Why do they stay?
I think one of the most asked questions in regards to prostitution and sex trafficking is, “why do they stay?” and even more so, “why do they stay so long?” And from an outsider’s perspective, I can understand the confusion. Some of these ladies have been beaten, emotionally/mentally abused, locked in chains (sometimes literally), and deprived of many humane life choices (like what their plans are for the day or what they will wear or even eat). The abuse is REAL, but I assure you, so is the brain-washing. And in my opinion that level of indoctrination is the root of the problem, and the answer to our question.
For a person who grew up without abuse present in their life, I suppose it might be hard to imagine the emotional torture that these women are subjected to every waking moment of their lives. But bear with me here while I paint the picture of what abuse feels like.
Abuse in a relationship is like an invisible string attached to your mind, heart, and soul that only your abuser can control. He will pull on the string sometimes when he needs something, and sometimes just for fun. He will yank the string, and choke you with the string if God forbid, you chose to do something against his will. And he will spend every moment that he has available reminding you of that invisible string and how worthless you would be without him. After so much time and the steady, slow escalation of manipulation and control, you eventually feel like you need that string attached to you. You fear the day when that string will break, because as sickening and overbearingly tight as it feels, you’ve grown accustomed to it. You don’t want to change, because change means having to control your own life, and your own emotions, and your own choices. That fear becomes more and more daunting, as his levels of abuse rise in every conceivable way, and before you know it… you start to love that string just as much as you hate it. It might be sick, and wrong, and twisted, but once you’re in that deep, life without him somehow seems worse.
And if a woman has witnessed abusive behavior in her childhood, whether it be first or secondhand abuse, then she is even more likely to subconsciously seek out an abusive partner. Because that’s her world, and that’s her normal. So for these women, leaving this lifestyle isn’t just a decision to leave “the life”, it’s a decision to leave their partner, as well. This lifestyle and this partner might be the only world that they have ever known. Change is scary for any of us, but for an abuse victim, it has that much more of a stronghold.
Now you might be confused by all of this, because I keep referring to the male counterpart in this scenario as a “partner” or calling this mess a “relationship”. But as shocking as it might be, this is a relationship in their eyes, and most of the women who visit the Assessment Center are still in the “contemplative” phase, displaying serious signs of denial. So when they speak of their pimp, it is very likely that they will call him their “boyfriend”, because that’s what he was in their minds. He wasn’t the pimp who sexually exploited them for x amount of years, he was the boyfriend who “loved them so much”, and only got angry “sometimes”. And that is their reality, as distorted as it might be. But if a girl was taught that “dad hits mom” from an early age, can you blame her for considering violent behavior as a normal part of a romantic relationship?
Our clients are not fools for staying, and I’ve had people argue with me about this. But if you understand abusive behavior, and abusive patterns within the family unit, then you will see that these beautiful and treasured women aren’t fools at all; they are simply products of their environment, and can we really blame them for that?
I think that’s one of the many great things about Redeemed Ministries, is that we make it a point to teach them what a healthy life looks like. At the Assessment Center, we have classes like Beauty for Ashes, Seeking Safety, and Celebrate Recovery that will empower them and teach them about themselves, the love that they deserve, and what healthy love looks like. We spend a large portion of our time attempting to rewire the way that their minds work, and trying to clean out the abuse, the lies, and the brainwashing that they have been acquiring for possibly as many as 20 or 30 years. It’s impossible to clean all that abuse out within 30 days, but I think it’s important that we show them that it is never too late to start that process. And it is never too late to “be who you might have been”.
I think as Christ followers from relatively “healthy” families or backgrounds, it is sometimes challenging to wrap our minds around the dysfunction that so many people unfortunately have grown up witnessing. We want so badly to believe that everyone has someone out there who loves them and who’s rooting for them. Sadly, that isn’t always the case though. Not everybody’s home life was as blessed as yours, and that’s one thing I think all of our staff has been reminded of time and time again. Not everybody had the same mom and dad that you do, and not everybody was taught what “healthy” love looks like. So if you’re one of those people who questions why these women “stay” in such an abusive lifestyle for so long, then I hope this excerpt opened your eyes a little bit. Because we could sit here all day long questioning why they stayed, or we could set that thought aside, open the doors of our hearts and focus on priority #1, showing them God’s incredible grace and His unexplainable love.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
–Proverbs 31: 8-9