You Are Beloved, The Abolitionist Movement
Right along the western edge of the city of Denver is a street where gang activity, street prostitution, and strip clubs can be found on almost every corner. I know a lot of people whose stories start with “I didn’t know it existed in my own country.” Yet it is this very way of thinking that keeps people in the mindset that such an awful crime could not be happening in our own cities, towns, and suburbs. One of the first survivors of human trafficking I met was a 19 year old girl who went to a high school not far from mine. We both grew up with loving families and had wide eyes about the future. Sadly, she met her pimp at school and fell captive to the coercive traps most human traffickers use to exploit their girls. I walked away with a few lessons the day I met her: The first is that this girl was no different than me. Her vulnerabilities were not due to poverty or an abusive home; her vulnerability came from her wanting to be accepted and loved by someone. This is a desire we all have as a part of our human nature; and I could have easily found myself in that same situation had the wrong guy come into my life and offered that love to me. The second is that sex trafficking doesn’t necessarily need to look like someone being forced to provide a service to someone. I think one of the biggest lies we believe is that in order for there to be force present, there has to be a knife or a gun or a fist. If we are believing this, then we are way off.
Most of the time, the most compelling forces on earth happen intangibly, in coercive situations. I think in our culture we sometimes have a hard time with the idea of “choice”, and that if we see a woman dancing or prostituting, we assume she is choosing to be there and she can leave whenever she wants. This way of thinking has me more confident that we need more awareness and education on this issue. It is extremely important for us to really consider the factors that lead women into this type of work; and that is what led me to start volunteering with an organization called Beloved.
When I first joined the abolitionist movement and started to do my research on sex trafficking, I found that in the United States especially, we need to be looking for trafficking in places where we know prostitution can be happening. Although a lot of women who dance in strip clubs are not necessarily prostituting themselves, there is still almost always exploitation and abuse happening inside of these clubs. The Beloved team goes into 2 strip clubs every single Thursday night with pizza, gift bags and Starbucks cards for the dancers and bouncers who work there. We believe that God is going after the darkest part of our society: the sex industry to bring His sons and daughters home. In the 3 years Beloved has existed, we have never missed a Thursday night (we even go on Thanksgiving!). We have built relationship, prayed for, and continued to show up for these women who have never been fully seen and fully loved unconditionally before. Our mission is loving and meeting them where they are now and providing resources to help them live the abundant life for which each person was created. Over the last three years we have seen salvation, physical healing, an environmental shift and true relationship made with the dancers, employees and customers of these clubs.
The heart of Beloved stems from the Bible verses in Romans 9:25-26: “I’ll call the nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out ‘you’re nobody!,’ there they will be called the children of the living God.”
One of the biggest reasons I believe in organizations such as Beloved is that these women have no one speaking truth and life into them. I am a huge believer that our words have the power of life or death, and most pimps and traffickers use words to manipulate or instill fear. All of these women have dreams and aspirations. Some of them want to open up their own beauty salons, some of them want to start
businesses, some of them are mothers, but all of them desire to live out their fullest potential and above all they just want to be loved unconditionally. We believe that men who participate in buying and selling human beings are not loving them, but exploiting them and taking advantage of their vulnerabilities. In some ways, the men involved also fall slaves to something. That is why we walk into these clubs with no judgement, no hidden agenda, no desire to convince these women to leave their jobs; we just want to show them that they are thought about and loved. Some of the most impactful moments I’ve experienced in my life are when these women ask us “why would you bring ME a gift?” or “what do I owe you?”. Because in those moments, we get to look at them and tell them they don’t owe us a thing, but that we just want to bless them because they deserve to be blessed. They truly are beloved, and no person has permission to take that title from them.
Contributed by Alex Vail of You are Beloved