Human Trafficking: A Mother’s Story
“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had,
and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
This could not be more true for one of our dear friends here at Guardian Group. Meet Kerry, she is one of the fiercest, strongest momma’s we know. Kerry and her husband, raised three kids in a strong Christian home, all have an excellent education and are overall wonderful people. Their oldest, Andrea was targeted, manipulated and groomed into sex trafficking through on online dating website in Oregon. While Andrea’s story is incredibly powerful, we asked Kerry to share a bit of hers.
Q: Tell us about the moment you found out you were going to be a mother and a little about Andrea as a child and teen.
Kerry: We were so excited when we found out I was pregnant – we’d been trying for a while. My husband wanted to find out the gender of the baby and I wouldn’t let him because I wanted to be surprised – we knew we were having a baby and it was a 50/50 chance it was a boy or a girl. When they handed me this butterball of a baby girl, I was instantly smitten and didn’t know I could love someone that I just met so deeply.
Andrea was such an adorable, easy going baby and had this deep voice for a toddler. When her little sister was born we could immediately tell she knew her birth place as she became very motherly. As she grew into a teenager it was clear that she was great with kids and loved to be with them and they loved (& still do) to be with her. Andrea went on two Mission trips during her high school years. Both to Tanzania, Africa. They were life changing for her and solidified in her heart that she wanted to be a missionary. She may not be a missionary to Africa, but God has definitely given her a mission field right here.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being a mother?
Kerry: My favorite thing about being a mom is getting to love on these babies that become toddlers and then teens and then adults – all those phases of being able to nurture them and watch them develop their own unique personalities. Being able to look at them and realize I had a part in them becoming who they are today. I still love doing things for them – my husband says I’m an enabler. ?
Q: Did you know what sex trafficking was prior to your daughter becoming a victim of it?
Kerry: I wasn’t really that in tune with what sex trafficking really is – I knew it was a problem in our area and that women weren’t always willing participants.
Q: Did you ever think your daughter could end up a victim of sex trafficking?
Kerry: Absolutely not. I had concerns about her boyfriend’s Facebook page (pictures of him alone with several women who were dressed provocatively). When I shared my concerns with a couple of my close friends, they assured me that we had raised our daughter well and she would never let herself get involved with anything like prostitution. I felt that they were probably right and dismissed my concerns as I too primarily believed that women enter this industry by choice. My daughter was well educated and had been raised in a good home so I knew she would know right from wrong and thought she would be able to stand up for herself.
Q: What changes did you notice in Andrea?
Kerry: We started to notice significant changes in Andrea when she met her trafficker. When Andrea would come home in the summer for college break, she was very respectful, easy going and followed the few house rules we had in place. When Andrea came home mid-summer after graduating from college she started to wane in church attendance – we were okay that she wasn’t attending our church but thought she was going to another church. After she started dating her trafficker she was staying out later, even on work nights (& Andrea has always required a good amount of sleep) then she started not coming home. Andrea voiced that we were trying to control her, something she had never expressed before her relationship with her trafficker. Once she moved in with him, we noticed that she was dressing differently, wearing hair extensions and getting very bad spray tans. Her FB posts were showing her partying with him and other women. We had been a pretty close-knit family and she became more distant from us.
Q: What if any resources or comforts did you turn too while Andrea was in the Life?
Kerry: We didn’t know Andrea was in the Life until she was rescued from it. Our ignorance and lack of education in this particular area just led to a distance in our relationship. We saw the situation differently – her wanting a boyfriend so badly that she’d accept walking away from our family and our belief system.
Andrea came home one week while she was in the life and I was reading a book that I was about a chapter behind in – when she went back to her trafficker boyfriend. I read a good chapter a week later explaining what we needed to do when our adult child came back home. It was about not needing to remind her about our “rules” as she grew up in our home. I was heartbroken that I hadn’t been more aware of what we should have done and wondered if we hadn’t reminded her of our “rules” if she wouldn’t have gone back to him. The book was called “Engaging Today’s Prodigal” by Carol Barnier.
I also got into counseling. Having an unbiased person to talk with was so helpful in assisting me through the process.
Q: Knowing what you know now what advice would you give to parents about protecting their children from this crime?
Kerry: Trust your instincts. If they are hanging out with someone that you feel uncomfortable with, try to find out more about them. Push back to get answers – don’t just assume your child is acting rebellious, if they have had a lot of changes in their lifestyle quickly, find out why.
Q: What advice would you give to parents that believe their child is a victim of trafficking or on the verge of becoming one?
Kerry: Reach out to resources that can assist you in protecting them. Call 911 if you have to. Contact the Guardian Group or other organizations that have experience with sex trafficking. Don’t let anyone dismiss your concerns, what’s the worst that can happen? You end up being wrong, but your child is safe. But if you’re right…a lot worse can happen.
Q: What do you wish your community knew about trafficking or what actions do you wish they had taken?
Kerry: I wish that the community had a better understanding that trafficked women, men and children are victims. We need to be educated to understand that no one does this by choice – even if they say it is – they’ve been manipulated and literally brain washed.
After Andrea was rescued from the life, it took her over six months to realize that her trafficker – who was at that point in prison – was not a good guy and had been using her to fund his lifestyle. Because people think it’s a choice to be trafficked, a certain level of shaming is involved for the victims, which makes it harder for anyone to try to get out of the life.
We are so grateful that someone did take action. Andrea was rescued because a sting took place after someone realized that she was being trafficked and reached out to a friend that worked for the PPB in the sex trafficking unit. Because of their actions she was rescued, if they had just turned a blind eye to it, she might still be in the life. If anyone has any suspicions at all, they should take action.
Q: What resources have you found have best helped in your healing process now that she is safe?
Kerry: The primary resource was my counselor. She gave me several books to read – which I don’t have now, so I couldn’t tell you the names. One that I did buy for myself that Andrea actually encouraged me to read (because of her mentor) was “Princess Found” by Steven and Celestia Tracy. This helped me with processing what happened to Andrea and how I best could respond to her.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Andrea?
Kerry: My favorite thing about Andrea – that’s hard to narrow down. She has a big heart and has always done things to serve others in the community. Kids gravitate to her and can tell she’s a comfortable, safe person to be with. Andrea learns things quickly and can easily adapt to any situation, partially because she worked with kids for so many years. She’s developed a can-do attitude and once she’s decided on a goal for herself there isn’t much you can say to change her mind.