Meghan Tschanz

love shines on

Most trafficked women in the US come from Foster Care. We can change that.

When we first met Jada*, she wouldn’t talk to us, much less acknowledge our presence. She firmly crossed her arms in front of her chest, her eyes glued to the wall behind us.

She intimidated me, and I knew what she was thinking. Who were we to help her? We had never been bought and sold for sex. We didn’t know the hard life she had lived, and it was clear from our appearance that we lived a comfortable life now.

The leader of the group home had just introduced us as the women who were going to lead the retreat many were obliged to go to. I’m not sure, but I think they got some kind of reward if they agreed to go to our inner-healing retreat, otherwise they never would have gotten Jada to go.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We had been preparing this retreat for months, putting activities together to get the women to share their story. Oftentimes, they’ve never said their stories out loud pushed down behind years of shame.

Our job was to bring light to these stories, to give these women and safe place and community to talk about it. And to let God into their stories, allowing him show himself in the midst of it. The retreats are followed up by group home leaders, teachers, or other women who will continue to walk through the process with them.

And we were about to do our very first one, with a little over a dozen women rescued from prostitution in Atlanta after they called a number where people would pick them up and take them to a safe home. It was there that they would spend a few weeks before spending more time in a long-term program that gave them to skills they needed for a new life while getting them the counseling they needed.

Sometimes they left before they got to the long-term program, so we had a unique opportunity to offer some healing, right where they were.

When the women showed up at the basement that we had spent hours decorating with candles and flowers, most of them were excited, Jada was not.

Slowly, throughout our activities and the other women opening up and sharing their stories, Jada began to relax. And as the last woman was sharing her story, Jada spoke up and said she had to share her story.

She cried her way through it, speaking of growing up in the foster care system and being continually sexually abused by those in charge of protecting her. She was moved from house to house, until finally she met a man who loved her, or so she thought.

Romance quickly turned to violence when he began pimping her out to his friends, until soon, that’s all she knew. He had taken her identification and all forms of communication and soon she resolved that this was her fate. For years she was abused, over and over again, until someone gave her a phone number of someone who could help her.

She called, and they picked her up, that’s how she had ended up here. She said that today was the first day she had felt hope since she could remember, and the small flicker of it had broken her hardened exterior.

What I found was that her story was not unique, about 90% of the women in that room had come from similar situations in the foster care system. That number astounded me so I did some research.

According to Human Rights Project for Girls:

• In 2013, 60% of the child sex trafficking victims recovered as part of a FBI nationwide raid from over 70 cities were children from foster care or group homes.

• In 2012, Connecticut reported 88 child victims of sex trafficking. Eighty-six were child welfare involved, and most reported abuse while in foster care or residential placement.

• In 2012, Los Angeles County, California reported that of the 72 commercially sexually exploited girls in their Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience (STAR) Court Program, 56 were child-welfare involved.

• In 2007, New York City identified 2,250 child victims of trafficking. Seventy-five percent of those experienced some contact with the child welfare system, mostly in the context of abuse and neglect proceedings.

• In Alameda County, California, a one-year review of local CSEC victim populations found that 55% were from foster youth group homes, and 82% had previously run away from home multiple times.

• In Florida, FBI agent Gregory Christopher (head of Florida interagency rescue and restore law enforcement task force) estimated that 70% of victims identified in Florida were foster youth.

If sex trafficking is going to end, we have to start at the root of it. And in United States it’s very clear that it starts in unhealthy homes and the foster care system.

There are many I have talked to who have said they would love to help women stuck in the sex trade, but that their families prevent them from getting up and traveling to these areas where sex trafficking occurs. I totally understand that, but that’s not the only way you can help.

If you want women and girls to stop being sold for sex in the United States, in your own backyard, you can get involved with your local foster care system, or even foster a few children yourself.

The more I learn about sex trafficking, the more I realize it’s a complicated issue that begins years and years before girls are sold on the streets.

So don’t take my word for it, do your research. Get involved in the process. And if you have the resources, foster or adopt.

Dustin and I plan on adopting when we start having a family, it may not make a difference for more than one or two kids. But if everyone did their part and considered adoption, the girls who start out in the foster care system and end up in the sex trade would be cut significantly, if not completely eliminated.

Think you can’t make a difference? You can. You have an opportunity to change someone’s life, and I can’t wait to see what you do with it.

 

About Meghan Tschanz

I believe in love, empowerment. and adventure. The kind of love that believes in the face of adversity, the empowerment that allows people to step into their destiny, and the kind of adventure that leaves your heart pounding in your chest. I write because I want to remind us all that there is so much more to life.

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