I sat in my oversized (and probably overpriced) leather chair with my bible in my lap. I was quiet and contemplative, seeking relief from the anxiety that comes from loving broken children without the tempting safety of aloofness. So much anger and so much sadness. So much trauma and so much need. So much childhood ravaged and gone forever. Eleven year-old women. Baby fat still adorning their cheeks, while they have been sexually exploited by their own mother's. So many empty places that just needed a REAL momma or a daddy to step in, and give their "yes". They do not need an adult who, in a terribly untrue sense of martyrdom, bursts on the scene in a self-adorned messianic cloak. These kids need adults who (as Ann Voskamp so beautifully puts it) can do the "hard and holy things". Adults who will, like Jesus, do what the Father asks even when it's not your most idyllic life-plan. When a life in semi-obscurity, as a soccer mom/dad would be more like “something you have a peace about”. Let’s be honest, Jesus admitted in the scriptures that he did not want to go to the cross. He knew how hard it was going to be. But, he submitted to His Father’s plan, and did it anyway...for us. This is the kind of commitment that Michigan’s foster youth need!
Did you know that foster girls are the most vulnerable population in our country when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation. Girls who have no belonging will accept scraps of family from a pimp with a readiness that makes American's believe that these kids are choosing this life. It is a much easier filing system for us that ensures they don't need intervention or rescue, when we can tell ourselves that this is the life they want. These are children without options. When we don't have options (either known or perceived), we make terrible choices from desperation. This is true for all of us.
Her braids and bright pink beads might cause an onlooker to assume that her childhood is in tact, and that her innocence is still securely hers. You wouldn't know when you look her beautiful, broad smile squarely on, that she was beat constantly for smuggling her chewed-up food to her siblings who were being punished. Siblings who, once evaluated at the hospital, were found to be in the advanced stages of starvation. This sweet girl sabotages any personal progress because she is raging against the idea of ever being happy without her siblings. She will not...cannot leave her five siblings behind. Could I? Could you? At times, because safety and predictability are so uncomfortable for her, she thinks she would rather languish in a shelter for Michigan's foster children, eating "jail food" and wearing jail-issued jumpsuits, seeing her siblings once a month, than to ever be happy while they are not with her. Always a big sister. Always the last to present a need. Never showing a hint of vulnerability. Never getting sucked in to excitement or whimsy...it's too risky. Still the little-momma. She has always been...it is so tough for her to see her sweet little sister cling to a foster parent at the sibling visits each month. This new mother that is now meeting her little sister's needs. Doesn't her little sister need her to be the 8 year-old momma, anymore? She can hardly bear it. Isolation and anger are her allies.
There is another young lady who presents calmly and with a demure personality. She is put together and sensible. She is quiet and self-controlled...or is that a learned, calculation? Is that truly calmness, or a lethargy brought on by years of sexual abuse that would prove to be her own "boot camp" for prostitution? Maybe it's a depression and weariness from the sheer exaustion of the two year court battle where her mother showed up as a character witness AGAINST her, and FOR her own daughter's rapist. You wouldn't know if you interacted with her, in the luxury of shallow acquaintance, that she has a self-loathing that remains in absolute control of her mind. You wouldn't know that she wants desperately to be dead. You wouldn't know that she has a sense of worthlessness that bullies her relentlessly. The verbal beatings, and sexual abuse she endured has imprinted her with labels in the most indelible of inks. She can breeze through just about any room undetected and flies through her schooling in the same way. It’s like her superpower! "Don't stand out." "Don't be an outlier." "Be average, and stay off everyone's radar." But, we see her. She is known. She is healing. She is NOT invisible.
These are the girls who are the most "at-risk" for a life under the control of a pimp and forced commercial sexual exploitation, in America. So many erroneously wonder why "these girls" don't just leave. Why do they stay? The idea of victimization is not as easy for us to accept when society demonizes these children as willing participants who choose that life, or even like it. The age of consent is the same for Elizabeth Smart as it is for one of these sweet girls who end up in a commercially sexually exploitive situation. But, there are no middle or upper class parents to go on Nancy Grace and beg for help. These girls are widely minorities who come from extreme poverty and, in large part, remain invisible...last I checked, a child was a child - even if their childhood was violently stolen!
We can and must do more! We do not have the luxury of looking away! Join us in this fight for commercially sexually exploited foster youth. The pimps are rightly counting on the fact that Americans don't care! Often, for these kids, the only real kindness that they are looking for is the absence of violence. They need a frame of reference for being treated with love and value. We can do that. You can help do that for even one girl!
Maggie Dunn, Co-Founder and Director of House of Providence