“There is an ominous dimension to love, especially after loss. If loss increases our capacity to love, then an increased capacity for love will only make us feel greater sorrow when suffering strikes again. There is no simple solution to this dilemma. Choosing to withdraw from people and to protect the self diminishes the soul; choosing to love even more deeply than before ensures that we will suffer again, for the choice to love requires the courage to grieve. We know that loss is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So naturally we dread the losses that loom ahead. But the greater loss is not suffering another loss itself, but refusing to love again, for that may lead to death of the soul.” - Gerald Lawson Sittser
My name is Erin Rollins. I am new to this blog, and I wanted to introduce myself: I am 33-years-old, married with two dogs, and a freelance journalist. I have always had a heart for the poor, the disenfranchised, and most recently grown in my understanding of the lasting effects of trauma of all kinds. I am also a survivor.
On November 9, 2014, I was struck head-on by a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on the expressway. On impact, I was immediately paralyzed from the waist down. I suffered a severe concussion, three broken ribs, fractured sternum, lacerated liver, severed iliac artery and holes to my bowels, colon and small intestine. My right heel was also broken in three places and my spine shattered at L5 and S4—sending hundreds of shards of bone into my spinal canal. I don’t remember the moments right before, during, or even after the crash. While my mind does not remember the most horrifying moments of my life, my body does, and I’ve learned that trauma has a voice of its own.
I think about the moments when I lost consciousness and the airbag enveloped my head for an unknown amount of time. Enough time, though, that I started experiencing nightmares that I was suffocating while in the hospital. I would wake up in a sweat, gasping for air because in my dreams I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
I am so grateful for the first responders that night who cut me out of the car, transported me safely to the hospital, and who helped save my life. I am also so grateful for all of the hospital staff, nurses, surgeons, doctors, therapists and assistants who all assisted in facilitating my care. At the same time, the poking, prodding, moving, touching, cutting, and slicing of my body to save my life, stabilize my vitals, and essentially put me back together— while all so necessary— was extremely traumatic. I have had eight surgeries thus far with more on the horizon. Those surgeries and life-saving measures cumulatively did save my life, and while my mind does not remember so many of these important moments, my body does. I remember flashes, after the crash, but not full sequential events. What happened in those moments of darkness—even though all of the things done were in my best interest— haunts me. To this day, those moments of darkness are overwhelming.
It has been four and a half years since that fateful night, and all the while, women, men and children are sold, commodified and used by men who purchase them for sex at all hours of the day, everyday, and in all parts of the world. Women, men and children, are sold, touched, used, raped and essentially discarded when the deed is done—for the gratification of those purchasing them. Sexual exploitation could end today if the demand was addressed.
If I felt violated by the things that were ultimately done for my good, and to save my life, how much more do the women, men, and children feel violated, used, and hurt by the individuals who have sold, touched, or raped them when it is not for their good? Instead, the selling of these individuals is for the sick gratification of the men who sell them and the buyers who use them.
If the clients of sexual services knew that most of the women, men and children they are buying did not choose to be sold, or in fact, do not want to have sex with them, would it change the buyer’s desire to participate in sexual exploitation? If the buyers instead looked at these women as human beings and not a toilet where they can relieve themselves, would they still choose to purchase them?
I’ve learned that the voice of trauma can be deafening at times. The sting of trauma can show up at any moment without warning due to a smell, an image, or a word that reminds me of those moments between life and physical death. Even today, years after the crash, I often cry at “random” images that remind me of what I’ve lived through. I flinch when my husband touches me the wrong way, or when I am not expecting it. I flinch because I didn’t see him reaching out to touch me and I couldn’t say anything until he was already touching me. I suffer from post-traumatic stress symptoms that may haunt me the rest of my life. The trauma I experienced is not something I can just “get over.” I can choose to forgive and move forward with my life, but that doesn’t mean I won’t experience life-long consequences of one woman’s decision to drive under the influence.
Similarly, studies show that those who have spent more time in trafficking are associated with higher levels of PTSD, anxiety and depression. The more time that passed since these individuals were trafficked showed decreased levels of anxiety and depression, but not of PTSD.
For the women who have shared their stories of being prostituted, used, trafficked and raped, they describe it as a death of the soul.
The Providence Journal reported in 2014 that Lynda Marie Oddo— a woman sold for three years by two men she considered friends— said, “she feels like she lost her soul.”
Most people—myself included— currently, or have at some point in their lives, believed that prostitution is a choice. The research says something entirely different, however. In fact, according to Prostitutionprocon.org, “90 percent of women in prostitution are actually dependent on pimps.”
According to Stopvaw.org, “Some women are deceived, coerced, drugged or kidnapped before being trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Vulnerable young girls trafficked for sex in their home country or abroad may be targeted and ‘groomed’ by traffickers who feign a romantic interest in them and then use violence and rape to control them.”
Also, according to the site, many of the women did not choose prostitution and had never engaged in the act before. Many did not even know what was happening until they found themselves raped or forced to take clients—in some cases by men they knew and once trusted. Many other women may have been tricked into prostitution with the promise of employment in a restaurant or strip club that led to situations of forced prostitution. Others are trafficked directly into brothels, where they are held against their will, coerced, raped and threatened.
The truth is that regardless of how or when a person is trafficked or used for sexual exploitation, the conditions in which they live and work violate their basic human rights to cleanliness and autonomy over their own bodies. Women who are trafficked across international borders many times do not even speak the language. For more on this, read here.
Since the crash, I have found myself more in tune with the injustices of the world. I remember feeling depressed for days after reading news articles about abuse. My trauma had been poked and the darkness reared its ugly head. I have cried myself to sleep many nights, mourning the losses of bodily function, the loss of self, and the loss of time I may never get back.
While a car crash is significantly different than being forced into prostitution, however; I can relate to the feelings of violation and helplessness. One of the deepest sources of pain for me is that I did not have a choice. The woman who hit me head-on drove the wrong-way on the expressway for miles. Three individuals called the state police to report a wrong-way driver before she struck me. Those involved with the criminal case against the drunk driver said that she must have entered on an exit ramp. My trauma told me that I didn’t see her until the last minute because there was a blind spot. I don’t remember this part consciously, but my body remembers, and this information was validated recently in a news video I saw showing the crash scene. The point at which she hit me happened right before a curve that made it impossible to see her until she was right in front of me.
One of the emotional memories that has come back to me is tied to the moment right before she hit me, and the thought that I had: “Oh my God, there is nothing I can do to change what is about to happen.”
I have never felt more helpless in my entire life than in that moment. I had no choice, but to brace for impact. I couldn’t run, flee, say “no,” or even choose to freeze. I was stuck. Her car hit mine with an impact alone that I was told should have killed me. Remnants of her car were left in mine. I have been sexually assaulted before— which I will address in a future post— but the violation of the crash that broke my body and took so much from me supersedes the assault. I consider the crash as the single most horrifying, devastating and violating moment of my life. I could do nothing to protect myself. I could do nothing to stop her from crashing into me, almost killing me, and in one second stealing so much life from me.
Today, I am a highly-functioning paraplegic who pees out of a straw (catheter), poops in a bag (colostomy), and cannot feel 50 percent of my lower body. In one moment, I lost my body, car, job, independence for a time, and my life. The Erin that once existed no longer exists. I have to embrace the new, the lost, the stolen, and make the choice to move forward.
I’ve learned that suffering from one highly traumatic event does not prevent me experiencing future traumatic events. I have experienced traumatic things before the crash, and I will after. I can choose to acknowledge the pain, the sadness, and the grief and still have hope for the future. Like the quote says at the beginning, “we can dread the losses that loom ahead. But the greater loss is not suffering another loss itself, but refusing to love again, for that may lead to death of the soul.”
The ability and desire I have to move forward is essentially because of the redeeming power I have found in Jesus Christ. I have been able to forgive the offender, despite knowing that she did nothing to deserve forgiveness, because I realize that I also did nothing to deserve forgiveness, though Jesus died for me. God asks the same of us: He commands us to forgive others. I was also able to demonstrate the love of God— and act out this forgiveness— by hugging the offender in court after her sentencing in 2016.
I have chosen to move forward despite my brokenness in hopes that it can one day help other people. I have also chosen to embrace the pain so that one day I may be whole again.
Catalyst Ministries will continue to fight for victims of human trafficking to know that there is hope for them too. There is healing and there is life— and even love— after trauma and tragedy. You can embrace the pain, grieve the losses and still know that the sun will come out tomorrow. You can rebuild. You can rewrite. You can move towards— and even restore— the light no matter how black the darkness was that threatened to overtake you.