Elisabeta (see, The Girl Who Lost Control) was sold for sex when she was just 13 years old. Repeatedly. She would still be taking “clients” today if it were not for a series of unlikely events. First, she managed to press back against the indomitable fear smothering her soul to find the courage to escape from the woman (yes, a woman) who was trafficking her. Next, she managed to find her way to a police station and explained her bondage. Then, she managed to circumvent the typical part of the story of a girl in her position—the part where the police don’t believe her story and return her to her trafficker. Finally, her trafficker was convicted and sentenced to years in prison, a verdict rarely celebrated by trafficking victims who usually must live with the dread that their trafficker is still loose and maybe even lurking in every dark corner to enslave them again.
But even though Elisabeta was out from under the danger of being forcibly sold for sex, and safely in the Exodus Cry Lighthouse, she was not yet rescued. At least not fully. It would be nice if human trafficking could be stopped in a single event, a dramatic kicking in of a door or breaking of a chain. Even after they are rescued, victims must live with the emotional, spiritual, and relational fallout that comes with being repeatedly sold for sex. Take Elisabeta for example: she has an older brother. But he wants nothing to do with her because of the disgrace of her situation. When the Exodus Cry Lighthouse tried to get in contact with him to help with Elisabeta’s recovery, he did not even call her; he just told the Lighthouse staff that he couldn’t handle the responsibility. That left her with no one. Rescue wasn’t really panning out for Elisabeta.
Sometimes when people imagine a rescue, their mind immediately conjures Hollywood-esque action sequences—first, an explosion, followed by SWAT commandos, bristling with every imaginable weapon, pouring in through windows and doors, their laser scopes slicing through the murk, and a small pile of girls huddled in the corner suddenly awash with relief that the nightmare is finally over. It would make for a great movie, just not one based on a true story.
In real life, rescue is much more complex than that. Experts from all over the world will confirm this. Rebecca Grant, Director of Project Rescue, explained to me that brothel raids conducted by police can be extremely traumatic for trafficking victims; a raid is just another violent event in a life of violent events that in all likelihood will not lead to a dramatic change in a victim’s circumstances. Keep in mind that the very police officers kicking in the door often moonlight as “clients,” and raids are often little more than publicity stunts for politicians who want to send the impression that they are “cleaning up this town.” When the show’s over, everyone goes home—even the prostitutes. It’s no wonder that when I think of a rescue scenario and the victim thinks of a rescue scenario, we’re thinking two different things.
Annie Deiselberg, director of Night Light ministries in Bangkok, Thailand, knows that rescue doesn’t end when a girl is out of the commercial sex industry. In many ways her nightmare (and consequently the real work of rescue) is just beginning. Only when she has found a truly safe space do the demons come out to haunt her. Bit by bit the depth of the emotional trauma that she’s been displacing and stuffing and forgetting comes boiling to the surface. The physical bondage of sex slavery can be relieved in a moment; but the emotional grip it has on the destroyed soul in the form of vivid memories, shattered dreams, oppressive shame, and deep depression reach beyond the walls of her captivity and have the power to plague her for years after she is out of the prostitution lifestyle. Even after the “rescue,” women often continue to see themselves as prostitutes, as disposable objects, as filth. Sell a woman for sex long enough, and she dies. The only true rescue comes through resurrection.
Elisabeta was devastated when her brother refused to help with her recovery. It was the final rejection, and it meant that the Lighthouse staff were the only people who cared about her in the world. For days she sobbed. At one point she accepted an invitation to go to a church service. During the simple liturgy, she began to see her story with all of the pain and disappointments from a new perspective. It became clear to her that throughout her story of abandonment and exploitation, there was one person who had never left her, and who would never leaver her. Her life in shambles, her dignity utterly soiled, she handed Him the ashes of her life for him to do with them as he pleased, and in that very moment felt the easy vesper of new life blow across her soul. She smiled, and so did He.
Elisabeta was the first of three young women at the Exodus Cry Lighthouse to experience the freedom that comes from giving their lives to Jesus. What they are finding is that the pain does not go away automatically, but the burden is now carried by a God who cares for them personally. In a world where everyone who has known them has forsaken them, the girls and Moldova have met the one who knows the number of the hairs on their heads. Now, they struggle towards full recovery and full restoration, but they are not battling alone. They have a new spirit within them, one that cries out “Father,” and that daily renews them with fresh hope and life. Soon, they will find the strength to forgive everyone who has ever exploited them or left them for dead; they will slough off their old identity as worthless filth and assume their new, true identity as daughters of a King; and they will learn to forget all of the horrors of the past and instead gaze towards the glorious future that awaits them.
Exodus Cry is committed to the long-term rescue of women in sex slavery. Rescue begins when a woman is freed from physical bondage, but it continues until she is completely restored and is able to be reintegrated as a whole, functioning member of society. When she meets the Lord, the entire process is endowed with new light and hope that can only come from a soul recreated by God’s Spirit.