Since 2003, I have worked throughout the world to fight Human Trafficking, and three years ago I started an organization called Saving Innocence, which rescues and restores American children who have been trafficked in the United States. This work is incredibly inspiring and life giving, with a daily privilege to shine light in the darkest of places in this world. But the journey to this point hasn’t been an easy one. And yet, I value the difficulties I have faced because that pain has provided me with the empathy and skills needed to help others in their journey to freedom. Sometimes it takes pain to give us eyes to see the pain of others and know how to help.
As a little girl, I grew up dreaming of becoming a singer and a doctor who travelled the world to help people. But I also grew up in a home with an absent father, who worked overseas for months at a time and was emotionally abusive when he was home. The abuse was aimed against both my mom and me and this created a thought process in me in which I saw myself as less than worthy of honor and respect, shrinking the dreams in my heart to seem unattainable. It skewed my perception of my self worth, and made me think that love meant neglect and abuse.
As I entered high school I was searching for someone to love me and found myself in a three-year long relationship riddled with abuse. This served to reinforce the message that I had learned from my father. It compounded the dual untruths that I was unworthy of real love and that love equaled abuse.
To further compound the lies, I formed what I thought was a relationship of trust with my track coach. He was in his fifties and served as something like a father figure for me, training me in my skills and helping me to qualify for Nationals in the high hurdles and triple jump. But while he was building me up as an athlete, he was simultaneously tearing me down and pushing sexual boundaries when we trained alone. So much so that he began sexually abusing me on a regular basis. My heart shut down. My voice felt silenced. I didn’t know how to process what was happening. Someone who had earned my trust and had previously been safe was no longer that and stayed as a constant presence in my life. I did not know who to talk to about what was happening or what to say.
After hearing from another girl who had been abused by the same coach, I was asked by one of my teachers whether my track coach had treated me inappropriately. This led to a protracted legal case over the next two years that included me testifying in court. The case was based around five main victims including myself, but there were twenty-six other girls who came forward to testify about their abuse. Following all of this work and confronting the man who had abused us in court, the trial ended in a mistrial due to circumstances outside of our control. He walked away a free man. The pain of the abuse was tremendous. Having to talk about it to a room full of strangers was horrific. But, having the perpetrator walk away and to see justice be mislaid was the most difficult part. This led me into a place chronic depression and thoughts of suicide.
By the age of 18 I was desperate to find something more to life than what I had experienced, yet believed I could never be free. My only escape seemed to be death. Then at the end of my freshman year in college, In the middle of a suicide attempt, I heard God tell me there was another way out, another way to be free from the pain I was living in. Knife in hand, I knelt down on the floor of my college dorm and became a Christian. My hope was restored, and I spent the next few years working through the pain of my past abuse in community and with the help of therapy. As I began the journey of getting to know Jesus and learn for the first time my true worth and identity, my suffering became a bridge to empathy and a desire to help others restore their hope. My heart for victims of injustice, the most overlooked, misjudged, abused started to grow and stirred me to action. The tools I gained through my healing journey could now empower others to start on a journey of their own.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.” Victimization and oppression robs people hope. For a time after the trial it stole mine, but the beautiful thing about hope is that it’s something that can be restored by others as they reach out in love, and as we pass that hope on. Suffering becomes this beautiful connector of humanity that reminds you that everyone has a story, everyone was once 7 years old with a dream for their life, and everyone has had to overcome great pain of varied shade and color. Through sharing our lives with one another, we can show that there is a way out of pain and suffering, we can offer courage, we can inspire one another to go on in the face of injustice.
We live in a time of great injustice. Some of those who have experienced the greatest injustice, are the most overlooked, the most misjudged, and most grievously abused are victims of human trafficking. These victims have their freedom stolen and their voices silenced. Experts estimate that there are up to 300,000 American children who fall victim to sex trafficking every single year in the United States. This affects every community, every state, and every level of income. These are truly modern day slaves hidden in plain sight.
This world may never be completely free of injustice, but this earth is the only place we have the opportunity to shine the light of hope and love while the darkness exists. Our pain and our suffering is not the end of the story. Those who have navigated the darkest corridors of life can give hope to those who have yet to find their way out.
If you want to join our family and help give hope to a girl who is rescued from sex trafficking you can buy her a rescue kit at www.savinginnocence.org/shop or become a monthly donor to help make our continuing work possible. It is because of people like you who have eyes to see and the resolve to act that we can save one girl and that she can go on to save a thousand more.
Kim Biddle, MSW, is the Founder and Executive Director of Saving Innocence, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that provides 24-hour crisis response and long-term case management services for commercially sexually exploited children in the United States. Kim has received multiple awards for her pioneering anti-trafficking work, trained thousands of law enforcement officers and front-line professionals, and advises county officials in the creation of new policies system-wide procedures to ensure the proper treatment of victims – leading a national movement to restore the cultural value of innocence and human worth.