in different settings across the globe, our team began partnering with a local jail’s chaplaincy. We started teaching a 10-week Bible study curriculum we wrote, called Free Inside, to offer them a chance to write a new story.
Although spiritual and psychological strongholds can keep them bound within to sin, addiction, despair and exploitation, it’s our belief that—even when physically incarcerated—the women can encounter the true Deliverer and experience more freedom than they ever knew outside the jail walls.
Jesus declared in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to My teaching…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (NIV) We teach the women foundational truths of who Jesus is and invite them to encounter the Healer and Savior.
Each Bible study topic is designed for women with a past of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Topics include overcoming fear and shame, the cross, forgiveness, body image, sexuality, introduction to prayer and the Bible, Jesus and women, and more. We sometimes incorporate drama performance into the sessions, as well as art therapy.
The majority of the women who come through our program have a history of prostitution or exchanging sex for survival needs.
Each woman receives a packet we designed with information about local resources, services, partner programs, transitional living, and welcoming churches. We particularly try to identify those at high risk of returning to a pimp or prostitution.
At the end of each weekly session, we offer a time of prayer and lead the women through inner healing, breaking toxic soul ties, forgiveness prayers, and deliverance. Many have encountered the presence and love of Jesus for the first time.
Week after week we’ve witnessed the women being powerfully touched by the Holy Spirit and their hearts impacted by the earth-shattering truths of God’s love for them.
We often see tears silently roll down the cheeks of the women during the session.
At the end, when we pray with them, God’s beautiful presence always ministers to them. During this time, the women have frequently commented that they feel the tangible presence of the Lord on them. One girl’s glasses even completely steamed up and she joyfully exclaimed, “My face and neck feels like there’s fire all over it as you pray!” It is always a deep delight for us to pray with a woman to receive the Lord for the first time or return to faith as a prodigal daughter.
One woman in the program told us, “I feel like it was the mercy of God that He allowed me to be put in jail. I was headed for death on the streets, but He intervened and it has saved my life.”
Another girl in Free Inside who came to the Lord this year has begun a Bible study and nightly prayer meeting in the main jail ward, and she invites all the women to join in a time of corporate prayer!
It is estimated that 65-95% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children. The trauma of this imprint—which is tragically often an ongoing abuse, rather than a one-time event—can rob a girl of her sense of ownership over her body. It can also lead to a deeply fractured self-worth.
In our Bible study sessions on sexuality and body image we unpack the sensitive realities of these issues. We desire to facilitate an environment of healing and restoration, as well as cast vision for God’s heart towards us as women and how to align our lives and self-worth with His truth.
We recently led one particular girl in the jail, who we will call Mae, through the process of forgiveness towards the man who first raped her at age 9.
Though it was difficult for her, she realized that forgiving him would be unto her own freedom.
Her forgiving him didn’t undermine the gravity of his evil act, but actually enabled her to surrender the pain and weight of it to Jesus. She believed that this horrific event was the catalyst for her life heading in a tragic direction but she was ready to reroute the tracks.
She invited the healing love of Christ into that traumatic memory and we asked her afterwards how she felt. She told us: “It’s like I can feel my heart beating for the first time.”
In addition to the Bible study, we decided to gather inspirational, edifying, and empowering books to create a “dream library” in the jail.
Inmates have lots of time to read and we imagined how impactful books like Rebecca Bender’s Roadmap to Redemption or Annie Lobert’s Fallen could be for each woman on their journey of healing. We know that ultimately, the most powerful “book” to introduce the women to is HIStory—the Bible—and it is our delight to help many women begin reading the Word for the first time.
As we meet each woman at a key chapter in her life, it is our hope and prayer that she encounters her Savior who sets her “free on the inside,” redirecting the course of her entire life on the outside. Her past cannot be changed, but her future can. As she chooses to surrender the pen to Jesus, her new story can be written—an epic tale of redemption!
Through your prayers and financial partnership you are bringing truth and freedom to sexually exploited women. This life-changing work literally cannot be done without you.
Your generous support fuels Exodus Cry’s Free Inside jail program and enables new stories of life and hope to be written!