Each year the LBD.Project, one of Average Advocate’s methods to help everyday people find a way to get started making a difference specifically on the issue of human trafficking, chooses various organizations to partner with. This year one of our partners to bring freedom to modern slaves, specifically in the area of sex trafficking, is BLOC Ministries in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Why BLOC in Cincinnati?
Cincinnati is just one of those places I never think about (no offence), but for some reason Cincinnati keeps popping up on my radar–it was the setting of a novel I just read, my friend just went there, I have other friends just about to travel there . . . but mostly, for the LBD.Project, my friend Lisa has sharing about her work with BLOC and the evidence for how BLOC is really doing something that is making a difference excites me.
Lisa Jones is one of the LBD.Project’s greatest advocates, and has been doing the LBD.Project since 2013, when it was still the fresh-faced Little Black Dress Project. I would see what she was doing with Weightless Anchor, including how she was doing prevention education with very high-risk girls, and walking with women coming out of the life. I am not even sure if she realized herself how much she was in the thick of fighting sex trafficking in America, and I began wondering why we weren’t helping her out at BLOC, instead of these huge organizations we couldn’t be as closely connected with.
Recently another volunteer, Joanne, was able to forge a partnership between the LBD.Project and BLOC so we could give those in Cincinnati a chance to invest in bringing girls freedom from sex trafficking within their own community.
Drugs, Jail, and Pimps (oh my)
To give us a glimpse of what is happening at BLOC, I asked Joanne to share a little bit of what she’s seen:
“Another LBD.Project participant, Lisa and I volunteered for a couple years at Weightless Anchor, a day shelter for women through BLOC Ministries. One thing we noticed was that women would go into jail, get clean, be released, and then fall back into the exact same pattern of living (prostituting to support their heroin addiction). When we talking with one of these women, she told us that while they are in jail, no one helps them get lined up with something different for when they are released. So, once they are released, often without any notice late in the evening, or at 4am in the morning, with no one to call, nowhere particular to go, no financial resources . . . the cycle begins all over again.
There is so much wrong with this picture; it was heartbreaking.
Seeing the need, in February of 2017, BLOC decided to open Redeemed Home, a transitional living opportunity that provides holistic care for each resident, body, soul, and spirit. Now a second Redeemed Home is scheduled to open in the next few months!
Another barrier that was identified was how to keep our connection with the ladies that we had developed relationships with at the Weightless Anchor locations while they were in jail. Visits were limited to 15 minutes, 3 times a week. Oftentimes when we would go, we ran the risk of taking a visit away from a family member. More often though, we would get down to the jail and find that they had already had a visit. Those who we were able to visit were very appreciative. One woman told me, “This is the first conversation that I have had with any of you where I haven’t been high and have been thinking clearly.”
Seeing jail time as an opportunity to have conversations when our ladies were clean, sober, and undistracted, we discovered that if we became ordained, we could have pastoral visits, which gives much greater flexibility. Now two of us have gone through that process, so we can visit whenever, for as long as we want, and without interfering with visits from family and friends.
Once when I was visiting one of my ladies she said, “You don’t know how much you do for us at Weightless Anchor.” I nodded my head thinking of the physical things, things like a safe place to be warm and dry, clean clothes, food, etc. . . She said again, “No, you really don’t know how much you do for us . . . I have never been judged by anyone there.”
Ours is a fight against human trafficking and often the slave master, or “pimp,” is addiction. He is a ruthless, cruel master, stealing the lives and souls of both men and women, breaking relationships, destroying families, and driving them to do the unthinkable to satisfy his craving. He is relentless, and does not willingly give up his grip on those he has made his slaves.”
Are Drugs a Pimp?
What she shared is potent, exposing drug addiction as a pimp. It clearly cuts to a gray area within trafficking, as sometimes trafficking isn’t recognized because on the outside, it can look like addiction and prostitution–both which are typically frowned upon as poor choices by the successful more well-to-do classes of society.
However, it is common for sex traffickers to addict girls simply to use the addiction as a leash to control these girls. In which case, it begs the question: what does justice in this situation look like? Is justice prosecuting the girl, while not touching the john or pimp (as regularly happens)? Is it helping pave a path to freedom?
The Gray Areas of Sex Trafficking
Addiction confuses us. We ask, “isn’t it her own fault she is addicted to drugs?” But then I hear stories from women, lied to about the addictive nature of a drug, or being drugged up by family when they are barely in middle school.
Or even when if the initial choice was the girl’s–so many cases of sex trafficking begin soon after the girl or woman has chosen the sex industry (such as in Jaimee’s story). They are lied to, coerced, and forced, finding themselves in debt to a pimp, but is really a sex trafficker, taking all or most of the profits from the girl’s body while requiring her to perform the unspeakable. And fueling her addiction in the process.
We are okay with advocating for modern slaves in the tomato fields, who are domestic slaves, or even for the girls who were shipped to America being told of riches in their new manicurist job, only to find themselves being sold for sex in the back room for the “massage,” or on Backpage.org, dropped-off at one hotel, and only to be picked-up an hour later for another job. Or maybe we continue to imagine the cases with kidnappings and chains (which are less common).
The point is, many of us are tempted to climb on our moral high horses, as is often the practice regarding prostitution (from the Greeks, to the religious leaders talking to Jesus, to Les Misérables).
The reason Joanne’s story is a challenge, is because it requires us to give dignity to a large group of women who are in the gray area. Women who need justice and someone to hear their voice too–but might not look like our clean-cut version of human trafficking.
And this is why I love BLOC, and what Lisa and Joanne are involved in. They won’t be dubbed as rescuers or saviors. But they are willing to go all the way in to advocate for people who might be victims of sex trafficking . . . or might not be. Those helped don’t need a label to be loved, they’re just loved because their worth is seen.
A quick note on the gray area between those who have choice in the sex industry and those who are sex trafficked–I realize this is a real hinderance for some of you, but as it is such a big debate, it really needs its own post or two. Although I’d love you to support the work of BLOC, if this is too great of a gray area for you to overcome to be able to do this, I simply ask that you keep this quote in mind: “No little girl ever dreams of being a prostitute when she grows up.“