Domestic human trafficking is a hot topic. You can frequently find stories in our local newspaper regarding trafficking here in Wichita, Kansas, and just last month I was privileged to attend The Global Leadership Summit via simulcast, and we heard from Pranitha Timothy about the work done by IJM. This led to a quick conversation with a friend about trafficking locally, and how that really happens. I told her that some day, when we were alone, I’d tell her a story.
I have to warn you, the story I’m about to tell is long, and PG-13 at best. But maybe it will help someone understand.
To really tell the whole story, I have to start back in 1993. I was just 18 years old, and I was working the night shift in a convenience store. I have moved into a spare room at my best-friend’s mother’s house. The problem is that she had been trying to get a couple of different people to move in and rent the room, and three of us showed up in one weekend. Three teenage girls sharing a room didn’t make for a peaceful existence. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, though. Each night at work, a chain donut shop would deliver fresh pastries to our store. One of two guys brought them in. One in particular kind of caught my eye, and he was always very friendly. One night this man, we’ll call him Jack, came in and asked if I knew anyone that was looking for a roommate. I asked if he was looking for a place to live, but he wasn’t. He actually owned a home, but was having trouble making ends meet and wanted to rent out a room. I laughed to myself, because I didn’t even know the man. I sure wasn’t going to recommend that someone move into his home! I told him I’d let him know if I found out about someone.
In the meantime, things at my “home” weren’t going well at all. Eventually there was a fight, and I had to have my dad go with me to pick up my things from the basement. I didn’t want to move home, of course, but I didn’t make enough money to live on my own. For several days I made my way from one friends’ home to another, falling asleep on their couch. When I woke up, I’d act so embarrassed, make some comment about how tired I was, and tell them that I was going to hurry home to get some sleep. The truth was, I was moving along to the next friend to borrow a few hours on their couch before heading to work each evening.
This went on for several days, and finally Jack came back into the store. I asked him if he was still looking for a roommate. Lucky for me, he was! I agreed to meet him at his house the following afternoon to take a look at the place and see if I was interested in moving in. The truth was, I was interested. Or maybe desperate. I sure didn’t have anywhere else to go. I remember that evening well. One reason Jack wanted a roommate was so that he could get his electricity turned back on. He was short on cash, and the power had been shut off. We didn’t account for the time change that fall day, and I arrived to a mostly dark house. I toured the house with the flame of a cigarette lighter.
All in all, the house was fine. There were two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs, and two bedrooms and a bathroom in the basement, where he spent much of his time. I paid him the money he was asking for, plus a few more dollars to help turn the power on, and I moved right in. As bad as this story sounds so far, it went well. Jack was several years older than I was, and he had a lot more real world experience than I did. He really did look out for me, and took good care of me. I learned a lot about life, about sharing and getting along with others. I learned about hard work and friendship. Our relationship was never sexual, and I lived there until I lost my job and took too long getting another one. He kicked me out, but we remained friends.
Fast forward several years. I’m married, and we have three babies. My husband, kids and I live with with in-laws. We had nothing to offer except food stamps, which we got plenty of, really. Every time my mother-in-law went to the grocery store, I had to go with her and pay for the food items. They bought diapers when we needed them, but they would only buy the cheapest ones, which leaked and caused a rash on one of my children, and we had to ask Every. Single. Time. We needed them. Of course, we were always met with a slight resistance. It was just about more then I could handle. It was definitely a low point in my life. I got in the habit of taking my husband to work each day, and finding places to go with my kiddos to spend the day. I was willing to be anywhere but home.
Several times we went by Jack’s house to visit. He was still a great friend, and he understood what it was like to live in poverty. He understood my depression and frustration. After one particularly frustrating day, Jack came up with a plan. He was, at that point, my only friend. I was one of his best friends, someone he could be himself with. I knew his secrets, he knew mine. He cared about me, and I cared about him. So he wanted to help get me the cash I needed to buy diapers and clothes, and take care of my babies. Jack proposed that we trade oral sex for diapers. I was stunned. He knew he had upset me. But he also knew that I paused for thought before I answered him.
You see, when you’re a young girl, with few options and no hope, you’ll do about anything. Friends make promises. Situations can be beneficial. And it’s the best feeling in the world to have a friend, someone that cares and will help you out.
Jack passed away a few years ago. We remained friends until his death. Things turned out okay for me, but I empathize with desperate young girls that are promised love and care by men they encounter just when life feels hopeless.