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Serving the sparrows

"Serving the sparrows" Continued...

Issue: "Rejecting religious liberty," June 15, 2013

She agreed, ignoring friends’ warnings that he sounded like a pimp. She went with him and gave him all her money from dancing. She trusted him even when he suggested she start sleeping with men to raise more money for the “startup,” and she didn’t ask questions when he moved her around often.

When she eventually realized that she’d never “raise” enough money for her pimp, she started secretly saving a few dollars of her own. One day, she stole her pimp’s car and fled. He threatened her into returning by reminding her of his network of contacts sprawled over the entire state, few of whom would look kindly on a runaway prostitute.

She returned. The moment the car pulled up, her pimp charged out the door. He grabbed her by her hair, pulled her in the house, then beat and raped her. Undeterred, Vee started saving again and ran away a second time. This time she made it to California, working under the radar as a strip dancer, but not as a prostitute. An undercover cop eventually found her when she returned to Texas and successfully convinced her to leave the industry entirely. She’s now 22 and enrolled in culinary school.

Escape stories like Vee’s are possible largely because of undercover detectives who consider trafficked women victims, not criminals. Deek Moore, 40, is one of seven detectives who fight trafficking and vice in Central Texas. He focuses on surveillance and stings and also works to build low-profile relationships with victims, hoping to convince them eventually to flee.

One day this spring, Moore, dressed in a black hoodie and cargo shorts and sipping coffee, told about the rescue of a trafficked woman who cried out for help: He waited until her husband was at work then sped to her house, helped her pack, and whisked her away to hiding. He spent the next three months gathering evidence against the man who forced her into prostitution and pornography for four years.

Very few cases lead to a trial, Moore said, because it’s extremely difficult to prove a woman has been trafficked against her will. Besides, many prosecutors and judges don’t know much about trafficking and many jurists don’t see these women as victims, so they rarely indict the pimps.

Building cases is also difficult given that many of the women are psychologically frail and often run away after 60 days of rescue. They become afraid to testify or simply begin to miss the familiarity of their old life. Sometimes Moore can find them and get them help. Other times, either because they’re unwilling or unable to admit their captivity, they refuse help.

But here’s the good news: Moore’s most recent witness did not run away. She patiently endured more than 20 hours of detailed interviews recounting how a male friend exploited her as a young college student in need of money. He offered marriage as a way out, which she accepted, desperate to finish school. But after the wedding vows, violence. Moore’s eyes watered as he recounted the story, but he could report that the grand jury indicted the pimp and put him away under a $250,000 bond. That’s rare: Many judges set low bails or none at all.

Moore says he hopes victims emerge from the legal process “with a chance at success [and] full restoration.” Redeemed’s aftercare division pushes for restoration—but it comes slowly and, in the words of executive director Dennis Martin: “It’s a process without a finish line.”

Martin and his wife, Bobbie, have labored at Redeemed since 2006 alongside 35 staff members and 250 volunteers. No one receives a paycheck for the work, so Martin works as an IT auditor on the side. All of the money Redeemed raises (this year: $240,000) goes to fund its safe house, aftercare programs, and administrative needs. Since 2009, 20 women have successfully completed Redeemed’s program; 10 more are currently enrolled.

When a woman enters the door at Redeemed, she’s introduced to a veteran trauma therapist who determines if Redeemed is adequately equipped to help her. If not, the therapist refers her to a better-fitting organization. But if Redeemed can help her, the therapist proceeds to prepare a customized “healing” plan that involves four stages of psychological, spiritual, and practical help.

Stage one is detox. With the help of counselors, the sparrow becomes able to grasp both the depth of her traumatic experiences and the reality of her freedom. During stage two, she begins to work through questions of identity and the concept of God-given value. “We want to reset their value system and help them see that they get their identity from God,” Martin explained.

—with reporting by Cheryl Keen, Rob Holmes, Karen Johnson, and Michael Reneau

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