Mentoring Human Trafficking Survivors
Words by Veronica Lamb
“I thank you for all you did… Raising a teenager is hard. LOL! ” I am near tears immediately.
I haven’t heard from Kay* in months. Such a change from 7 years ago when she was a young teen sleeping on our couch and I was trying to drag her awake & off to school every morning. Now she’s a young woman off living her life and pursuing her dreams.
Besides the fact that I’ve been wondering, and honestly worrying, how she’s doing, these “thank you’s” don’t come often and catch me off guard when they do. The mix of emotions - joy, relief, surprise… is beyond my control. Tears are streaming down my face.
Kay was one of the first kids I met in the sex trafficking world. I thought for sure she was going to blow me off, dismiss me as just “some lady” who didn’t have a clue, but I could tell, despite the stone cold façade, she was actually listening and curious as to who I was and why I was there.
"Why?" was a good question.
In a series of dreams between 2005 to 2007-ish I was undoubtedly being called to do something around the issue of human trafficking. I reached out to those in my area – law enforcement, non-profits, service providers, etc… probing for more information about their biggest challenges.
Surprisingly, the biggest need was housing for US citizens, not international survivors. I ended most meetings saying, “I have limited resources, but if someone need a place to stay, call me and I’ll figure it out.” Most everyone looked at me very curiously and politely said “Thank you.” I’m pretty sure they thought I was crazy – no federal grants, no formal structure, and no experience. How was I going to help anyone?
It took almost a year, but then the phone started ringing. And it’s been ringing ever since. By now, I’ve mentored over 100 exploited women and children coming out of the sex trade. Most of them lived with us at some point or another. It’s like I became a mother before ever birthing a child myself.
You see, I’ve come to find over the years that relationships are the key. It’s critical. Not just an acquaintance type of relationship, but a relationship that’s here to stay. A relationship that communicates, “you’re part of the family now.” In my efforts to build relationships with these women and children, their lives have been woven into my heart. We’ve laughed and cried together. We’ve watched our kids grow and grieved the loss of miscarriage together. When reflecting on the journey, I cannot imagine life without the blessing of their relationship in it. Yes, housing is a practical matter that needs to be addressed, and the way in which I’ve met many of them, but just putting a roof over someone’s head isn’t enough. It doesn’t resolve the underlying need: relationships built on staying power and based on trust.
The good news is that we can build these relationships. It is actually as simple as everyday people choosing to be brave enough to love a stranger unconditionally.
I guarantee there are opportunities to for you to make a difference in your community. If there isn’t sex trafficking actively happening in your community, I guarantee it’s happening within driving distance. I’m sad to say that’s the reality of the world we live in, but I am absolutely confident that we are not powerless. We have the power to impact and shape tomorrow.
Try to ponder this, what if you helped one person? What if you made a commitment to help one individual who was struggling? One child, one woman, one young adult? You could be a mentor, a friend, a foster or adoptive parent, a coach, an advocate, or a teacher. A pillar of unconditional love always saying “I believe in you.”
If you are unsure if you could make a difference, let me share one last story.
Late after work one night, I’m visiting a young teenager in her home. She is incredibly talkative, like she had never had a captive audience that was there just for her. She’s showing me her artwork, poetry, and journaling collection. One written piece she is particularly proud of and she gives it to me to read.
I read about a shiny metal trash can. It’s brand new and beautiful, but soon people start to throw trash in it and knocking it around. It’s mistreated. It becomes dingy. Dirty. Covered with dents and dings. It's ugly now. Trash itself. Worthless.
I’m confused by the piece, but she explains that it’s about her. She’s the trash can. Once new and shiny. Now just trash, something to be disposed of without a second thought. I am floored. The best analogy this beautiful young girl can come up with to describe herself is a trash can that has been transformed from something useful to something no one would want.
Every kid and every kid that has navigated their way into adulthood needs someone willing to love them unconditionally. Someone that says, “I believe in you.”
Much in life is uncertain, but I’m certain that we are capable of this kind and simple act.
*To protect the privacy of certain individuals the names have been changed.
Veronica and her family are excitedly awaiting the birth of their second child this winter. The Justice Ministry continues to grow and serve survivors of trafficking. Veronica now spends most of her ministry time empowering and raising up other leaders to multiply the number of safe homes and safe families. Through her business, Radiant Life Consulting, she coaches other justice-minded change-makers and community advocates to prioritize healthy habits in their own lives so they can get fueled up & out the door, actively being the change they were created to be in this world.