The impact of seeing dozens and dozens of girls –– not women, girls! –– who are old before their time was sobering and maddening.
Once in awhile, life changing situations happen. Ten years ago, I received a phone call asking me to be part of a national effort to combat sex trafficking. At the time, I didn’t even know what sex trafficking meant; nor did most of the others who showed up for that first meeting. For several years my involvement was wholehearted and time-consuming, but impersonal ––– those awful things were happening somewhere else and while the victims were real and I was deeply affected by the cruelty and abuse of innocent victims, I had not seen human slavery up close and personal.
All that changed last year when I sat at a dinner table in a Mexico City restaurant. Across from me was a beautiful blond young woman who, in contrast to the other nearby dinner companions, was completely at ease in that social situation. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about the only person at the table that I didn’t know. I innocently asked, “Ellen, what do you do?” For a moment, she looked stunned; then she stammered out, “I’m trying to be a good person.” Immediately, I knew that I was talking with a victim of sex trafficking. Later I learned that she had tried several times to leave prostitution, but had been unsuccessful. After the dinner, she hugged me tightly and whispered that she really wanted to be a “lady” like me and the other women there; she asked me to pray for her.
The next night between midnight and 4 a.m., I sat in the middle seat of a black SUV surrounded by security guards. We were accompanied by forward and rear escort vehicles filled with security guards. None of the vehicles had license tags on view. Our driver and the guard in the front passenger seat were both in constant contact with our escorts. We drove down a dozen streets that were lined by prostitutes with their pimps standing in the shadows behind them. I am haunted by all those faces –– at least 2 in 5 were underage girls. Our escorts, all former law enforcement officials and tough guys, were shocked; we could hear their comments to each other through the walkie-talkies. “That girl in the skirt; she is no older than my daughter.” “Look at that – that girl is barely a teen.”