I led yesterday, tasked a few weeks before to speak about the Woman's March on Washington.
I started by reading a private essay I wrote last fall, a piece I am particularly proud of. I hadn't practiced, only hatched the idea, so I was unprepared for how much my voice shook in the beginning. But by the middle, I had gained my voice and finished strong. This was my tribe, this group of women - ones I only met last summer but would now walk through a raging fire to save each of their lives. Some I know better than others, but I'm confident that will change over time.
I spoke about the March - the hope and solidarity that for the first time filled a void that was created by the presidential election. I concluded by opening the floor to sharing. Some women spoke about being surrounded by white males in their jobs. By becoming slowly aware that the "locker room talk" that is taken for granted in our society is not normal, or respectful. When it is something you grow up in, something that is accepted by society, you tend to fall victim to it being the norm.
One woman spoke of her volunteer work for PATH. I asked, "What is PATH?"
"It stands for Partners Against Trafficking of Humans. There is an office in Little Rock, but there is no sign on the door, no identifier. I help women who have been trafficked by giving them financial counseling. Girls here in Arkansas."
Made sense. She started the bank account for our group, and takes up collections each week. She is one of the organizers. And she is a single mom to a handsome kindergartner. The pictures of his new beagle puppy she got him for Christmas lit up my Facebook like a Christmas tree. Single mom. Career woman. Volunteer. All of these women are rock stars.
"The frustrating thing is that the pimps get little to no punishment when they are caught by the law. They prey on high school students. They are trained to identify the girls that have low self esteem, the one's without good family support. They shower them with attention, then plow them with drugs to introduce them into a life of prostitution. They also bring them in from Mexico. They are leaving the drug business in droves to do this. A drug is a commodity that can be sold only once. A girl can be sold over and over. It's basic economics. One girl I talked to spoke of being sold 60 times a day."
How is that possible, we wondered aloud. I calculated a twelve hour day would require being sold every 12 minutes. But if drugged, a girl could easily work 24 hours. And what's this business about building a wall? Let's just incarcerate these scumbags for life and that might solve some of our "supposed" inflow issues. Such a double standard. In many ways more than just this.
"The girl's lives are ruined. Their perps get a slap on the wrist. It's not fair. Only a small percentage get back into life and climb out. The vast majority confront financial problems, PTSD, and social ostracization. They go back to the only life they know - the only thing that obliterates the pain - drugs and prostitution." At least we have come far enough that the girls are being prosecuted less and less for the crime of prostitution, and finally seen as victims in the eyes of the law.
"I think we need to end the hour. I want to hear more about PATH, though. I think you" - I looked to my left - "said you would say the ending prayer for me?"
She led the prayer and we adjourned slowly. Many girls offered me much appreciated hugs and words of encouragement. One of the girls who came in late asked where she could read the essay she missed - I handed her my copy. Another wanted to know if she could have a copy to read to her son.
Today over lunch I found the website for PATH and listened to the video - my eyes welled up. I donated a couple hundred dollars immediately, and was thankful I knew someone on the inside who might present an opportunity to help in other ways.