As an advocate working with individuals who have been sexually violated and exploited, I see the everyday reality of violence and slavery. Our culture has repackaged, sanitized, and masked the sex industry under the guise of liberation, empowerment, and glamor. There is nothing glamorous about being sold. It doesn’t matter if you make thousands of dollars, a few, or none. The exploitation, pain, and trauma is the same.

Professionally, I work with both youth and adults in our local area that have been involved in the sex industry and prostitution/trafficking in some form. We see a diverse group of women being sold right in our backyard. The majority of women have been sexually abused as children (often by multiple perpetrators, especially caregivers). Others have been victims of other types of abuse, struggle financially, are homeless, or cannot meet their basic needs. All have been victims of historical trauma, affected by the injustice of the larger systems that oppress – sexism, racism, and classism.

Despite the fact that oftentimes the most vulnerable people are the most likely to be exploited, ANYONE can be a victim of sexual exploitation and trafficking, and everyone is at risk. More often than not, traffickers are people the victims claim to know and love – boyfriends and husbands. The relationship begins in a “honeymoon” stage where the trafficker grooms her through romance, charm, false promises, and buys her nice things. Once she develops some trust in him, he begins the breakdown – beginning as emotional, mental, and psychological abuse. Traffickers alternate between affection and abuse to confuse victims, instilling in their victims a desire to do whatever they can to please their abuser. He will say he loves her, wants to build a life together, wants to make a lot of money and buy things for her, etc. Whatever her weakness or vulnerability is, he will find it and use it to his advantage.

I lead a psycho-educational group called “Women of Worth” at Central MN Sexual Assault Center (CMSAC) for those who have been prostituted and trafficked. In this group, the women learn to become advocates for themselves – understanding abuse, addiction, co-dependency, vulnerability, shame, and tactics of coercion and control.

The majority of the content in the group discusses what healthy relationships look like. One of the most prevailing lies we are told stems from shame: we have been told we cannot or will not have healthy relationships. That no one would ever want to be with us if they really knew what we were like. That we are not good enough and are unworthy.

I chose the name for the group to be “Women of Worth” for this very reason. Those little voices in your head that tell you that you are not good enough are lies. Most of this comes back to identity. Where do you find your identity? Through the group we work with the women to find their identity and guide them along a healing journey where they can discover that their worth is intrinsic.

On my personal time, I have reached out to women in exotic dance clubs for four years now. My partner in ministry and I go into the clubs and build relationships with the dancers, managers, employees, and customers. There are no expectations. We do not go there to “save” them or preach to them. We goes simply as a response to the call of the Gospel. We bring them treats and gifts and let them know they are loved and welcome in our church. We go to be there as a support and as a friend, to be a person they can grab coffee with when they need to talk and have no one else to turn to. Whatever it is they need, we approach them with love, mercy, and compassion (absent of judgment) and let them know that God loves them and they can never fall too far.

Most of the women I meet are thankful we are there but uncomfortable about the idea of church. They wonder what others will think of them. How would you respond if the next woman you met in church said she was an exotic dancer? Would you embrace her with love? Or would you think to yourself, Yikes- why is SHE here? Your response determines how she views the church and even Jesus himself. Based on your response, would she want to come back?

Many don’t. Many have felt the same judgement within the church as they have outside the church. As the body of Christ, we must check ourselves and recognize how we have failed to show the grace of God to those in our life. No one is more or less deserving of his grace. It hurts to see how some have not felt the love of God in a church that worships a loving, all-embracing God.

As women, how can we help prevent sex trafficking? We can create a different culture! We can genuinely care for and support women around us – ALL women – without discrimination, regardless of what they do or believe. We can stand by victims instead of blaming them. We can build each other up, we can lead,  and we can minister. We can love women deeply in a culture that tries to tear women down. We can accept ourselves. We can love our bodies and not critique them. We can stop feeling ashamed of our gifts. We can view ourselves and other women as God sees us. We can let ourselves and other women shine around us. We can refuse to be held back and pursue all that Christ has for us. We can boldly proclaim the Good News – that our identity is not in what we do, our relationships, or our appearance. Our identity is securely found in Christ Jesus, and nothing we do can separate us from his love.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Marianne Williamson

For more information on sex trafficking and CMSAC, please contact Rebecca at rkotz@cmsac.org

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