By L. Mackenzie
How one church reached out to God and founded a mission helping victims of domestic child prostitution.
The underground sex economy is a multimillion-dollar industry in the United States; pimps and traffickers can make more than $30,000 a week in major cities, according to a research study reported in 2014 at urban.org.
Information on child prostitution and rape is difficult to source due to the heinous nature of the crime. According to the FBI, children and teens living on the streets engaging in prostitution is at epidemic proportions and life expectancy of a child in trafficking is just seven years.
“I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and I want him as my Lord and Savior.”
“With that confession, I baptize you . . .”
If we could see the spiritual side of those waters, we would see swirls of blackness and sin being washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Child sex slave turns child of God.
Perversity becomes purity.
Light triumphs over darkness, and the angels rejoice . . .
Runaways. Throwaways. The homeless. Children from environments with high degrees of neglect or abuse. Foreigners. You would expect these to be the prime victims of child trafficking.
But you might not expect that domestic child sex trafficking is happening in your backyard—in your town, city, or suburb.
Pimps take many different paths in recruiting children for sex slavery, including parents, friends, boyfriends, and the Internet (Facebook). Children are approached in malls, at schools, and on the streets; sometimes children are forced, coerced, or kidnapped.
A pimp can gain the trust of a girl, even get her to love him, by spending a lot of time with her, taking her out for meals, buying her expensive gifts, and promising her the world. All the while, he collects information he will use to subdue and exploit her.
The pimp deceives the girl into believing he loves and cares for her; he grooms the child by aligning himself with her. He becomes psychologically intimate with her, uncovers her closest relationships, and in the end emotionally and mentally exploits her.
The torment might begin when he hurts someone in front of the child or threatens to hurt her family. The child becomes caught in the pimp’s web and is dependent on him for shelter, food, and safety. The child is helpless to leave. The pimp subdues her by robbing her of sleep, locking her in solitude, and demanding that she perform sexually. He offers drugs to anesthetize and numb her young body, emotions, and life, and to help her get through the grueling aspects.
The results are psychological, physical, and emotional trauma. Victims are stunted at the age they enter slavery.
Removed. Isolated. Beaten. Malnourished. Exhausted. Diseased. Depressed. Drugged.
These are our country’s daughters. They are girls born and bred on American soil. Where can they turn? Who can help them?
Who Will Save Our Girls?
Though this story seems terribly dark, a bright spot has emerged in the fight against child sexual exploitation and rape. An agency on mission in the American Southwest, StreetLightUSA, is working to combat the problem.
StreetLightUSA of Peoria, Arizona, in Greater Phoenix, was founded by Larrie Fraley and Christ’s Church of the Valley in 2007 out of a focused desire to address a growing concern. The leaders wanted to tackle a social issue that would have a deep impact on the community.
Fraley, lead pastor of local and global outreach, was assigned to lead the team that would help identify the social issue. The team carved up the city by sectors (education, health, government, law enforcement, entertainment, business) and by subject (hunger, poverty, health, homelessness) and decided to tackle a single item.
“The criteria had to be something we could solve,” Fraley says. “The list became shorter and shorter.”
After months of research, God brought the area of need to light.
Someone on the team suggested the issue of sex trafficking of minors. They reasoned the church could help solve the issue locally because it didn’t seem to be a major problem in Phoenix. Based on information the church gathered, the team reasoned there were possibly a few hundred girls being prostituted in that area.
“It felt like it was something we could solve,” Fraley says. “Surely we could save a few hundred! Little did we know. . . .”
It turns out, CCV leadership had no idea how pervasive and prevalent child prostitution was in their neighborhoods.
“Once I began to understand what was happening, I had to do something about it,” Fraley says. “Otherwise, I was just being disobedient [to God].”
Strategy: Awareness, Prevention, Aftercare
Before it could take steps to address the problem, StreetLightUSA had to first make people aware of the issue of child trafficking in prostitution. Campaigns and videos were created and shared. But that wasn’t enough.
Once people were aware of the problem, Fraley and his team needed to offer action steps to those who were determined to do something about the problem.
Could StreetLightUSA prevent child prostitution?
No, but the group could work to change the laws. As recently as 10 years ago, Arizona cities had different laws governing the manipulation of children as sex slaves. A person convicted for child pornography in 2009-10 faced up to seven years in prison. However, a “John” caught in a sex act with a minor might face a penalty as small as $75 and perhaps be forced to attend an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Saturday John School.”
StreetLightUSA and its board, along with representatives from local and state government, began working to draft laws to put child rape and prostitution on par with child pornography. These efforts culminated in Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signing HB 2454, a human trafficking law, on April 11, 2014.
How does StreetLightUSA provide aftercare for rescued victims?
StreetLightUSA works directly with first responders to identify the girls placed for prevention and aftercare. The girls often are referred through the Department of Child Safety.
Early on, it became clear StreetLightUSA needed a stand-alone facility.
StreetLightUSA’s initial plan was to buy 40 acres in the Arizona desert and build a new facility. While a team was considering construction options, they visited a crisis center with 48 beds; it was an ideal setup that the team loved. The team was speaking with the architect about the building when they learned the crisis center was shutting down. StreetLightUSA was asked if they would be willing to buy the facility.
After negotiations and board meetings, a multimillion-dollar purchase was agreed to; the plan included buying 8 additional acres adjoining the property to allow for expansion. CCV and Central Christian Church, another local cosponsor, raised the initial monies and joined together with other churches to raise more than a half-million dollars. (Since its inception, more than 100 churches have contributed to the ministry of StreetLightUSA in one form or another.)
StreetLightUSA became a licensed care provider, and then received a $750,000 Arizona housing grant. The Solomon Foundation then stepped in, providing a loan for the rest of the cost of the facility.
Moving forward, governmental agencies are providing 40 percent of funding, with the rest coming from private donations and the faith community.
The Metrics for Success
StreetLightUSA estimates the agency rescued 450 girls from child sex trafficking in 2015. Once a child is stabilized in the program, she is invited to attend church. What must it be like for young ladies who have gone through such things to walk through church doors for the first time, unsure of what will happen? What kinds of looks will they get? How can they begin to trust the love of Christ if the church isn’t willing to walk with them, teach, correct, and train them?
Who would want former child sex slaves dirtying up the waters of their baptisteries? CCV, that’s who! In a single service at CCV in March 2016, nine girls were baptized.
Fraley says only one person will save these girls. While the church is responsible for explaining Jesus Christ and his redemptive work on the cross, Jesus is the only one who can save anyone.
She comes up out of the water with a look of surprise . . . and then joy. Her smile is radiant! She knows she is a new creation. The old is gone; the new has come. Her future now holds endless possibilities.
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13, 14).
For more information about child trafficking or to connect with this mission, visit:
Missionary Placement (www.missionaryplacement.org)
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign)
The Polaris Project (https://polarisproject.org/sex-trafficking)
The StreetLightUSA program is holistic and considered among the first of its kind. The program places girls with counselors in group homes; there also are mentors. The staff creates the assurance of physical safety through shelter, clothes, food, toiletries, showers, and by providing much-needed medical services within the first 24 hours. A typical girl entering StreetLightUSA is 13, but children as young as 8 years old (the average age of a second-grader) have been placed in their care.
The girls are provided with counseling and care that focus on physical manifestations of the abuse and rape, but which also minister to behavioral, emotional, and psychological aspects. Most of the girls have complex PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the trauma, much like soldiers coming back from war.
Once girls have gone through counseling and are stabilized, they are allowed to stay at StreetLightUSA’s facilities until they are 23. Some have gone back to school. Many are again dreaming about their futures.
Leigh Mackenzie blogs at The Church Girl Writes: Jesus in Everything (leighmackenzie.com). She and her husband adopted their Ethiopian daughter “to save just one girl” from the international sex slave trade. She became aware of the breadth of this issue while interviewing former prostitutes in Brazil.