be.YOU.tifulHow do you want to be known? Is it based on your past or would you die if people only remembered you that way? What about your sins or your victimizations? Would you like to walk around wearing a shirt that outlines every awful thing you’ve done or things that were done to you?

It makes me think of the lepers in the Bible who were constantly reminded of their disease. They didn’t ask for it. They didn’t cause it, yet they were required to let everyone know their situation by shouting it out loud. Leviticus 13:45 says,

The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!'”

Can you imagine the humiliation? What if you’d have to walk around yelling,

Liar! Liar! or

Abused! Abused! or

Greedy! Greedy! or

Rape victim! Rape victim! or

Gossip! Gossip! or

Thief! Thief! or

You get the idea. Would you want to experience it? I’m sure you answered with a resounding “NO!” So why do we feel it’s okay to exploit the past of a sex trafficking survivor? We say it’s to celebrate how far she’s come, but is it really?

This week there’ve been news stories about the television program, 8 Minutes. Articles have come out stating the program did not provide services promised to the women they interviewed (the girls were interviewed without their knowledge) and some of the faces of the victims were splashed all over television for the world to see. Why?

I understand the draw to the program. People want to know what the life is like. They want to hear the stories. They want to see the girls receive help. But what about what the victims want? Did they sign up to have their personal story shared on national television? Did they ask to have their faces and identities revealed? Who really benefited from it all? It has been suggested that many of the women walked away from the situation without the services promised to them.

This morning I happened to read a post on Facebook by a well known advocate for survivors speaking about how survivors should be known as more than their victimization. She has a master’s degree. She runs a large non-profit organization that assists victims of trafficking and helps them take back their lives and go after their dreams. She’s a published author and a sought after speaker, who has even spoken in Washington as a voice for survivors. She’s fierce when it comes to fighting for victims and a beautiful lady. She also happens to have survived a life of exploitation, but that’s the only part of her bio people tend to focus on and that’s wrong.

In the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nick Portokalos said,

Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you will become.”

No one’s past should dictate who they are. Jesus died on the cross so our past wouldn’t have a hold on us. He came so we could be washed clean from our past and move forward into the destiny He created us to live. The only one interested in keeping us in our past is the enemy and he’ll use anyone’s assistance he can, even a well meaning person who wants to help and unknowingly adds insult to injury.

Let me make one thing clear. I’m not perfect. I mess up. I’ve said stupid things to people about their past, no matter what it is. So how do we avoid it? How do we become part of the solution instead of part of the problem? Well let me share what I’ve learned from survivors along the way:

  • Listen and learn. We need to listen to those we’re trying to help and learn from them. Some people act like they have so much to teach survivors. Since I’ve been in this fight, I’ve discovered survivors have so much to teach me. I have learned more from the girls I’ve grown to love than I’ve ever taught any of them.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself if this was me, would I want others to know this? Would I want it paraded around and shared among strangers?
  • Err on the side of caution. If you’re not sure if it’s a good idea, then don’t do it. Our job as men and women who are fighting to end this atrocity is to protect those who have already been victimized. Put the Golden Rule into practice. How would you want someone to treat you? What would you want done for you?  Luke 6:31 spells it out,

Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

How can we expect survivors to see themselves as more than victims, more than the sum of their past mistakes, if we don’t treat them that way? Tenth Avenue North has a beautiful song that I’d like to share to wrap this up. It’s entitled You Are More.