When I was in high school, I watched a documentary about two teenage cousins, Kimberly and Carol, who were kidnapped 15 minutes away from their homes in Toledo, Ohio. Their kidnappers forced them into prostitution.
As I heard first hand from Kimberly what she had survived, I could barely move. I listened as she described their kidnapping, their abuse, and their rescue. Looking back today, at the end of her story, one thing sticks out to me.
The deputies from the Washtenaw County’s Sheriff’s Department had received an anonymous tip that Kimberly and Carol were being sold for sex at a truck stop. When the deputies found Kimberly, she desperately wanted to tell them the truth; she desperately wanted to be freed.
But instead, she lied.
For those of us who have never come close to experiencing what Kimberly and Carol went through, we would expect the first thing to come out of Kimberly’s mouth to be the truth. We would think she would be overjoyed and run to the deputies who were there to rescue her. We would assume she would cry out that she wanted to be rescued.
But for those of you who have survived experiences like Kimberly’s and Carol’s, you understand. You understand why Kimberly gave them a false identity, a false name, and a false date of birth. You understand why she pretended like everything was okay.
She was afraid.
It breaks my heart, but she was so afraid that she simply repeated the information that she had been forced to memorize during her “seasoning period.” For those of you who don’t know, a seasoning period is “a combination of psychological manipulation, intimidation, gang rape, sodomy, beatings, deprivation of food or sleep, [and] isolation from friends or family and other sources of support,” something almost all survivors of sex trafficking are forced to go through in some shape or form (Shared Hope International).
I wouldn’t mention that if I didn’t have to, but I think we need to try and understand just what Kimberly was experiencing. When we begin to consider the depth of psychological, emotional, and physical violence that was committed against her, can we honestly say for sure that we would have responded any differently in her situation? Her response—something that seems to make no sense—makes perfect sense.
You see, fear—the fear of death, the fear of violence, the fear of what might happen to your loved one’s if you try to free yourself—it shackles a person. It grips a person so tightly that one often cannot receive the very thing one wants: freedom.
The unidentified are silenced by fear. But there’s one thing that breaks the silence. There’s one thing that courageously presses into the darkness and at its thickest point lights a ray of hope.
That thing is love.
You see, love doesn’t relent when a survivor tells you that they don’t want to be freed when, really, everything inside them is crying out for freedom.
Love doesn’t relent when a 15-year old girl lies to you because her brain has literally been trained to react in such away due to the violent trauma that has been inflicted on her.
Love doesn’t relent when a survivor is learning to overcome fear and learning how to receive love again.
Love is tender and passionate all at the same time. Love is longsuffering and unfailing. Love presses on.
In fact, it was love that compelled Kimberly to tell her and Carol’s story, so that they could be a voice for so many other women and girls who have survived what they went through. Undoubtedly, love is a feeling. Many of us have experienced it. And it’s what we long for survivors to experience.
But love is also an action. Love doesn’t just stay inside of you. If it is truly love, it longs to reach out and extend itself to another. Love means that we must do justice, to whatever extent our consciences compel us to. Love calls us to become breakers of fear and the voices of awareness for survivors of violence.
The heart of the matter is this: traffickers use fear, so we must use love. And though it might be a journey, I’m convinced that love will be victorious over fear, because I've glimpsed first hand how love begins to transform the life of a survivor of sexual exploitation. And I've been so privileged to glimpse how love takes the pieces of a person's heart that were torn apart, and one by one, begins to piece them back together and make all things new.
That convinces me that love will win.
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." --John 4:18