Pipeline Out by Christa Hernandez
There are so many ways in … but not enough resource to help victims come out.
Being a survivor of the commercial sex industry, which then led to being sex trafficked for almost 20 years, makes this important work personal in so many ways. Most of all, my heart breaks daily! My story is different than most I reach. I escaped from my trafficker once pregnant with my second child. I then went back to others on my own, because it was all I knew and really all I thought I was worth. I had become so broken. The last seven years in the life, I began working for myself as a Dominatrix. I thought it was my turn to belittle all the men who hurt me; I was in control now. What a lie; I was just spinning into a very dark side of the industry.
One day while at my sons’ baseball game, a mom invited me to church. My first thought was absolutely not. Jesus wants nothing to do with me, and that church may burn down if I walk into it. I was very good at playing the part, so I said yes just to look like the good baseball mom. When I walked into that church, “Sneaky Jesus” grabbed a hold of me right then and there. For two years I was in the church, growing in my relationship with Him but still in the industry. A series of events happened, and I finally had a revelation of His love for me which led me to leave the life with $70 to my name. I told God I would go to a homeless shelter if I had to; I just wanted out. I didn’t even know programs existed then. There was nobody reaching out to me, so my exit was me and Jesus.
Now that I have been going into the strip clubs and brothels for over four years building intentional relationships with the women involved, letting them know they are loved, valued and purposed and support is only a phone call away, we have had many reach out for help. Then we also have other organizations sending us women who need help out. We opened two drop-in centers where we offer support groups, helping them with both tangible and intangible needs. As we built trust with these precious women, they began opening up and sharing their horrifying details that are all too familiar: “Eighty-nine percent of women in the commercial sex industry said they wanted to escape, but had no other means for survival. Seventy percent of females who are trafficked are trafficked into the commercial sex industry.” We began to see these statistics come alive. These precious women were wanting out. This is when I saw a HUGE gap in the anti-trafficking movement.
We are all raising awareness, which is great, but what about the needs of those coming out? This is where I began to find a shortage of resources … the first and foremost being housing! I can’t tell you the number of times I am frantically searching for an available bed. “There are only around 200 beds in the USA for trafficking victims who are women 18+.” Now this is a problem considering human trafficking is the second largest crime, and, in my opinion, it’s probably number one, if we included all that are being held captive without anyone knowing.
In my state of Florida, we only have two that are for women who have been sexually exploited/ trafficked. Sometimes we will find an available bed out of state that we get them transported to, and sometimes there’s not. I have also had to resort to drug rehab programs. The problem with that is they are not equipped to handle the needs of a trafficking victim. “Women in the sex industry experience post-traumatic stress disorder at rates equivalent to veterans of combat war.” Most women we send to these places end up leaving, going right back to what they know. Now this happens in homes specific to trafficking victims as well, but at places not specific to trafficking victims, it’s usually due to them not having the correct resources available. I can’t tell you how many times we put a woman through detox, and because there are no beds available for them after detox, we lose them. This breaks my heart and frustrates me.
Due to this, we started praying for a safe house. I am thrilled to tell you we were donated a home to use, but then I realized it will take $199,000.00 to run it annually. We will not give up and believe God will provide. I now see why it is hard for so many organizations to open one, especially SURVIVOR-led, because we are not seen as experts in this field by many; we are still seen as unqualified in some ways. But most people I see combatting this horrific crime as boots-on-the-ground, front-line warriors are my survivor sisters and brothers.
We need to have more pipelines out!! We need more homes for these precious women, men and children. We need more funding available for this that will not make us make it into a cookie-cutter program, because the reality is every individual’s story is different, and they will all heal differently and progress at different times. We need trauma therapist, doctors, dentists and other professionals willing to come alongside us and provide their services. We need more businesses to open their doors and be willing to give them a chance regardless of their past.
Awareness is great, along with many other things, but what about the PIPELINE OUT? We can’t do everything, but everyone has something they can do. What is your something? Think about this: Imagine how you would feel if you were the one having to tell a victim there are no available beds. Imagine you being a safe place for them to reach out to and that beam of HOPE, but then you have suddenly been a part in them losing HOPE, because there is nowhere for them to go. It breaks your heart, doesn’t it? There are many of us trying to open homes, so even if it’s just your prayers, then please pray that we are able to get them open and stop having to turn victims away!!