Lisa hadn’t finished middle school by the time she was trafficked. From 13 years onward, she never stayed in school. “There was never an opportunity,” says Sam Wijeyakumar, founder of Rahab’s Daughters. So, Lisa piecemeals 1.5 high school credits until her rescue at age 17.
Naturally, one of the first goals we had for Lisa, after settling her in a group home, was getting her enrolled in school. But the path back to reintegration is never a straight line.
Part of how Rahab’s Daughters works with survivors is to help reverse the effects trafficking has had on how they interpret and respond to social cues. These kids have been repeatedly, systematically raped. They are not willing participants; trafficked children are manipulated into a decision they would never make without a third party’s coercion. (According to the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Human Trafficking in Illinois Fact Sheet, 75% of children in prostitution are under the control of a pimp.)
Lisa has a seductive air about her, because that is all she’s known since she was 13. And a group of boys in her class, who likely read her cues as an invitation, “flirt” with her, teasing and pulling on her hair.
The problem is, all male interaction has become negative for Lisa. Her fight-or-flight response is super-heightened after years of domination and control. And to complicate matters, she has bipolar disorder, making her mood swings dramatic, and her behavior impulsive.
So, when the boys pick on her, Lisa – unsurprisingly, given her history — responds with violence, beating the boys up. Lisa gets kicked out of school the same day she started.
Within a few months of being in the group home, she runs away. But Lisa returns to Rahab’s Daughters of her own accord, and we take her in… until she runs away again. This pattern repeats, with Lisa staying for a period, running away, then returning.
Along the way she makes some poor decisions, getting hooked on drugs and choosing some unsavory boyfriends – one of whom is really a pimp, selling her for extra money if she doesn’t use a condom… which is how she ends up pregnant, and not knowing who the father is.
The path back to normalcy is not an uncomplicated one. Trafficking survivors often come and go quite a bit, with a high percentage returning to “the life,” a familiar life for which they understand the rules and expectations, as grim as they may be – rather than choosing the safe and healthy, and terrifyingly unfamiliar.
That’s why consistency in Rahab’s Daughters’ programs are so important. Continuing the work without fail. “Because then we can say, you know what? We’re always here for you, no matter what.” Sam continues, “We will always forgive whatever craziness occurred, and help you. We’ll always provide extra grace.”
Unlike other programs that limit how often a survivor can return, or refuse to take her back within 90 days of leaving, Rahab’s Daughters believes in unconditional love. Based on Christian principles, they forgive first, and ask questions later.
“We don’t have any rule like that, because if you’re ready to come off the street, you shouldn’t stay there for 90 more days just ‘cause there’s a rule that says you have to,” Sam says. “Even if that means you have to come back 10 times to make the final decision, I need you to know that there’s a safe place of unconditional love for you that you can come to whenever you’re ready.”
And, it works. Lisa is now 7 months pregnant, sober, and sincerely starting over. She wants to keep the baby, seeing her child as an opportunity to make different choices in life. “I have some concerns,” Sam is not naive. “But we’re going to help her.” Sam and Rahab’s Daughters believe in Lisa, and the other survivors they rescue.
“We were able to get her SNAP and Medicaid benefits, so food and medical are covered,” Sam updates. “She was in therapy, but unfortunately had to come off the bipolar meds when she got pregnant. So, the plan is to stabilize her for 60 days following the birth, then put her back on medication and work through the next plan with her. But she’s come a long way.”
Lisa still has a long way to go. But she’s out, she’s safe, she has 3 meals a day, she has a roof over her head, and she has medical care. For the first time in 4 long, violent years, she has medical care.
As a thank you, Lisa wrote this poem:
My tears are rolling, jumping, and falling from my eyes.
Not tears from depression, but tears because you all have been placed in my life.
Never knew I was worth being accepted because I was so used to being neglected.
You all came in and didn’t judge.
Just gave me lots of love and hugs.
Telling me it’ll be okay as long as I have faith.
Teaching me that God will give me grace.
My life before I met you all was like a maze.
I didn’t have a plan, didn’t have a goal.
Just was on a bumpy road.
You all have taught me so much in just little time.
Now I can open my eyes and rise…
Unconditional love and forgiveness requires that Rahab’s Daughters’ programs are consistent and running for as long as the survivors needs them. And there are new ones referred every day.
You can help. If you’ve been captivated by Lisa’s story, join us at our next big event: our annual gala dinner and benefit September 16, where another of our survivors will share her story. Reserve your seats here.
Please note: As is the case with many rescued children, Lisa’s life and freedom remain in danger, so to protect her safety, names and identifying details have been changed.