By: Gina Hope
I've given a great deal of thought about what to share and am so grateful I was recently blessed with the opportunity to share my story at a homeless shelter.
I'm starting an organization to help other human trafficking survivors and bring awareness of human trafficking to our nation, and what blessed me most at that shelter was being able to look around at all of the opportunities I'm surrounded with. What a blessing it is to me to be able to share my story and watch how it inspires others to take a stand to help those who can’t help themselves and to encourage those who are broken to not lose hope.
You see, I know from experience that no matter what we go through here on this earth, we can overcome with God's help. While I look around at all of the opportunities I'm so blessed to be surrounded with, I've not forgotten the dark times and brokenness it took to get here.
I am a survivor of human trafficking that was bought and sold by 10 different pimps; I was even sold by my own mother. I watched girls being beaten and even forced to dig their own graves. I was forced to work from the ages of 12-17, doing things that totally disgusted me and made me feel dirty. I felt so dirty, in fact, that I would scrub my body and teeth several times a day. I scrubbed my teeth to the point that my gum lines receded, exposing my nerve roots, so it's painful to smile when the air touches my teeth When I drink something hot or cold, it feels like something is being rammed into my gums.
Over the course of four years, I was not permitted to eat very much, and, then, scrambled eggs and cottage cheese were all I was supposed to have. I often made myself throw up after eating a meal every three to five days, so I would not gain weight (which I believe has affected my metabolism). I lived a life where my mindset was so twisted and dysfunctional, that I was convinced that I was, in fact, privileged to have been taken, because I was told every day “how lucky I was to be there.”
I believed what I was told when they said I was worth nothing unless I was with them and that they cared about me more than anybody else in the world ever did or would. I was not permitted to show any negative emotion, so if someone in public were to see me they would be convinced I was having the time of my life. My identity was stripped, as I was not permitted to use my real name and my hair was dyed from blonde to black.
The police from three cities knew where I was when I was 13 years old, but they left me there, because they didn’t want to blow their drug-trafficking investigation. I didn't learn this until a few years after I had escaped, and it became another large area of my life that needed healing, because it cemented what I had so frequently been told by the traffickers -- that I was worth nothing.
But even with all of the brainwashing and the tool of fear that was used, God made me a survivor.
Of course, for emotional healing to begin, I had to make the decision to forgive. I believe the definition of forgiveness has been warped. I first had to learn that forgiveness doesn't mean I have to hang around the people I have forgiven. I learned that forgiving someone is not holding on to what they've done to you but placing them in God's hands for Him to deal with them, so you can let it go and go on with your life. Forgiveness is not allowing someone to abuse you or enabling someone to continue bad behavior.
When I became a parent, I learned that when you truly love someone, you do what is best for them, which includes helping them continuously grow as a person. In all I do now, I strive to do my best, because I don't want to leave this world knowing I missed being a blessing to someone who needed it. If you feel compelled to do something that will bless another person, it's always important to do it, remembering that there's probably somebody on the other side praying to God for help.
I didn't share my story on a broad scale for a couple of decades, because I noticed when people heard my story, they would say how wonderful to have survived such an ordeal, but then, they’d kind of keep me at arm’s length for various reasons. But I thank God for bringing me to the realization that this is my story, and I have the power to let God turn it around, so that I can be a blessing to many others. So that's my goal. I am so blessed to have a pastor and friends who have inspired and encouraged me to follow my dream to help other survivors with life skills, higher education and to give a sense of family to those who have none, as well as bring awareness. I regret the years I've missed, but I have to look forward, keeping my focus on what's ahead and who I can be a blessing to in the future.
Today, I'm here to say every person matters!!! Human trafficking is such a lucrative business in America and around the world; it's time we all rise up and say, "No, this is not ok ... not on my watch."