His name was “Jeff.”
Are you Fr. Brian?
When I responded affirmatively he pressed, Are you the Fr. Brian expert in Human Trafficking?
Now, I am by no means an expert. I explained that I am more aware than most, but that doesn’t qualify me to be an expert except that in the sense than in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is often king.
I came to the meal site tonight to speak with you. Can I speak with you about something weighing on my heart for a few minutes? I promise I am an Episcopalian, so I’m not wasting your time. He proceeded to give me his parish, his confirming bishop, and assert he was in good standing--that was a first.
So, we headed over to the corner, and he proceeded to start quizzing me. After a few questions, I asked why he wanted to ask me those.
Too many people don’t care and don’t want to learn. They pretend to care, but they really don’t. I was as much interested in watching you process the questions and the information you knew as your answers.
Do you need some kind of help, or is there something wrong?
I wish we could sit. My knees get a bit wobbly when I start talking about this . . . but here goes. I have PTSD.
I am sorry to hear that. In which war did you serve?
What if I told you no war, what would be your next question?
What trauma plagues you?
What do you know about the sex trade?
I gave my answers. God knew they were on my mind with all the interviews and questions I had faced already this week when we remember victims and survivors of modern slavery. Girls are generally trafficked beginning at age 12.8 or so. Here locally, the girls are expected to earn their slavers about $4k per week, but that amount fluctuates by community. He interrupted. . .
What do you know about boys?
Understanding dawned. Not much, I am afraid. I have met runaways who have been targeted by slavers, but I had not met any boy survivors or victims.
That’s not too surprising. We tend to get killed in the game. Those who survive, though, more often than not end up offing themselves.
I apologize for assuming you had been in war. I guess the adage is true; I made an ass of myself with respect to you.
Not at all. When I said it was not war, you assumed a trauma. You must have some experience with it.
And I have some wisdom about boys who have been trafficked, but I have never gotten to speak to one myself. You are right about the psychological effects, though, and the violence. Many are killed; more may kill themselves. And then there’s the other effects . . .
Intimacy issues in relationships. Inability to forge relationships. Depression. Addictions. Abuse. Risky behavior. Self-loathing. There are a lot of effects on girls. The big difference, I am told, is the age. Boys are sold for the first time around age 6 or so.
Thank God you are real.
What do you mean?
I had heard of you while I was traveling here. I looked you up on the internet. You don’t talk about a lot of sex trade on your blog or Facebook, but the few stories you had up there are close to me. So I had to make it over to see you. My car broke down last week, so I had to hitchhike nearly 300 miles to get here. I asked people here if you would be here. They said you almost always come, but I was so worried.
You know, Father, there are a couple differences between boys and girls in the sex trade. If girls get out, people want to help, and no one wants to blame them. When we get out, we can’t even go to a rape crisis center for help, and people always ask “you’re a big guy, why didn’t you stop them?” like I was this size 40 years ago.
Actually, some people blame girls, too. It’s not right; it demonstrates their ignorance about the sex trade. But it happens. I wrote an article for the QC Times for Human Trafficking Awareness Day. I bet if I told the full story of “Becca,” many would feel little sympathy towards her plight today, years after her trafficking occurred.
Well, any time I have been allowed in a rape survivors class, no one has ever asked the women why they didn’t stop them. A few times they have asked if they said “no,” but no one ever asks if they tried to stop them.
I am so sorry that you have been victimized again by those charged with helping you heal.
Don’t feel sorry for me. And don’t be mad at them. They don’t know. They don’t understand what it is like to be a boy playing with toy soldiers one day and being forced to play with other things the next. They don’t understand the pain and shame that comes when some huge guy gives it to us as kids and either beats us if we squirm or cry because of the pain or laughs at us. That’s the worst: the laughing. I can cover my ears and still hear it. They don’t understand the isolation it causes. Women will bond with other women in rape survivor classes. We can’t even do that. Those of us who survived are at risk at doing it to others. We are taught to be powerful, we are taught not to be weak. Sometimes there is an overwhelming urge to do to another what was done to us to get even and prove we aren’t weak. Heck, you know why I didn’t drive here? Sometimes I want to kill men who look like the guys who did this to me. If I see them in other cars or on sidewalks, I just want to mow them down. It’s best, sometimes, that I don’t drive. You know, I’ve been kicked out of five or six rape survivor classes because I was disrupting the class. The girls would get scared at my anger or did not want me describing the violation I felt. Ugh. I hate talking about this. I am sorry. I probably freaked you out, didn’t I?
Don’t apologize for how you feel. If you’ve acted on those feelings, that’s a different thing. But I think your feelings are probably normal for what you have experienced. Did you want Absolution or something like that?
What? Oh, no. I’m sorry. I have rambled and rambled. I just wanted to encourage you and then leave. I did not want to tell you anything other than I am a survivor, and here I am telling you all this.
Encourage me about what?
I hear that you are working on a shelter, and I have read that you are wondering about a boys’ shelter?
Wondering what he had read and heard, I acknowledged it as true. But I also told him that I had been unable to secure funding so far to hire even an administrator for a shelter.
Do you know how many shelters there are for boys like I was?
Girl survivors tell us that there are no good shelters for boy survivors. There may be one out there, but it is a hidden gem. Of course, there are not many good girls’ shelters either, but there are a few.
There are none, Father. Believe me, I looked. I have hated who I am for years. At times, I nearly gave in and killed myself, but I kept looking. It was like a compulsion, if you know what I mean.
But you and your people, you all can change that! While I was waiting on you guys to get here and serve us, I asked around this shelter about you. All the long time homeless knew it was your night. Some came in with a “It’s second Wednesday” or “It’s St. Alban’s night,” “I wonder what they are serving.” I heard how you guys make Christmas meals, Thanksgiving meals, do picnic meals, and all kinds of cool things. That guy told me how you have been trying to figure out how to get a coat on that lady. You guys care. Please, please, for the love of God and for the hope of boys like me, please, please build a shelter for boys. Please. Someone has to speak for us. Someone has to tell our story. Someone has to care enough to do something for us. Please?
Jeff, I have no idea what we are going to do. My vision is a network of shelters around the country to protect survivors and enable them to assist prosecutors in the actions against their slavers. But that’s my vision. It may not be my parish’s, and it may not be God’s plan. You are not the first, however, to ask me to consider a boys’ shelter. But you are the first boy survivor I have personally encountered. But I do promise you, we have already spoken out and will continue to speak out for all survivors and victims. We put forth the church wide resolution at General Convention, which does you absolutely no good, calling upon The Episcopal Church to fight trafficking against men, women, and children. It failed, but we will never give up.
Why did that not get passed?
It did, they just dropped the men.
For the very reasons you suggest. Some seem to think boys and men choose to be enslaved. As boys grow, they become stronger. I think it is hard for some, especially women, to think that boys / young adult males are enslaved in the same way. It not fair. It is by no means admirable. But that’s where we are as a country and as a church.
Well, if you won’t do a shelter for boys, will you at least keep speaking out on behalf of us?
Of course. And I did not say we will not do a boys’ shelter. Maybe we do one or the other. Maybe we do both. Maybe we do neither. I just don’t know what we are being called to do. Figuring that out may take time. But you can rest assured that once I share your story in church, boy survivors will always have a number of voices and maybe a few more prayers. And we won’t be the only voice.
What do you mean?
There are women survivors who befriended boys who are no longer alive to tell their stories. They tell the stories of those boys who are no longer with us. There are other pockets of people doing this work in Atlanta, in Hartford, in Chicago, in Phoenix, in Nashville, in New Orleans--we all talk. We all share our stories. And we all want it eliminated in our lifetimes. You can bet that some of those with whom I share your story will always speak on your behalf.
Really. Before tonight, I had never met a survivor. The stories I had heard were second and third hand. It’s easy to see you pain, your hurt, and your desperation. . .
Sorry about that. I know “if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”
I hate that saying.
Because it is a lie about God. Do you really think that God, who became human and died for your sins and for the sins of those who hurt you and would repent, who while He walked the earth indignantly fussed at His disciples to let the children come to Him, is sitting up there somewhere from time to time saying “I think today I am going to make Jeff bump into some really sick f@#$%. They are going to hurt him, mock him, and cast him away when they are finished? That’s My plan today.” Do you really believe that, Jeff?
I guess I hadn’t really thought of it like that. But then why did it happen to me?
Because your mom and those guys were sinful, sick, a@%#$*&@! God gives us free will, and often He allows us to experience the consequences of those sins. But He did not “Will this to happen.” Rather, what they did to you, the least of His, they did to Him.
Whoa! That’s in the Bible.
Yes it is.
I’d never ever thought of my life in those terms. He’s gonna be pissed when they meet Him.
Unless they repent, you are right. But now you get an idea of why He was scourged, mocked, and nailed to the tree. Our sins are horrific. And you are only one man who was a boy. But hear me tonight, and never ever forget this, you are never alone! You were bought for a price, His blood and His flesh. And He has promised you that He is with you always. Always. Always. Never ever forget that. When you feel alone. When you feel like intimacy is impossible. When you feel like you want revenge. Please, tell yourself: He is with me.
Thanks, Father. You’ve given me some stuff to think about. I’m sorry to have cornered you . . .
Say no more . . . This was important to you, and I am very glad we met, Jeff, and you shared. Could we pray before you eat?
Nah. I chose not to drive. I have some money. I’ll hit a restaurant.
You will do no such thing.
You will eat the food prepared by those who will speak your story. Maybe, maybe in the dark moments that lie ahead in your life, you will remember the taste of one of these dishes. Maybe, when the bile forms in your mouth and you feel the rage coming on, you’ll remember the taste of something prepared lovingly this night by the people who are calling on others to rescue boys and girls who share your experiences. Who knows, maybe that taste will help you get through an episode and do no harm because it will remind you that others love you and wanted to help you.
You are a stubborn son of a bitch, you know that?
I think I have been told that only a few times this week.
I think I’m glad you’re on my side.
Be glad, instead, He is. The big guy upstairs doesn’t make as many mistakes as me.
He laughed. I suppose that’s a fair offer. Your cooks are legendary in here. I guess I can try it this once, seeing as how you said I should.
One problem, Jeff.
I hope you didn’t want any chocolate milk. It went quick tonight. I’m sorry about that.
Chocolate milk? You serve the homeless chocolate milk? No wonder they love you guys? Why don’t you pray and let me try some of that food . . .