We were an average American family living the good life. A loving couple with five adult children, ranging from ages twenty-eight to nineteen. We were hardworking, law-abiding citizens, with strong Christian ethics.
And then … the unthinkable. For over two years now, our beautiful daughter has been trapped in the dark web of human sex trafficking. It’s real. It‘s horrific. It’s evil.
This is My Story
Growing up, my daughter—I call her JJ—was bright, energetic, compassionate and fun to be around. She finished high school a year ahead of her class and started taking courses at the community college. Although only seventeen, she seemed to flourish in her new environment. She was always checking in—sometimes we’d yak about nothing—other times she’d have something new to share.
In fits and starts, JJ told me about her new friend. “Mom, I’ve met this really shy guy. I don’t think Jeremy has had a good family life and I’m trying to help him out. I feel sorry for him.” She continued, “He couch-surfs whenever possible because he dreads going home to alcohol and parents fighting.” Noting my wrinkled brow, JJ quickly responded, “Come on Mom, he doesn’t sleep on my couch. I just give him rides. It’s the right thing to do.”
Follow Your Instincts
The first time I met Jeremy, I immediately became suspicious.
“JJ, please be careful, I don’t have a good feeling about this boy.”
“Oh mama, you’re such a worry wart. He just needs a good friend.”
Even though I couldn’t shake my concern, I began to doubt. How could I judge this boy without really knowing him? Or maybe I’m just anxious because JJ’s growing up.
As the weeks went by, life got busier and JJ’s phone calls and visits became less. However, one day she asked to spend the night in her old bedroom. It was a great mother-daughter time, as we talked, laughed and watched movies together. About 2 a.m. I heard her phone ring. “I’ll be right there,” she said. Stopping her at the door, I insisted on driving her in my car.
When we arrived at the rendezvous point, Jeremy jumped out of the shadows and into the back seat.
A thick, oppressive spirit squeezed right in alongside of him. He was nervous. I was nervous. If he had made one wrong move, I would have wrestled that boy down to the ground like a ferocious mama bear. After dropping him off, JJ and I had an intense conversation about her relationship. She finally confessed Jeremy had been acting strange recently, and decided to stop helping him.
Several months later JJ moved out of the area and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the threat of Jeremy was over. However, within a year she was back in our hometown. Her return worried me, because I wasn’t going to be around to watch over her. My husband and I were packing up to move to another state. It was hard leaving JJ behind, but by now she was in her early twenty’s and needed to make her own path in life.
Slowly, our relationship began to change. She was not only distant geographically, but emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She’d push back against any attempt to talk about her personal life. Mostly, she would simply avoid talking with us.
“I’ll call you later Mom.” The phone never rang.
My husband and I decided I needed to make a visit. Well, the real truth is, I went to check up on her. She came to see me every day. She looked okay, she talked okay, but somehow she was different—a mystery. Our light-hearted conversations barely skimmed the surface and she made sure they stayed that way. Saying goodbye, I wondered what she was hiding and my prayers took on a new level of intensity.
Months later, I received a surprise call.
“Mom, can I come for a visit?”
“Well sure JJ, when?”
JJ tried to put on a good face, but she had changed. No longer was she that confident and vivacious young woman I had raised. Instead she was pre-occupied, on edge and lacked self-esteem. I wondered what had happened to make her so ashamed. When my husband and I would try to find out what was going on, she’d set her jaw tight and change the subject.
In spite of these awkward moments, it was good to have her living close by. We’d often share dinner together, and working in my boutique seemed to give her a place to flourish and blossom. She actually seemed happy at times.
Crisis Are Never Convenient
When a crisis hits your family, it doesn’t care what other challenges you might be experiencing. While I was helping my best friend’s family deal with the pending loss of their young mother and wife—unbeknownst to me—JJ was in the final stage of being groomed into human sex trafficking. I was so focused on the loss of my best friend I barely noticed she was withdrawing again.
Two weeks after I buried my friend, JJ told me she was moving to Costa Rica. I was shocked. It just didn’t make sense.
Digging for more detail, my daughter finally told me she was leaving with Jeremy. His name washed over me like an ice cold, bone-chilling shower.
“We’ve been in touch for some time now. His uncle lives in Costa Rica and is going to help pay for our trip.” She would be working on a plant farm, while Jeremy would be hired in his uncle’s medical clinic. I begged her to not go.
“Mom, I’m leaving in three days. I didn’t tell you and dad earlier because I knew you’d be upset.” No amount of persuasion would change her mind.
My husband and I were frantic. We wracked our brains for a plausible answer to this frightening dilemma. Finally, we called our friend, an undercover narcotics agent in our hometown. When asked if he could look up Jeremy’s name, he went silent.
“I don’t have to. His file is sitting on my partner’s desk. He’s been in and out of jail for theft, stabbing and drugs. He’s a trafficker of many things. You must convince your daughter to not go with him.”
“But how?” we wondered.
Our friend continued, “He took his last victim to Mexico and traded her to the Cartel
for a supply of heroine. This girl is so messed up.” You see, the Cartel threatened to kill her family if she spoke out, so out of fear, she didn’t press charges on Jeremy. “We can’t touch him,” he said. This is the pattern of most Cartel victims—if they survive.
“Oh my God,” we moaned. How in the world could this have happened?
“He’s most likely been grooming your daughter for some time and possibly drugging her without her even knowing it.”
We sprung into action. A narcotics intervention group called Priceless gave us advice and support. The Federal Bureau of Investigation offices exchanged information. Even a friend got in on the action. She happened to stop by a local coffee shop and saw JJ with a man she didn’t recognize and sent me a photo. It was Jeremy. He had come to pick her up!
When JJ came to say goodbye, my husband and an intervention team were waiting to talk with her. Refusing to believe the truth about Jeremy, she turned her back and closed the door behind her. That was over two years ago. We’ve not seen her since. She never made it to Costa Rica. The FBI warned Jeremy to not leave the country, so instead, he took her to another major sex trafficking hub in Florida.
Contact with JJ has been rare. It’s been over ten months since her last call. When she does call, it’s only for a minute or so. “Hey, mama, it’s me JJ.” My heart pounds—she’s alive! I quickly tell her how much dad and I love her and we’re ready to come get her. I remind her there is nothing Jesus can’t heal. Between sobs, she whispers, “I love you” and is gone again.
I miss having JJ in my life. I miss her funny phone messages, her giddy laugh, our dinners together, our movie nights, and the mystical feeling between us that is love. I long to hear her voice saying, “Mom, come get me!” My husband and I keep our cell phones nearby, just in case she calls, and we have extra cash on hand for last minute airline tickets.
Meanwhile, I cope with an inconsolable pain that beats against my soul and challenges my sanity. In the beginning, I struggled to get out of bed. Those were the days I imagined my daughter high on drugs and being stripped of her human identity—and other thoughts too horrendous to mention. Utter despondency was often followed by a frantic impulse to do something, anything. I feared she might die. If she did, it would leave a permanent crack on my soul. After two years of living this nightmare, the pain has not lessened, but I’ve turned my grief and fear into a battle cry.
I am God’s weapon
No longer will I be a victim. I am God’s weapon!
I fight for justice. I have partnered with a statewide organization that educates and brings public awareness of these violent acts against our children and our society. My story will never be a deep, dark secret in our family because I take every opportunity to share.
I pray and stand in the gap for marriages. This kind of trauma brings tremendous stress into relationships. It will either tear a marriage apart or bind it together. My husband and I have gone through both. Today, we are united in the fight. We pray together, cry together and prepare together.
I challenge people to be thoughtful of my pain, because it’s impossible to hide. It’s a raw pain without words—the sadness in my eyes—the slope of my shoulders—the deep frown lines that don’t seem to leave even when I smile. People deal differently with pain. A few friends weep openly and pray with me. Some don’t want to hear the horrors I’ve gone through and avoid me. Others question my story because after all, this kind of thing only happens in other countries and in the movies…right? And of course, there are the unspoken judgments of the self-righteous wondering what my husband and I did wrong as parents.
I challenge parents to be bold. As uncomfortable as it might be, I ask parents to talk to their kids about human sex trafficking, and to include them in creating a strategy—a plan of escape. To have emergency phone numbers on speed dial. To talk about different scenarios and ways they might stay out of trouble. And if possible, take them to a self-defense course to learn the fundamentals of self-protection and survival.
I encourage parents to help their children discover their God given identity and strengths. To help them become strong decision makers. To help them know God’s unconditional love.
Professional traffickers look for the weak and vulnerable areas when grooming their victims. Sometimes they are groomed for several years until they can control them. Many victims are snatched off the streets.
Will You Join Me In the Fight?
Every day … in every city … human sex trafficking and pedophilia have reached into the very fabric of our culture. This heinous crime has most likely stepped into your neighborhood and just may knock on your door.
The abusers have become more arrogant and emboldened. Just recently I heard about a father who was walking through a parking lot with his five year old daughter, when a pickup truck came alongside of him. The two men asked if he had a couple of bucks to help them out with gas. Sensing danger, the father gripped tight the hand of his daughter, pulled her close, and told them to leave. If he had let go of his daughters hand to reach into his pocket they would have snatched her up and sped away.
Sometimes whatever you do doesn’t seem to be enough. But everyone can do something. First and foremost, you can pray for truth to be revealed about trafficking issues in the United States. You can support those who are actively fighting this war. They have stepped into the dirtiest, darkest, and most demonic atmospheres imaginable. Your prayers and encouragement will keep them strong. You can become an activist. Find out what efforts are being made in your state, city and church, and fill in the gap with your gifts and natural talents to strengthen the fight.
You too can be God’s weapon …
And remember, when you join the fight …
Satan is no longer your enemy—You are his enemy …
Psalms 37: 5,6 Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him and He will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.