Malai took a deep breath as the man sitting next to her spoke. After three years of being sexually exploited, she finally had a way out.
And she was frightened.
Three years ago, her parents told her, their 14-year-old daughter, it was time for her to get a job. Everyone else of age worked hard to maintain their meager lifestyle, and Malai, like most teens in her small Thai village, was expected to contribute financially to the family as soon as she was able.
Malai was a loyal daughter, committed to doing her part. So, she dropped out of school and left their small farming community to find work in the city. Three years ago, the bus driver had dropped her off next to a beer garden, telling her they were always looking for more “hostesses.”
But she soon found that much more was expected of her than typical “hostess” duties.
What followed was three years of exploitation. Three years of enduring abuse, of men demeaning her in the bar before paying the bar owner to take her back to their hotel room for the night. Three years of watching her dreams fade, her self-worth wither and her hopes for the future dim. But she was making money that she could send back to her family, so she endured.
Then a new man spoke to her at the bar—a kind, gentle man who didn’t abuse her. She learned she could trust him and opened up about what led her to work in the beer garden. That’s when he revealed that he was a Destiny Rescue agent. He offered her a way out, and she desperately wanted to take it.
But her family still needed money, and she was woefully behind in her education, making it very difficult to find reputable work. The past three years had done nothing to prepare her to fulfill her obligations to her family, and their needs were just as acute as ever. Would her rescue be a betrayal of her commitments? Was it even possible to start something new?
Malai is a fictional character, but her struggles are all too common among survivors. While we do rescue survivors from kidnapping or outright sex slavery, situations like Malai’s are far more common.
Rescue is much more than just being removed from an exploitative situation. To truly stay free, survivors must be equipped to face the challenges that led to their abuse in the first place.
To help them achieve true freedom, we carefully develop individualized Freedom Plans™ alongside our survivors that are unique to each child we rescue. Because these plans are created to address vulnerabilities specific to each situation, they look quite different from one survivor to the next.
No matter their location or background, almost all of our survivors share a few universal struggles.
The Problem: Trauma
The trauma these kids suffer is nothing short of immense. After rescue, our caseworkers face the monumental task of helping injured children heal from emotional wounds that twist their sense of self and the world around them.
Many children who come into our care are closed off and distant or hardened and cynical. They often display the mannerisms of dispassionate adults; many exhibit self-destructive or violent tendencies. They can be rebellious, harsh, angry and destructive.
To blame this behavior on the child shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what they’ve endured. Trauma robs children of the ability to think positively about anything. They have been brutally conditioned to think of themselves as nothing more than objects to be used. For many, their entire life experience has been one of relentless cruelty.
To survive, the child puts up walls to distance herself from the pain she endures, or worse, comes to believe the lies she’s been fed. The result is a bleak worldview devoid of compassion or love.
If these emotional issues are left unaddressed, the wounds may remain open forever. Children may become trapped in their own pain, essentially remaining victims for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, this distorted worldview can cause some children to grow up and become traffickers themselves.
Our Answer: EMPOWER
In the face of such debilitating emotional scars, only Christ can offer true freedom. Where possible, those we rescue are enrolled in EMPOWER, an unmatched trauma rehabilitation program that opens the path to healing through the power of the gospel.
Children learn to acknowledge what they’ve been through, face the pain and move past it. They’re empowered by learning that God recognizes the weight of the wrongs done to them, even giving his Son to pay the price for them. Children learn to forgive their abusers without excusing their actions, a crucial step in moving forward in life.
EMPOWER uses several techniques to aid in healing, including group meetings, personal counseling sessions, hypothetical visualizations and even games.
This counseling is also crucial in family reconciliation. In families like Malai’s, parents sometimes bear some responsibility for their child’s abuse. Of course, in dangerous situations, we work with local partners to find new guardians.
However, if family reconciliation is possible, we will bring family members for group sessions with the child. While the result isn’t always a storybook reunification, facilitating an open, honest dialogue among the family is crucial for healing.
The change that these steps evoke is striking.
We’ve had reports of 12 or 13-year-old girls who came into the program looking hard, haggard and twice their age. By the time they left, it was said they looked much younger, laughing and playing like kids again. One girl was suicidal just after her rescue, but now sings joyfully in a local church choir. One young man who was extremely violent and destructive experienced a complete change in personality. Five years later, this gracious soul continues to move forward on a very positive trajectory.
Caring for the spiritual and emotional health of survivors is an honor and privilege, but we don’t exercise it in every project. Some countries do not allow us to help post-rescue, while other governments take the aftercare of the survivors upon themselves. Victims simply need to be returned to their families in some instances, such as in border rescues.
All of this only emphasizes our mission to tailor every aspect of care to each survivor’s specific situation. Whether leading the charge with life-changing counseling or helping a girl get home to her family, we want each survivor to leave our care equipped to live a life of freedom.
The Problem: Poverty
The desperation caused by poverty is an almost universal driver of sexual exploitation.
The poverty these survivors face is unlike anything most of us could ever imagine.
While most survivors in the Philippines return to typical apartments or sturdy concrete homes, a few from the most impoverished of communities live in makeshift houses that must be rebuilt after every monsoon. Many survivors in Africa gain access to clean water for the first time when they enter our care. Two young boys were so conditioned by nearly constant starvation that, upon entering their new guardian’s home, they ate everything, including dry goods such as rice, flour and the like! It took many days for them to learn they could count on regular meals every day.
Even in the best circumstances, most families in areas of high exploitation must work hard to make good on weekly expenses. As discussed earlier, it often requires multiple income streams to support a single household. It’s not uncommon to work long hours six days a week for a lifetime just to keep food on the table. Add in the fact that most primary schools in many of our regions of rescue isn’t free, and the margin gets even thinner.
We’ve written about how poverty forces kids into extreme desperation to survive. Those problems don’t disappear after rescue.
Our Answer: Economic Empowerment
That’s why our economic empowerment solutions are so important. If children aren’t helped to find new safe and sustainable ways to find food, their chances of returning to exploitation (or even starving) are dangerously high.
To combat these issues, we’ve developed several economic empowerment programs that teach children or their guardians how to become financially independent. We tailor each solution to the survivors’ needs by offering vocational training, apprenticeships under local business owners or helping guardians start small businesses.
Creating financial stability is often the most critical step in addressing vulnerabilities that lead to exploitation—and in ending the cycle of exploitation. Because so many work hard just to survive, they have neither the capital nor the time to elevate their economic situation.
We work alongside each survivor to determine an economic empowerment program that best suits them. Guardians get more than just small business funding; they’re also empowered to be successful entrepreneurs and equipped with physical resources for their small business launch. Children who haven’t experienced the structure of formal education in a long time are carefully ushered back into living in a routine that includes school again. We facilitate on-the-job training and apprenticeship-like opportunities led by vetted, kind business owners and help those leaders understand the trauma their apprentices have endured so that they can gently guide them to success.
By addressing the vulnerabilities that led to exploitation in the first place, we can go a long way in helping our rescued children stay free—and in helping transform communities by offering safe and sustainable opportunities to generate income outside of exploitation.
A successful rescue isn’t always what we may imagine. The fact is, rescue is only the beginning of the struggle. While it might be tempting to imagine that the survivors can now skate along through life with their great trial behind them, that view does these brave children a disservice.
Many kids have been robbed of not only their childhoods, but of years of education. They are stepping back into a world that demands much, regardless of how ill-equipped they may be. Taking that step is nothing short of heroic.
When they experience the transformational healing EMPOWER provides, survivors can begin moving forward with hearts healed and hopes restored. And by offering them innovative economic empowerment solutions, we can help equip these courageous kids for a life of freedom—however difficult it may be.
To help fund these life-changing programs, donate today. When you complete the form below, you’ll have the chance to make a gift that could affect lifelong positive change in a child’s life.
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