Michelle DuBois, Team Lampstand — April 2014
When we hear of “sex slaves,” or “trafficked girls,” often times the images that pop into our minds are of girls in third-world countries. We think of young women in impoverished areas or in “red light districts” in Southeast Asia or Latin America, but rarely of girls in our American suburbs and cities. But, the reality is that there are sex slaves and trafficked girls, of all ages and all ethnicities, living right under our noses—in houses and apartments next door to us all across the country. The stories of these girls are as heartbreaking and tragic as any young woman trafficked on foreign soils.
Just a week before Easter, a small team of NCCers from aone:eight traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to volunteer for StreetlightUSA, a non-profit organization dedicated to the aftercare of girls who have been or are at risk of being trafficked. Streetlight was launched in 2009 by the donations of over 70 Arizona-based churches and is now home to over 30 girls between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. They are hoping to expand in a few short weeks, opening their fourth cottage, which will house an additional 8 girls.
StreetlightUSA is one of the few places in the country where girls who have been sexually exploited or at risk of being abused can call home. This is significant because usually, the only other option for these girls is criminalization: jail time, or stays in juvenile detention centers. Without groups like StreetlightUSA, girls are only allowed to visit outpatient centers for counseling, but they are not able to stay overnight, because most of these facilities don’t have housing accommodations.
Our team had an amazing time at StreetlightUSA, and came away filled with hope. And while we did our best to serve these girls, we found ourselves being equally, and possibly more, blessed by them in return.
It was a full week of laughter, tears and love. We played dress-up and made one of the tiniest girls into a princess, clothing her in her very own ball gown made from the Sunday newspaper, adorned with an endless train and crowned with a tiara (similar to the picture below, but more grand!) We danced with the girls under Arizona’s night sky. We joined the girls in chasing and being chased by a cautious yet playful stray mutt that we affectionately called “Scruffy.” We hiked the Pima Canyon with the girls underneath the hot desert sun, and learned about teddy bear cacti and flashy orange–tailed chuckwalla lizards, which are native to Arizona.
It was a time where these girls could just be…girls. That’s a luxury life generally had not afforded them in the past. It was a time that they could wear ribbons and bows in their hair, polish their nails, play games at cookouts, and run until they tired. We helped them dance just for fun, swing on swing sets and create their own breeze, pick flowers and admire their beauty, carefully mine shrubs in search of hidden Easter eggs, play a round of H-O-R-S-E and watch princess movies and see true acts of love—the love of sisters, friends and princes.
Although all of the girls at Streetlight had different stories and different pasts—all having experienced brokenness in some sort of way, stories that we are not able to share—what wasn’t, and isn’t, broken is their spirits. They are resilient, strong, courageous and filled with a sense of wonder. Even with sometimes-shattered hopes and a few dashed dreams, they still smiled. And many still had great hope for a beautiful life beyond the walls of Streetlight.
We knew we couldn’t erase the stains of what had occurred. But we had an amazing opportunity to share the love of Christ with them, and point them to the one who offers “beauty for ashes,” “sets captives free” and “heals the broken-hearted.” In our week at StreetlightUSA, we simply tried to love the girls through our presence, and encourage them to rejoice in spite of their past.