“We see a lot of young women who’ve been through the foster care system, been involved with child protective services, who’ve been runaways, who may have been homeless. Those are some of the very vulnerable populations, but really, it can happen to anybody.”
Susan was sex trafficked as a minor by a boyfriend she loved, and who she thought loved her. After a couple of months she was arrested for prostitution, and that time in jail helped her realize the truth about her “boyfriend,” and her life. Susan is now the founder of Generate Hope, an organization that provides safe houses for sexually exploited women to regain control over their lives.
Wherefore art thou the crooked beast who stole
My gift of freedom, cherished nevermore!
Your glamour-full dream soon died like cold coal
And hell fell from the eyes that once did adore;
Remediate my past, fulfill your pact!
You promised just once, then blackmailed my trust—
That money you took, I caught in the act,
Those pictures are mine—don’t sell it for lust!
You fiend! Falsely befriending the lonely!
What monster profits off innocence,
And sells love given free so stonily?
It makes no sense to trade bodies for cents:
Your mind twisted by money through and through
When this life is done I feel bad for you.
U.S. Hot Spots
America’s finest cities found in a state of pure gold
Police, judge, lawyer and juror
A fine example of lawmaking:
Tell me why then is the transparency lacking?
Heart of a town flows silver window plated limos full of child prostitutes
Here, open the door, scoot the children to the floor, step out good sir to a round of applause:
All hail official! Hear his conference: press play, pause, repeat. Send the agenda to the media, make sure to get his good side
‘We care so much about this sex offender—give him three months in jail!’
ICE men take the non-citizens home. Stay away from the hot bed of iniquity swarming the veins of this country, transporting diseased ideology from city to city. Cover the putrefied abscess of sickness with lovely landscaping. In time, the yellow build-up of terror bubbling under the surface will burst.
Before I am dragged out
Where do I find rest for my soul though?
Hiding in a library corridor
Surrounded by the quiet
A balm to my screeching
Away, until the phone rings then
The next time and place.
Steer me forward,
This fast-paced race toward Death.
For me, there is no ride or die
The way my path lies,
I just seek a quick end.
The Slave Driver is a Slave Too
See the oppressed start the cycle anew:
Finding broken locks, then creeping through doors,
Forgive them for they know not what they do
When the struggle is all you’re subject to
And money, power, and evening scores,
See the oppressed start the cycle anew—
Misery loves company, it’s true.
Beat comes from beaten, an on-repeat chorus,
Forgive them for they know not what they do
Evil from evil is something that grew,
It’s the broken and sour who spread the spores,
See the oppressed start the cycle anew
Who knows of the fight that constricts the blue?
What journey strands those of desolate mores
Forgive them for they know not what they do
The lost steer lost as if, somehow, they knew,
Make drifters think they have no other course;
See the oppressed start the cycle anew?
Forgive them for they know not what they do.
My Life as the Musical of Much-Afraid
(Inspired by the novel Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard)
-Psalm 121:1 “I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help”
I was the little hind, crippled and blind-
Sided by Craven Fear
Settled deep in the Valley of Humiliation
This is my song of deliverance:
“Trapped by the giver of darkness
With voice nearly smothered by Fear
She called to Him in her sadness
Lord, rescue me—if you hear!
Though frail, her small sound still poured out
And soon he came to her, sure and devout,
Leaping mountains and hills in swiftest pace
To cloak her with his heavenly grace.
He scooped her from off of the floor,
So Evil could touch her no more,
And held her in his loving embrace.”
Still my doubt kept me from his promise
I was bound by my crippling pain
“See how these slopes are unkind?
You must find a way to leave them behind
Bind your Sorrow and Suffering
If you hope to find joy everlasting”
—He sang as he returned to the hills
So against all my odds, I set out,
Though my mind was still riddled with doubt,
I kept on, one foot after another,
And felt my legs slowly grow stronger
Till I finally reached near the gates
And surrendered myself, face-to-his-face.
Oh how it hurt as I ripped out my heart!
And watched him cast it afire—
But from white embers he withdrew a new name
And set it flaming raw on my lips as he sang:
“Grace and Glory, be mine, Let’s go higher”
Hand-in-hand I matched him, paced the same,
Now Forever I’ll sing I am changed!
“Romeos” are traffickers who lure women into relationships in order to sexually exploit them, and are the most common type of pimp, according to Dr. Jamie Gates, co-author of “Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego,” a 2016 sex trafficking study in San Diego. Although the women interviewed in this series all had experience with pimps who were Romeos, Susan’s interview revealed the most about how they operate and lure girls into the industry, which is what inspired the sonnet “O Romeo.” She said many sex trafficked individuals are tricked into falling in love with their trafficker, and that is how they are able to be manipulated so well. This is what happened to Susan when she was 16.
Susan said she ran away from home at 16, confused and angry because her parents got a divorce. She then met a charming man who gave her love and attention when she needed it most; he was her “first love,” and she was willing to do anything for him. After she had been reeled in, he told her he needed help financially and asked her to sell herself “just once.”
She was trafficked for three months before being arrested. She said she was lucky to be arrested early because the jail time gave her the break she needed to realize she was being manipulated.
Her “boyfriend” was 24 at the time, which fits the trend researchers have noticed: the “game” is getting younger, with most traffickers ranging from early 20s to early 30s, according to “Measuring the Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego.”
After her experience, Susan was led to become a clinical social worker, and had her own private practice. She said what started out as a few hours of pro-bono therapy work for sex trafficked women turned into what is now Generate Hope, a nonprofit that provides safe houses for victims of sex trafficking around San Diego County. Susan is the executive director of the organization.
As someone who deals with trafficked women on a daily basis, Susan said she sees the same things over and over again, and “it’s like the traffickers have a rule book they follow in order to get these girls to do what they want.”
The most vulnerable ages to recruiting are 13-18, but the average age of entry into the sex industry is about 15 or 16. However, Susan said anyone can be a target because traffickers are masters at recognizing vulnerabilities, and everyone has those. She described how most traffickers can tell within 10 to 15 seconds of speaking with a person whether he or she is vulnerable to exploitation.
“Areas of vulnerability are typically mid to lower socioeconomic areas because that’s another vulnerability—and traffickers are always looking for some sort of vulnerability.”
Many young girls are being manipulated into the industry through recruitment in schools. Other sex trafficked girls are trained by their pimps to look for the lonely and outcast, then invite those people to hang out. Then if they girls aren’t lured into the life by their “friends,” they may be drugged and later blackmailed into sex slavery; threatened with videos and explicit photos leaked to friends and family if they don’t comply.
The fact that children are such a huge target for sex trafficking is what inspired the poem “U.S. Hot Spots,” especially since California is considered the state with the most sex trafficking activity. The most prevalent areas for trafficking in California are San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.
Susan confirmed that much of the recruitment is now being done online through Facebook and Instagram, dating websites, “free photography” advertisements on craigslist, fake modeling agencies and more.
“So much of this is happening over the internet now. Online dating. It could be a gaming source, where somebody meets someone and after building a trust, meets with them in reality. It could be someone phishing and shooting out emails. But a lot of this happens over the internet—and that leaves any of us vulnerable to sex trafficking.”
“Hiding Place” is based off what Susan said about where you may find victims of sex trafficking. They can certainly be found at street corners, but also innocuous places like malls and public libraries. They try to find places where they can escape their trafficker for a few hours, since they may be forced to have sex with 10-20 men a day. They will also use places that have free internet to check if anyone has posted to their online advertisements and emails. They typically use websites like Craigslist and Backpage to gain new clients, or other black websites that are used to sell people.
Female pimps have also seen an increase. They recruit vulnerable young women into the life with sayings like, “You’re already having sex, why not get paid for it?” The idea of women recruiting other women into the sex industry is what inspired “The Slave Driver is a Slave Too,” which is in the poetic form of a villanelle.
In the sex industry, some women are trained to capitalize off their work by recruiting and training other girls. If they are successful at doing this, it would eventually allow them to stop prostituting. But essentially the problem that society needs an answer to is what causes an individual to feel like prostitution is even an option? From discussions with Susan and Dr. Gates, the people most likely to enter the industry are those who have been sexually abused, foster children, homeless, and/or runaways. But over and over they said it can happen to anyone.
“My Life as the Musical of Much-Afraid” is inspired by the book, “Hinds Feet on High Places” (1955), by Hannah Hurnard. The book is a spiritual allegory describing how a crippled girl named Much-Afraid transformed into Grace and Glory through the help of a Shepard from the high places/mountains. The story seemed to parallel how the faith of Susan, Jamie, and Marjorie gave their lives new meaning, so I used the storyline to create the poem. Although the poem is in Susan’s section it is dedicated to all who have suffered at the hands of Craven Fear and wish to escape the Valley of Humiliation.
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side. (Psalms 3:2-6)