Courage, strength, and the ability to dream. These qualities are hard enough to come by when we have a healthy place to grow.
Now, close your eyes and imagine that you grew up in an impossible place. Imagine that your mother was gone most nights prostituting herself, that your father wasn’t even around. Imagine that gangs moved into your neighborhood and forced you to do horrible things-things you didn’t want to do. Imagine you were exploited, intimidated, and soon you were in so deep that there was no way out. Imagine the fear, the weakness, the uncertainty, the inability to dream.
Imagine that you don’t have to imagine any of this at all because this is your story, your life, where you come from. What would you do? How could you even move forward?
Sometimes human trafficking takes the face of violence in your community, coercion coming from down the street, and fear around the corner. This is the reality for many survivors of human trafficking, and this has been the reality for Carmen*, one of the survivors we are journeying with at Mission To El Salvador in San Salvador, El Salvador.
The question remains…is there hope for Carmen? Can survivors ever come to a place of wholeness and healing after they have suffered unimaginable suffering and violence?
The road to freedom is complex, but we believe that healing is waiting there. In order to find a way forward, trafficking survivors must be loved and supported. Economic stability is absolutely key as they are at a high risk of being re-trafficked. Carmen got a job selling new and gently used bras through our partnership with Free The Girls. But more than just a job, these women need a supportive environment. They need access to counseling, they need authentic friends to walk them through addiction recovery, and they need opportunities to learn how to manage finances and care for their children in a healthy way. They need a faith community gathered around them, cheering them on, pointing them continuously to the Great Healer.
They need understanding when they make the wrong decision, when they reject good options, when they relapse, and every time they falter. They need unrelenting grace in their lives and they need us to fight with them as they fight for their own freedom.
Against all odds, we have seen healing edge into Carmen’s life. We have seen her walk in God’s faithfulness, lean into Him. We have seen her gain ground, get her own home, support her children.
We have seen her imagine.
One day, not long ago, she stood in front of a room of other survivors and she shared a triumphant story of her road to healing. Her voice brimmed with hope and she cheered other survivors on. She is not just a survivor, she is a leader.
There is a future for her filled with courage, strength, and dreams. Imagine where she will go, just imagine.
Reflection: Carmen’s story takes place in El Salvador, however, similar stories have been told by girls here in the northeast as well. What is one thing you can do to continue creating awareness? Need ideas? Check out missiontoelsalvador.com, freethegirls.org, and northway.org/justice-team.
*name has been changed
Danielle Snyder, Anti-Trafficking Program Director, Mission to El Salvador