We Need to Talk

“4 Good Reasons for a Man to Hit a Woman”.  This was the title of an article by Troy Dunn that circulated Facebook a few years back.  Disgusted, I opened it, ready to rip the author to pieces.  But what I found was not an article in need of rebuke.  The 4 reasons he gives for hitting a woman: if she’s on fire, if there’s a spider on her, if she’s choking, or if she’s about to wander in front of a train.  After his chuckle-inducing reasons FOR hitting a woman, he gets to the meat of the article: Real men don’t hit women.  Read the full article here.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Why?  It’s no secret that domestic violence exists.  We see news stories nearly every day about domestic violence situations, so why do we need more awareness?  Because it needs to be talked about.  We still live in a society that looks down on women who repeatedly return to their abusers, who are afraid to come forward, and who don’t even realize they are living with an abuser.  When a football player batters his girlfriend, the country condemns the guy but the internet also explodes with people criticizing the victim for putting herself in that position.

October is about the victims.  You know domestic violence is out there, but who are the victims?  The odds are that you know at least one.  How often does a domestic violence story pop up on the news and the friends and neighbors say, “We had no idea.  They seemed like the perfect family.”  The woman didn’t know what to do about her situation and she was afraid, so she did nothing.  Her friends never talked about such things, so she didn’t think she could.

What do you do?  Honestly, there’s one thing that can start to make a difference: end the silence.  Start talking about about domestic violence, child sex trafficking – all of these uncomfortable things that are hurting people but we are too uncomfortable to talk about.  You’ll be surprised at the response.  When people know that I write for StreetLightUSA, they know that I understand and am willing to talk about difficult topics.  People will pour out their life story to me.  They need to tell their story, they are desperate for someone to talk to.  If you start talking, you never know who will start asking you to listen.  The more people out there willing to listen, the more victims will be willing to tell their story.

On October 3, 2016, the Arizona State Capitol will be lit in brilliant purple light to show Arizona’s commitment to ending domestic violence.  Domestic violence can stop.  Join the governor’s office from 6-7pm in support of ending domestic violence.

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Piece by Piece

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“Is this who you’re meant to be?  Every once in awhile we reach a point in life where we think, “Yes.  This is where I’m meant to be right now.  I see how it all came together.”  However on the road to that point, things are not so clear.  It looks like complete chaos, we get frustrated, and we know we’re not where we’re supposed to be.  Because we’re not there yet.

Teenagers and patience do not mix.  Waiting is not their specialty.  Trying to tell a teen that they need to be patient and continue on is akin to asking a puppy to stop being cute.  It is not going to happen.

The girls at StreetLightUSA are no different.  Why should I wait for something good to happen when I can take control of my own life right here and now?  Why should I believe that there is something better waiting for me when nothing good has ever happened to me?   It is hard to hear their despair when we can so clearly see everything these girls can be.  Who they are today is not who they are meant to be.  Every child has so much to offer, no matter what their life has been up until now.  At StreetLightUSA, our job is to help them see their potential, to embrace it, and to become who they are meant to be.

The past events of our lives lead us to the point we are currently at.  The good, the bad, and everything in between – they all work together to make us who we are today and who we will become tomorrow.  What does that mean for a child whose life has been less of a summer beach read happy ending story and more like “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”?  When the girls at StreetLightUSA look at their lives, they don’t see inspiration.  They don’t see a life that still holds wonder and possibilities.  They see their life more as “This is what I’ve done, this is what I’ll keep doing, and that’s it.  This is all I’ll ever be.”  They have been brain washed to think that they can never be anything more than what they are now and unfortunately, they believe it.

It is painstaking work to undo what has been done to our girls, but piece by piece, we work to build them back up.  Piece by painful piece, we do everything we can to show them that where they are today is not where they are meant to be.  Piece by agonizing piece, we show them that they have the same options in life as every other child their age.  When they accept this truth, they are ready to move forward into a whole new chapter of possibilities.

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Dreams and imagination are what the girls who come to our gates have so often lost.  Some have lived lives that from the start, left no room for dreams.  Others have lost their dreams along the way.  As we contend to ignite their imagination, as we teach them how to dream and reach for the stars, ever so slowly their futures begin to take shape.  As the girls allow themselves to dream, they experience excitement at their possibilities and begin to glimpse who they are meant to be.  From trauma to triumph, piece by piece we lead our girls along their individual path to success.

It’s Time to Stop Turning Away

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The other day I was in line at the bus station in front of a mother and her 12-year-old daughter.  The mother stepped away briefly, but long enough for a little old lady to see the girl sitting alone.  This little old lady had a surprisingly loud voice as she asked the girl repeatedly where her mama was.  “Why are you all alone?!  Where’s your mama?!”  Over and over she kept asking the girl, who just started at the old lady like she was crazy.  While I frown on the lady drawing so much attention to this girl, I must applaud her for looking out for a child.  This is the kind of reaction that all children should receive when they are alone somewhere they should not be.

This picture with the quote is…awful.  Each time I look at it, I both love and hate it.  It embodies all the things we don’t want to think about when it comes to our children who are sex trafficked.  Accepting the truth about child sex trafficking is a monumental feat.  Deciding to help in the fight, another tremendous feat.  Truly accepting the horror of what has been done to a child?  Now that is a never-ending challenge.  To look at each and every child at StreetLightUSA and really think about what people have done to her is something you never get used to.

I have spent months looking at this graphic, trying to get up the courage to write about it.  It really gets to the true heart of the issue, doesn’t it?  “Little girl” – yes, these are little girls.  I don’t care what Johns try to say – looking at the girls at StreetLightUSA, they may be rather tall, but they are teens.  The only way you don’t see that they are young is if you don’t want to see it.  “Why aren’t you at home in bed?”  That’s a good question.  Why isn’t this 11-year-old girl, this 5th grader, at home in bed at 1am?  Why isn’t she curled up safe and sound under her pink quilt, in her own room with her stuffed animals at the foot of her bed and her parents sleeping soundly down the hall?  She isn’t there, because she’s in someone else’s bed, their hotel room, or the cab of their truck – wherever the johns are using her body tonight.streetlightusa1

How do we get a child back to her own bed?  By asking the question, “Why aren’t you at home in bed?”  We have to stop turning a blind eye so that this phrase is no longer relevant.  No child should ever be able to say that no one asked her why she was on the streets!  As a supporter of StreetLightUSA, you know why that child isn’t home in bed – what are you willing to do about it?

Stay Armed or Surrender?

“Life is a battle, and you either enter it armed or surrender immediately.” – Gilmore Girls

For a teenage girl, the life battle is internally focused – even more so for a trafficking victim.  For the girls that come to StreetLightUSA, life has been a battle and they armed themselves with the things available to them – drugs, alcohol, self harm, mentally detaching, denial, and even their sheer willpower to survive.

The defensive weapons of trafficking victims are born out of necessity, when they had no one else to fight for them.  It’s all they had to make it through the life that was dealt to them. Obviously these defenses do not sustain them to build a normal life. When they come through the doors of StreetLightUSA, a whole new battle faces them – laying down the weapons they know and learning how to use new, empowering ones that can last a lifetime.

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Asking the girls that come to StreetLightUSA to lay down their defensive weapons is not dissimilar to asking someone to lay their life on the line.  You’re asking a teenage girl who has looked after herself to let go of the only things in her life that she has control over.  The laying down of the very things that have kept her going is an excruciating but crucial step.

Asking this of the girls is necessary, but never easy.  Suicide attempts and self harm are all too familiar among the girls in our care.  When they experience trauma triggers, their instinct is to turn to their defensive weapons, they don’t know what else to do.  How can I get through this feeling without something to numb the pain?  If I can’t make it go away, I think I might die.  Just make it stop!  

“Did you really want to die?”
“No one commits suicide because they want to die.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Because they want to stop the pain.”
― Tiffanie DeBartolo, How to Kill a Rock Star

Our staff at StreetLightUSA is well-equipped to handle the emotions of the girls in our care.  We recognize the warning signs and do everything we can to prevent suicide attempts.  We also help the girls figure out what triggered them in the first place.  Finding the source helps prevent the girl from reaching the point of harming herself in the future.

We will look more in depth at self harm later in September.  In the meantime, in honor of suicide prevention week, we would like to equip our supporters with suicide prevention resources.

Mayo Clinic has an informative page we recommend for parents of teens. Teen Suicide: What parents need to know.

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