I Am The 1%

Many have asked me to share my trafficking experience on my blog.  I regularly weave it through trainings to illuminate and illustrate the reality and truths of this horrific crime, but for some reason have never placed it here.  So, below is a piece I wrote at the request of a friend a couple years ago to give a radio program producer.

9/7/2014

A friend asked me to share with you a bit of me and my personal experience with trafficking, in 1500 words or less.  While that may not seem like a difficult task, for me it seemed daunting, at least at first.  However, after a bit of prayer and basically just getting out of my own way, I find myself here, typing away.

If you happened to be reading this, there’s a fair chance you have never even heard of me!!  Just as I haven’t, you.  I will begin with just a touch of info to help you get a visual of who is talking.

I am a tall, 48 year old German looking woman with long blonde hair bright blue/teal eyes, a tiny nose, cutesy bubble cheeks (my hubby says) and about 100 pounds too much weight.  I look quite younger than I am, perhaps that is because I feel younger than I am.  Most days I feel rather like a 20 year old girl who just happens to have wisdom way beyond her years.  I have been married for 30 years to Keith, my love.  Together, we have three children, Lauren, Andrea, and Mathew.  They have all grown and married, gifting us with new sons and a daughter (I don’t like calling them “in-laws”) and eight beautiful, smart, unique blessings we affectionately call the ‘punkin seeds’.  Being a grandparent is a joy.  They are tiny little bundles of imagination, glee and are just as precocious as their parents were.

I am absolutely in love and like, with my God!  They, (God, Jesus and Holy Spirit), are hands down the most amazing and important thing that ever has happened to me.  If you were able to get to know me, you would quickly see that I am just a kind, sweet, person who is a tad too sarcastic and can be a handful.  BUT, I have gotten a couple things right in this life.  One….building a relationship with my God, Two….choosing my hubs, who is fairly amazing, Three…..loving my kids into independence from us, and Four…learning to follow God wherever He leads me, even if I’m terrified and don’t agree! 

Believe me there have been many times I didn’t agree!  I have even argued with Him!  Yes, I really have.  Asking Him silly questions like, “What? God, have you thought this through?”  Thankfully, He knows me inside out and knows my heart trusts Him implicitly, even if my mouth and mind don’t seem to. 

So, where He leads, I follow the best I can.  He knows the way and is a supreme guide and travel companion.  In fact, it was late Spring of 2011 that we had a conversation much like the one I described above.  During a time of prayer and study I felt Him asking me to share something.  This something was a very dark secret that I had tucked away at the very bottom of my soul.  It was hidden deep, in an old metal chest held tightly closed with big chains, a heavy lock and it was covered in dirty, moth-eaten blankets.  The horrors locked inside frequently wrestled to get out.  But, layers and layers of blankets encased that chest, making every effort to dampen the clanging noise from reverberating through my soul.  It had been hidden away some 28 years at this point. 

Why, Lord?  Why would I want to release it now, or even ever?  Wasn’t I doing ok?  Aren’t I serving you and your people?  Is there something I have missed?  What good will it do?  How is it hurting anyone locked away inside me?  Isn’t this the easiest way? 

Questions like these, empty attempts at trying to wrap my head around His request, poured from my lips to His ears.  See, I may not be the best daughter He has ever had, but I do tell Him how I’m feeling.  And, even when it may not be good things falling from my lips, I know He likes it.  How?  Well, because I know Him.  He loves me!   I mean, like a lot!!  And He really loves when I trust Him enough to share myself with Him.  So, I do.  And I really like when He shares with me.  I really do have the best end of this deal!  ;)

Anyway, back to ‘sharing’ with you, sigh…..   I would love to say I jumped on that request right away.  But, I didn’t!  I ‘discussed’ it with Him for almost two months.  Back and forth.  Thankfully for me, He is patient.  I could have wound up a pillar of salt or something, but trust me, I’m still mostly muscle and too much sea salt caramel gelato! 

See, my friend, He wanted something FOR me, not from me!  Yes, I was about to embark on a very scary, dreaded journey of sharing a truth.  It was a secret I had been forced to keep in order to protect someone I loved even more than life itself.  But, what I found was so much more than anything I could have guessed. 

I didn’t expect, at all, that this journey would have anything for me.  But, it turns out, fruitful as it has been, it was very much for me, probably even more so than for anyone else it has, or will affect.  

What was it, you ask? Well, long ago, when I was teenager I found myself in a relationship with what turned out to be a very bad man.  He pretended to be my boyfriend.  I thought he was.  He took me on dates.  We went dancing, had dinner, and went for drives.  He listened to me.  Like he paid attention and seemed to really care about what was important to me.  Sounds like a boyfriend, doesn’t it?

I wanted to be a doctor.  Since I was only two years old, that had been my goal.  I loved learning anything and everything about the human body and had a natural aptitude for it.  I was truly a passion of mine and my number one love.  He fed that dream.  He told me he would help me find a good college and quite possibly one that would give me great scholarships. 

I was really innocent and naïve in the things of relationships.  I was wise about many things and very intelligent and mature for my age, but he reeled me right in. 

How?  He spent time learning what was important to me and then pretended to not only be interested, but to also help me accomplish what I was working towards.  What girl wouldn’t want that?

Now, honesty is the best policy, right?  So, if I am being honest, and I am, I need to say that I did make a mistake that I ignored.  This man was just that….a man.  I was a girl.  I knew full well he was much too old for me, but every time that bothered me, I pushed it away.  I reasoned it away, I ignored it, I pretended it just didn’t matter one little bit.  I thought that if it were really love, and it felt that way, that love would conquer all.  Geez, sounds like a romantic, teenage notion, huh?

Several weeks, possibly two months or so after we had begun dating, he was taking me out one night.  I believe we were planning on going dancing.  Right after he picked me up he said he had forgotten something at his house, so we headed there.  Once inside, we walked into the living room.  I remember standing in front of the fireplace and he started kissing me.  As we were kissing, another man came into the room from off the stairwell.  He was really, really tall and really, really naked!  The very next thing I knew they both had me on the ground and for the next few hours, they raped and sodomized me.  When the ordeal was over, they stood up and walked into the kitchen.  I don’t remember them saying anything at all, they just walked away.  I stumbled to the hall bathroom, locking myself in.  I was going to escape through the small window in there, but once inside, I discovered I had remembered wrong….there was no window.  I was trapped.  I was terrified, shaking terribly, covered in blood and completely disoriented.  I’m sure I was in shock as I stood there trying desperately to figure out what to do next.  I found a cloth and wiped and washed and scrubbed, just trying to get clean.  Really, I was trying, to no avail, to rid my body of their touch.  I could still feel their fingers on me, their skin touching mine.  Waves of nausea kept me reeling.  I just wanted to figure out how to get home.  Finally, wrapping a towel around me, I decided to try and ease the door open, hoping it wouldn’t creak.  I started slowly down the hall planning to make a run for the front door. But…..

“He” stepped into the end of the hallway, literally filling the space with his body. I froze.  I wish I had pushed him, or fought or tried to run.  I just froze there…..staring at him with what I imagine to be a wild, shocked look of disbelief.  I had trusted him!  I didn’t understand!  What had changed?  What had I done?  My head was spinning, my stomach was fighting fear for residence in my throat, and I was terrified I would lose my death grip on that towel because I was trembling so violently.  It represented my very last shred of dignity and courage, and it was fading fast.  Then, through the fog I realized he was speaking.  I tried to focus, to hear what he was saying, but it was like trying to tune in a radio station with no antenna.  I don’t know anything he said.  Nothing broke through, until…..    “I know you don’t want Kasandra……”  WHAT!!!  NO!!  My heart was breaking, fear had very literally just rocketed off the known charts into some foreign land I had never known existed. 

Suddenly, I could hear him loud and clear.  My blood had stopped flowing, any and all resistance I might have mustered died quickly and quietly, like a perfectly snuffed candle.  What he was telling me was this.  From that day forward, I would be where he told me to be, when he told me to be there.  If I chose to ignore him, disobey, or speak of this to anyone, he would do this to my little sister, Kasandra.  She was only 5 or 6 at the time!!!  I have yet to come upon a word that accurately describes the fear that exploded inside me.  His threat of her was far, far worse than what he, they, had just put me through. 

This was the beginning of a strange, twisted, sadistic odyssey that would have me trapped for nearly two years.  He had essentially made me his sex slave.  At the time, I had no idea what I was trapped in, what to call it or how to get out.  Today, it is known as Sex Trafficking.  It may have a new name, but it has been around as long as there has been sin and evil in the world.  It is a heinous, soul-shattering crime that plays out differently for each person, but at the core it is the same. 

Human trafficking, sex trafficking is essentially modern day slavery.  It is defined as recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining another person by force, fraud or coercion, for the purposes of slavery, debt bondage, commercial sex acts or involuntary servitude.

During that time, I essentially lived a double life or at least a very, very secret one.  And I did everything I could to make everyone think nothing had changed.  I could not afford any questions.  In fact, I quickly became able to display the needed emotion and actions for any given situation, regardless of how I was feeling.  I was a regular chameleon!  My days were the same.  I attended high school, continuing to get good grades, though they did start slipping after six months or so.  My part time job at F&M bank gave me a way to make money and was also something I could be proud of.  Nights, though, they had become his. 

Three to four times a week, he would give me a place and time, and I was expected to be there.  He would then pick me up and take me to a house.  There were many different houses, in several cities.  At those houses I was expected to do whatever I was asked.  Sometimes, there was one person, and other times there was a group.  For all intents and purposes, I was basically their human plaything.  They did whatever they wanted, for as long as they wanted.  He always sat in an armchair at the foot of the bed and watched.  That part was very creepy and the entire thing was completely horrific.  After a time, I became able to escape into my mind. 

You may be thinking, really?  One threat?  But, you see I had absolutely no reason to believe it was an idle threat.  He had proved to me just how violent he could be.  Why would I doubt him?  I was suddenly faced with someone I didn’t know.  There had been absolutely no inkling of anything but kindness and caring.  Nothing to indicate he was capable of this brutality.  Nor was it one threat.  The reminders continued.  He kept my family under close watch.  They never knew it, but I did.  He would say things to me like, “I saw Jamie got a new bike for his birthday.”  And, “I ran into your mom at Be-Lo.  Looks like you’re having spaghetti for dinner this week.” And when he wanted to tighten the screws a bit, it would be things like, “Boy, your mom must get awfully lonely at night with your dad at sea for six months at a time.”  He always knew what was going on and he made sure I knew that he knew.  It was subtle, yet powerful control.  Fear, intimidation, threats; basically, he wove an ongoing coercion that controlled my life.

And I did exactly what he said, always!  Fighting him wasn’t an option.  Telling wasn’t an option.  I knew no one that I could fully trust with my sister’s life.  For me, that horrible day in his living room, the die had been cast.  I was trapped, just as surely as if I had been locked in a cage.

It may sound ludicrous, but unfortunately this new life became normal.  I didn’t know how or when things would ever change.  The fighter inside of me would love to say I fought back and escaped, that I battled for my life.  The sister inside of me believes I did what I believed I had to do.  Thankfully, no miraculously, I didn’t die in this situation the way so many do.

One night we were on the way to a house, when he pulled over into a small, mostly vacant strip mall.  He got out of the car and began walking across the parking lot.  I was following behind him wondering why we were here.  Suddenly, he stopped beneath a parking lot light.  He looked at me a bit oddly, and said, “I don’t want to ever see you again.  Don’t go anywhere I have ever taken you, don’t’ try to find me or anyone else.  You need to move away.  This is the only way I can save you.”  Then he grasped my shoulders, and pulled me towards him kissing my forehead.  I just stood there, dumbfounded as he got in his car and drove off, leaving me standing there awash in shock. 

I have no idea how I got home that night.  But, I do know that he didn’t love me.  I believe the Holy Spirit facilitated my release.  I don’t know why.  I am no more special than any other person.  But, I am eternally grateful for my freedom.  It is something I value most highly and do not take for granted.  

Please know, this is not the norm!!  Less than 1% of modern day slaves are ever rescued! Less than 1%!!  That is the statistic that still rocks me to my core to this very day.  I am that 1%.  The 99% are still out there, hopeless, lost, discarded, forgotten. 

This unbelievable crime breaks the heart of God, as do so many.  I long to free them, these slaves whose very lives have been stolen from them.  I long to tell them and others of my Jesus.  He alone can heal them, redeem them, and return their lives to them, making them more beautiful than anything they could ever imagine.  Slave or not, this life is absolutely nothing without Him. 

My Jesus didn’t leave me or forsake me throughout my ordeal or since.  I endured those years, surviving without ever becoming pregnant, contracting a disease, becoming an addict or being killed.  Pretty miraculous, in my opinion. 

Well, my friend, this is my story, at least a good overview.  I hope in sharing it I have accomplished two things.  One, pointing you to my gracious, magnificent Savior and two, to be a voice saying this: sex trafficking is real, it happens here, it is not rare, and it needs to stop. 

 

~kathy bryan