foster care: engage
By Katie Thompson
[The following is an excerpt from the book.]
Rebecca Bender wants to change how human trafficking is perceived in the United States. She dedicates her time and energy to dispelling stereotypes of young women in the sex industry - because most of the time, it’s not their choice.
She’s written a book designed to mentor victims of sex trafficking, even if it’s from afar. She speaks internationally on the issue, and has been a foster parent to a victim. In all she does, she preaches a gospel of redemption.
And redemption is something she knows firsthand.
“I remember waking up several years ago and going into my kitchen, getting a cup of coffee, sitting down with my Bible like I always do for my morning routine, and the sun started coming up,” she said. “My stomach just flipped and I felt sick. Sunrises were a sign that it was time to go back to my trafficker during my time on the streets.”
It was that moment which inspired her to dedicate her life to young women ensnared in the same situation that she was for much of her twenties.
Rebecca met her would-be trafficker at a party when she was a freshman in college. She said he approached her like any other man would, and the pair began "dating" shortly after. He soon convinced Rebecca to move to Las Vegas with him so that he could pursue a career, something she later found out was his ploy to get her away from friends and family, and into the sex industry full time.
Once in Las Vegas, she was forced into prostitution. She said she was trafficked for almost six years, and in that time developed a drug addiction, and was traded to a more abusive pimp. Her nightmare finally came to an end when the FBI raided her trafficker's home.
"We hear the term human trafficking and we envision a foreign national cuffed to a radiator, unable to leave the room," she said. "That's just not the typical form that we see here in America."
Rebecca is determined to change that narrative, and to make clear the realities of sex trafficking in the United States. She began by creating a "red flags" brochure with warning signs that you may be dating a trafficker.
One of the sex trafficking industry’s most blatant injustices is who it preys upon- arguably the most vulnerable population in our country. In 2013, the FBI reported that 3 out of 5 victims rescued had been in foster care at some point during their life. A system designed to protect children from abuse and neglect is actually being manipulated into a pipeline for sex trafficking.
"Children who are growing up without the protection of parents are the most vulnerable beings on our planet," Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, said. "They lack the protection, the oversight, and the accountability that keeps kids safe."
Children enter the foster care system for a constellation of complex and painful reasons, Jedd said. And more often than not, poverty has something to do with it.
"It's those issues that lead to both poverty and the crises that end up with children in foster care," he said. "That constellation is this tangled knot of things like limited education experience in previous generations, out of wedlock births, and limited social capital."
Historically the foster care system and organizations addressing human trafficking have operated in separate circles. However, it's become increasingly obvious how intertwined the foster care population is with victims of trafficking. The community coming together to offer unique services is essential for a holistic solution to be reached, Jedd said. But it goes beyond organizations focused specifically on this issue, he said. Government has an important role, as do churches.
“If there’s a child being harmed through abuse or neglect, then government bears a certain God given justice role to protect that child,” Jedd said. “But to truly thrive, a child needs consistent, caring adult relationships.
That’s where the church comes in.
“We really want to help the Church understand that one of the most tangible ways to engage trafficking is to provide a consistent, caring relationship for children in foster care," he said.
Rebecca sees the need for this every day.
Recognizing the heightened vulnerability of foster care children, Rebecca decided to foster a formerly trafficked young woman. Her family fostered her for about six months, until she was reunited with her biological mother.
Whether you’re a college student raising awareness on your campus, or you’re a family fostering a victim, your work matters - but she said you must be equipped.
“I encourage faith-based communities that feel called to help to seek out training and seek out how faith- based organizations can work with victims of human trafficking,” she said. “We need the love of Christ and we need the transforming power of God, but we also need to be as wise as serpents before we run into battle.”