“I need help.”

Those three words were all I had the courage to type. For several years, church ladies had been coming to the club where I worked. I had become friends with the church ladies. And in desperation, I texted them a call for help.

I had already left my husband, who was selling me to his friends. And now, I was stuck in an abusive relationship with my boyfriend.

I only had $11 in my pocket.

And my boyfriend made sure that I had nothing — no way to leave him, nowhere to go, and no way of escape.

I was trapped.

Then, my phone vibrated with a reply text, “I can come, if you want to leave.”

Thirty minutes later, I was in a church lady’s car with everything I owned.

We drove to a church to figure out a plan. But what kind of plan could we make with $11? We talked about where I felt safe and what I wanted.

“Home,” I replied. “I want to go home.”

Sexual exploitation is happening in every community — at truck stops, strip clubs, erotic massage parlors, in our streets, and through escort services and online prostitution.

Within three hours, we packed all of my belongings into two suitcases; purchased a phone that no one else controlled; ate dinner together; and then, the church ladies bought me a train ticket home and gave me cash for traveling.

As we stood in the train station, they prayed with me.

And I knew I would be okay.

Because of Peace Promise, I am now far away from my abusers. I am safe, and I am recovering. I have hope.

~ Jewel’s story

Sex Trafficking in Your Neighborhood

Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar-a-year business, with sex trafficking growing at the fastest pace. It is an industry that exploits the most vulnerable members of our communities:

those who experience poverty

have little or no protection from family or friends …

believe they have low personal worth or value …

and have a history of childhood sexual abuse.

Sexual exploitation is happening in every community — at truck stops, strip clubs, erotic massage parlors, in our streets, and through escort services and online prostitution.

Since 1997, the accessibility and anonymity of internet pornography have significantly contributed to the abuse of trafficked and exploited men, women, and children.

Who is a Victim of Sex Trafficking?

In the United States, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years old. Most teens, like Jewel (name changed), are lured into the industry by a pimp posing as a boyfriend and remain there by brutal force, coercion, drug dependency, and a sense of belonging. Once trafficked, only 1 percent of victims are rescued.

The average life span of a person being exploited in prostitution is seven years. The most common causes of death are drug overdose, suicide, and murder.

To meet the legal definition of a victim of sex trafficking a person must be either …

  • under age 18 and being sold for sex under any circumstance
  • or over 18 and being forced or coerced.

The line between those being forced and those agreeing to be sold for sex is fuzzy at best.

The job itself is beyond comprehension. Most women being exploited in prostitution have sex with 15 to 20 men a day. For some, the numbers are much higher, especially if a pimp is involved.

We’ve heard the stories firsthand. No one likes this work. It is physically painful and emotionally tormenting, often involving significant abuse and perversion.

People being exploited in prostitution are not making great money or being mentored toward career advancement. Instead they are living a torturous existence. Without advocacy and years of care and support, the hope of leaving “the life” is unquestionably bleak.

“What If She Were Your Daughter?”

Like many, I had not given much thought to prostitutes before 2008. My eyes were opened when a member of my life group shared about sex trafficking. I’d like to report that I said, “God, send me!” But I did not.

While my friend wanted to begin coming alongside those being trafficked, I told her that I would provide prayer and project management support behind the scenes. But I did not want to know any more than she had already shared. The stories were utterly disturbing, heart-wrenching, and overwhelming.

God had other plans for me.

I dutifully went to prayer for my friend. While in prayer, my mind was invaded with visions of Jesus carrying young girls out of brothels. He handed one to me. Then he asked me the question that forever changed the course of my life and ministry.

The Lord whispered, “What would you do if they were Elizabeth?” Elizabeth is my sweet, beautiful, precious daughter. I promptly told the Lord that I would go get her. I understood his heart and the call on my life when he responded, “They are all Elizabeth to me.”

I have never looked back.

I have been privileged to work alongside other dedicated volunteers with Peace Promise — a nonprofit addressing sex trafficking in the Harrisburg-metropolitan region. We offer outreach, intervention, and advocacy for those involved in commercial sexual exploitation; healing support and restorative care for sex trafficking survivors; and community education and awareness regarding the dehumanization and identifiers of sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.

On a weekly basis, our team of outreach volunteers visits adult entertainment venues, forming friendships with the women who work there. The dancers affectionately refer to us as “the church ladies” who bring homemade dinners and desserts to share during the visits. 

Through our time in the clubs, we communicate a simple message: “You are precious. You are valued. You are loved. We are here for you.”

Jewel’s story is just one example of the impact that a consistent, caring, and nonjudgmental friendship can have in the life of a trafficked survivor. Once a survivor is safely transitioned out of the industry, Peace Promise offers an individually customized care plan based on that woman’s specific needs and goals. The plan is intended to facilitate meaningful employment, healthy relationships, and loving self-care.

Finally, it is easy to read or watch a documentary about sex trafficking and become overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.

It is huge.

It is complex.

And yet, it is very personal.

It is ONE face. One woman. One name. One very specific set of circumstances that brought her to this place of exploitation. Despite the debilitating trauma, abuse, and addictions, there is hope. There is a community of women who will welcome her home and who long to see her restored and whole. 

Learn more about Peace Promise and sex trafficking

Susan Vigliano
Susan Vigliano is founder and president of Peace Promise and associate pastor of Mechanicsburg Brethren in Christ Church, Mechanicsburg, Pa. She and her husband, Joe, have three children: Michael, Gabriel, and Elizabeth.

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