*Story used with permission
When I (Jenny) entered the world of fighting human trafficking, I was a black and white kind of girl. Now looking back, I see that I have made quite a journey over the last 17 years, and it is crazy that today I really am just fine with gray. Let me explain…
Several years ago, Fierce Freedom staff had walked alongside a woman for many months as she worked to leave the life of being sex trafficked. A statistic we often cite is that it will take a victim of sex trafficking will have at least seven times of trying to leave to finally make it out. Seeing the highs and lows of this process in real time was honestly heartbreaking to watch.
Looking at her situation, things looked obvious to a healthy person, but Kayla was not a healthy person, and she didn’t have healthy people around her to hold a safety net for her. You see, Kayla’s family looked normal on the outside and her family most likely followed black and white rules. Her family was made up of law enforcement and even successful political figures. She told us stories of sitting at the family table and hearing how she was never good enough, she never had grades that met the expectation of her parents, and her friends didn’t meet the standards of her family either. As the years went on and her family became more and more disappointed in her she felt as if they even withdrew their love. Like many lonely young women, when Kayla met a man who gave her all his attention; purchased thoughtful gifts for her and treated her like she had value and worth, she gave herself fully to that relationship.
Kayla learned that there is a price to everything, and that included her trafficker too. After almost a year of gaining Kayla’s trust and building what she thought was a relationship with this man, she experienced the shift in his treatment of her when learning of his true intentions to profit from her exploitation. Unsure of how to live apart from this man who controlled her with threats, shame, and her addiction to drugs, Kayla felt trapped and unable to escape.
Many people in the American culture haven’t given thought to the fact that if a person sells or trafficks drugs, guns or even organs, those are a one-time sale – the product is used up and gone. When selling a person for sex repeatedly that can “earn” a trafficker millions of dollars a year depending on his/her operation. In fact, there are textbooks written where new traffickers can purchase those textbooks and learn from successful traffickers. So, you can see why traffickers put so much time, money, and energy to build a life of deceit with the people they plan to traffick. This process is called grooming. And to add insult to injury, we have recently heard a sex trafficked victim tell us that she owes $65,000 in state taxes from money that she never saw. If in the future she ever encounters law enforcement she will go to jail for evading taxes.
The time came when Kayla felt strong enough to leave her trafficker and we were thrilled for her and wanted to do all that we could to help her succeed in leaving. We had a plan in place with a shelter, her intake was complete, we had made arrangements for her belongings to be stored and we thought for sure we were set! Just then, Kayla walked into our office with the largest bird I have ever seen in my life. How could I have forgotten about the bird? The bird’s name was Lucky, and Lucky swore like a sailor. Kayla’s trafficker threatened almost everyday that he was going to hurt or kill Lucky. This is a normal tactic in the world of sex and labor trafficking. Often the pet is their only companion that the abused person has know that gives unconditional affection. So, you can see why it would be a tactic of an abuser. You learn quickly through this kind of work, there are often surprises you never accounted for just around the bend.
The shelter where we were taking Kayla had a policy in place that they could not take animals too, so for the first time in my career, I was looking for someone to foster a bird – a bird whose name was Lucky and swore, not just traditional swear words but the bad ones too. We made the promise to Kayla that we would foster Lucky and it took some time, but we found a good fit. Lucky went to a loving home where there were no children and the woman had owned many birds before.
I was the fortunate one that got to drive Kayla to the shelter. We had quite a bit of time together in the car which I almost always appreciate. It seems that during a drive like that, women open up and talk honestly and authentically. And that was what happened with Kayla.
It was quiet in the car as we drove out of town. It stayed quiet for quite awhile until I looked over at Kayla and saw tears streaming down her face. I’m sure you know the kind of tears I am talking about, the hot tears that stream when emotion is so deep that there are no words to say. After a few minutes Kayla started talking. She told me that in her life she thought that she had known love, but she had never felt love like she had experienced through our staff and volunteers who threw their whole selves into getting a safe place for her and for Lucky.
Please hear me, I promise you that I don’t say that with pride or arrogance. There is no way that this work could be authentically worked out without Jesus or with living in a world that is only black and white. My staff works hard for authenticity and they don’t do their jobs because of the pay – they truly love the people we work with and have done deep internal work themselves.
On my long drive with Kayla, we laughed and cried together for many hours. When we were almost to the shelter it fell silent again in the car and Kayla began to sing. Her voice was pitch perfect and I believe that it was from years of singing songs that she wrote as she endured her horrible life. They were songs of pain but also of hope and of Jesus.
I was the one that felt the blessing at that moment. In my earlier life when I worked so hard to live in a scrubbed and sanitized world I would have never been able to experience this kind of miracle happen right in front of my eyes. Gray is just fine with me. It is the messy middle where I am called. Black and white might be easier but let me be honest with you, it isn’t worth it.
*Some names and details of this story have been changed for safety and confidentiality reasons
Co-Founder & Executive Director
Jenny first learned about the horrors of human trafficking in 2008, which lead to the birth of Fierce Freedom. As Executive Director, Jenny works to build the organization so that awareness and education about the issue can continue to spread. Her main goal is to educate and move people to action, to work toward the abolishment of human trafficking and exploitation. Jenny enjoys writing, reading, and public speaking. In her time away from the office, you will find Jenny gardening, traveling and spending time with her husband and children.
"I believe that all jails desperately need your training as the victims of human trafficking frequently pass through the system. If staff is not trained on the warning signs of human trafficking and what the victims my look like, these are missed opportunities to provide help."
Captain Curt Dutton, Chippewa County Sheriff's Office
“Your agency is my greatest resource to share with anyone I talk to.”
Amy O’Donahue, Deputy, Specialized Enforcement, Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Officer Ashland and Bayfield County Sheriff’s Offices
"Human trafficking is a worldwide crisis. Everyone can do something. Stand against this egregious violation and maltreatment of our fellow brothers and sisters on this planet. Join Fierce Freedom and fight human trafficking at home and around the world!"
"Fierce Freedom is at the forefront of anti human trafficking! They are constantly working with the community to train, rescue, and bring awareness! If you're going to support an organization in your area, this is the one to partner with!"