“Lani” looked so young when she was rescued by Operation Underground Railroad that law enforcement was sure she was a minor. Her protests to the contrary were useless. Unless she could provide solid evidence that she was 18 years old, she would need to meet with the social workers at the aftercare shelter.
O.U.R.’s mission is to rescue children who are being trafficked for sex by pimps and pedophiles, and help them in their recovery. Often, in that net, we rescue those who are not considered children. They may be 18 years old or 25 or more. Most likely they were started as child prostitutes by traffickers and now know no other way of life. But, because they are no longer minors, they are free to leave the aftercare that O.U.R.provides all minors following a rescue.
Lani called for someone to bring her ID to prove she was an adult, but while waiting, she learned that she had options. She did not have to live this type of life any more. For three days the social workers helped her to understand that there is loving support for people caught in her situation. Although tempted by the thought of freedom, the strong connection she had to her pimp/boyfriend drew her back to him once her ID arrived and she could prove she was eighteen.
It is heart breaking to see someone who is caught in the jaws of hell, wanting to be free, yet fearing what the unknown offers. In Lani’s case, O.U.R.’s local aftercare partners continued to check on her, letting her know there is still help should she choose it.
Eventually, she and her pimp moved away. Lani soon became pregnant with her pimp’s baby. Fear engulfed her as she realized this baby’s future was in the hands of her pimp. She did not want her baby to live the kind of hell she was living. Yet, she knew there was a high probability that this child would one day become a prostitute if she stayed with this man. What could she do?
Secretly, she slipped away from the village in search of the social worker who had helped her following the O.U.R. rescue. She found her in the city and in desperation asked if the ‘other options’ were still available to her, telling her how she did not want her baby to grow up being trafficked by this man as she had been.
It takes a lot of strength for a young woman to leave a controlling pimp/trafficker and seek help. He had assured her many times, “You will starve in the streets. I will kill you if you leave.” But, leave she did, into the loving arms of O.U.R.’s aftercare partners.
Today, Lani is living with her newborn in freedom at a home for single mothers, receiving vocational training and emotional counseling as she dreams about the future of her life and that of her child.
This is the type of outcome O.U.R. hopes for all the children and adults we rescue. Collaboration with local officials and local aftercare support is pivotal in making this happen and O.U.R. has experts working hard daily to create these partnerships.
Adults are not treated as criminals and are not held against their will, but we do try to plant the seeds of hope and ‘other options’ that are available to them so that when they are ready, as in the case of Lani, they will seek us out.
That time may not be today. It may not be six months from today. But, once they know there is a better way, a safer way, that thought will begin to grow. And that thought may, one day, turn to action. And when that happens, we will be there for them.
We at O.U.R. believe we can make a difference in this most important step. Believe with us and join the O.U.R. team in building hope and freedom from exploitation. There are a number of ways you can do this from becoming a recurring donor (an abolitionist), to volunteering, to creating a fundraising campaign of your own. Visit ourrescue.org on how to get started.
Written by: Cheryl L. Karr