[NOTE: This post references an article I posted on our FaceBook page this past week. For those of you not following us on FB, I’m providing a link so you can read it for yourself.]
It’s difficult not to be sickened, outraged, and completely incredulous with this story coming out of Zanesville, Ohio; that a mother sold her eight-year-old daughter to a 76-year-old man for sex. It wasn’t for the jury either, who found her guilty after deliberating for only 30 minutes.
But as horrifying as this is (and truly, it IS horrifying), it has caused me to once again revisit how the scourge of human trafficking is a symptom of an even larger problem within our culture: brokenness. Do any of us really know what might be going on behind the closed doors of our neighbor: always quick with a smile and some friendly banter, living in the upscale home with beautifully manicured landscaping? Because, behind some of those doors we find children who are being sold by a parent (or guardian): children who keep going to school, living at home, and suffering in silence.
Just because it may be easier to conceal trafficking in communities where, by all appearances, no one would EVER suspect it happening, doesn’t mean it ISN’T happening. As one takes a closer look at constantly emerging news stories: stories that expose myriad (sometimes unfathomable) ways parents, guardians, teachers, coaches, pastors, police officers, adults in general abuse and assault children: it becomes apparent that we as humans can become broken in unimaginable ways. And it is because of this brokenness in both ourselves and our communities, that the sexual exploitation of children can (and does) flourish.
In a rather crass way, the Zanesville story actually acts as a kind of exemplar of the point I’m attempting to make:
BROKEN VICTIMS: This poor child has been irreparably broken. From what we know from similar cases, to overcome the damage to her self-image and self-worth will now become a monumental challenge, if not a lifelong pursuit. And if not adequately addressed, this will likely perpetuate an ongoing cycle of abuse throughout her life.
BROKEN EXPLOITERS: We have no clear information on the mom’s background, so her brokenness is but conjecture. However, it doesn’t seem a far flung leap to suspect that SOMETHING occurred in her upbringing to predispose her to selling her own child. In what way is Lori Henry broken? We don’t know, but simply by the fact that she DID sell her daughter for sex points to her brokenness.
BROKEN CONSUMERS: Again, we have no detailed information on this 76-year-old man. But all I need to know to make my case is that HE HAD SEX WITH AN 8-YEAR-OLD! In no way, shape, or form can this EVER be construed as anything but broken. Yet something in his upbringing prepared him to not only accept, but act upon having sex with this child.
BROKEN HELPERS: Now we arrive at the caveat and my bottom-line point: Those of us who are engaged in the work of eradicating sex trafficking from our communities need to be EVER mindful of not becoming a part of the problem; exhibiting brokenness ourselves.
Anecdotally, I have several scenarios to draw upon, but will only a share a couple:
- In a group discussion, the well-meaning but misguided person who ends up re-victimizing a survivor, “Suzy, you were once a prostitute. Why don’t you share YOUR story with us?” If Suzy shares her story, it is HER decision to make.
- Or at a presentation, the well-meaning but misguided participant who can’t WAIT to share from their fount of sensationalized innuendo, launching into an ongoing diatribe of meaningless information that benefits absolutely no one in attendance.
If we are TRULY willing to be helpers in this cause, we have to ever be circumspect in checking ourselves for our own brokenness. Are we being humble and sensitive to others or do we decide when and what they should share self-righteously believing it is in their best interest? Are we sure we’re only sharing accurate information in an attempt to edify or do we delight in spewing forth the latest sensationalized rumor, looking only for its shocking effect?
And finally, do we hear a story such as the one from Zanesville and immediately shout, “I hope she fries,” or, while being completely and understandably outraged by the incalculable damage done, allow another more empathetic part of us to kick in trying to fathom the magnitude of brokenness of our fellow human beings that led to this horror? Trying to understand the brokenness that we all share, so that we might be that one open to receive and respond with mercy should a person caught up in brokenness seek out someone, anyone, who will listen without judgment? I, for one, aspire to be such a person.