They were at first the reluctant four. Only 14 and 16 years old the four girls, Ruby, Jenny, Angel and Ruth, were rescued from traffickers by the municipal social worker and local police and brought to the Preda Home for Girls for recovery and cure. They were caught in a house of prostitution and exploitation where they were trafficked by a pimp lured with promises of money, drugs and drink and boyfriends and there they were sexually abused and turned into sexually exploited children.
Instead of being happy at being “rescued” and brought to the safety and protection of the Preda home for abused girls, they wanted to return to the trafficker. They were brainwashed into the world of vice and were denying any wrongdoing and were craving to escape and return to that life. They had debts to pay too. They were made to believe that was all they were good for in this world and that the trafficker was giving them a happy life of pleasure and good times.
I like to refer to those who groom, seduce, or lure children into dire situations where they are trapped, exploited, and sexually abused as the “millstones.” Two thousand years ago, child abuse was common enough it seems in Palestine and the Gospel of Matthew has a passage in Chapter 18 (Matt. 18:1-8) that has Jesus of Nazareth telling his audience of the learned, lawyers and scholars, to their disappointment, that they were not the most important in society. He stood a child before them and said the child was.
Then a most shocking statement followed. If taken at its face value, it sounds like an endorsement of the death penalty. He said in so many words that anyone who abuses one of these children ought to have a millstone tied around his neck and he be thrown into the depth of the ocean. It’s hyperbole, an exaggeration not to be taken literally, but nevertheless it is a strict teaching that children are sacred and innocent and to accept a child is to accept Jesus himself.
He said too unless we become as innocent as children we cannot enter the Kingdom and be a person of the highest integrity. That would be the ideal society where friendship, truth, justice, love, social justice, and equality reigned. In Matthew 25:31 -46) he has us standing before the king of that ideal Kingdom on judgment day. He said unless we have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the people in jails and shared and helped our neighbor there is no ticket to the kingdom. To have done it to them, the poorest of his brothers and sisters, is to have done it to Jesus himself. That is a real challenge for anyone.
In the modern world of today those ideals seem irrelevant and ignored by the people in the secular world. Going by the number of child abusers estimated to be out there in society and online abusing children, it is a world dominated by these pedophiles and child rapists and abusers. Here every week at the Preda children’s home, we see horrific cases of child abuse. The latest arrival is a five-year old, and after her came a 12-year-old child, both victims of rape. They join the Preda family of 48 girl-victims that are recovering and healing and discovering what it is to be free from the fear and abuse. There are hundreds of thousands more helpless children unable tell anyone of their ordeal and who live in fear and trembling under the terrible threats of their rapists. The statistics say one in every four children are victims of sexual abuse, the same in every country in the world.
The pimps and human traffickers, the “millstones”, who recruit teenage girls into the sex industry are smart, clever and like pedophiles have sinister grooming, persuasion and ways to lure and ensnare victims into their web of abuse and exploitation. The teenagers become dependent sex slaves of these abusive men.
So what a challenge it was for the Preda social workers and therapists to persuade them otherwise when everyday they planned to leave the Preda home for girls which they could easily do since it is not a walled or fenced detention center. It is an open home in a natural location of peace and tranquility. It prides itself on teaching the victims to make a human choice based on reason, knowledge of right and wrong and using their free will to choose a better life for themselves.
It took months of counseling, affirmation, support and emotional expression therapy and the support of their positive helpful parents for them to gain high self-esteem, knowledge of their dignity and human rights and change their perception of themselves and of their future and relate with their parents.
They reached that very important turning point of having a profound change of heart and mind to see the truth, reject the past, and to welcome the positive hopeful life of dignity and self-respect and respect for others. To see this transformation is what makes this work worthwhile. It is challenging the system of abuse and exploitation of minors that is approved by government and it is a voice proclaiming the value and dignity of every child, the most important in society.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA: a nonprofit dedicated to protecting children.
Need help? Have a tip that can save a life? Contact the National Human Trafficking Network.