From Jeremy: I want you to meet Tricia Garrett. Having been the victim of abuse as a child, she has made her life’s mission to help victims of abuse to develop hope and to heal. You can find out more about her at her blog or follow her on Twitter. She is secretly incredible.
JS: When you were a teenager, you experienced sexual abuse. What happened?
Tricia: Middle school was really hard for me. I was the girl that was made fun of and bullied. I was very lonely. One day some guys made me a proposition. They offered to protect me from the other kids if I would hang out with them. Eventually they demanded more than just hanging out.
The abuse typically occurred either before or after youth group in a hidden place in our church. One night, I finally decided to tell them no. When I rejected them, their response was attempted rape, which was boldly interrupted. There was a loud voice that yelled my name. The boys scattered.
When I heard the voice I assumed it was my father because he was the pastor of the church. After I was left alone I looked for him but couldn’t find him anywhere. I now firmly believe it was the voice of God protecting me.
It should be said that I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse while it occured, or for many years afterward. My abusers threatened to shame my family, and almost immediately after the abuse ended, my dad took a call to a new church. Moving was an opportunity to leave the past behind, or so I thought.
My parents have been aware of what took place for a couple years now, and they have been nothing but supportive and loving. My family is my rock and I would not have been able move forward the way I have without them.
JS: How has that experience affected your life today?
Tricia: It’s something I think about every day. Not all day, and not for very long, but every single day thoughts about it cross my mind. I have to be intentional about my romantic relationships, especially taking the time to remember that not all men are like the boys of my past. My past shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
I have to remind myself that I’m not damaged goods and that Christ has found victory in my story. He has given me the desire to serve others who have been in a similar place. My worth is found in Christ alone, not in the actions against me in the past.
JS: There came a time when you began to talk about the sexual abuse. What happened that you were able to start getting help? And what helped you the most?
Tricia: I am so glad I finally talked about it. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. There was freedom to seek my identity. Freedom to come out of hiding. Freedom to understand myself better.
At first, telling my story out loud scared me to death. I was living in a new place and my family was very far away. My new friends were still very new and burdening them with this reality about myself was scarier than dealing with it.
There was one person, who for some reason, made it comfortable enough for me to share. He changed my life. I’m not even sure he knows that. He helped me to see that seeking help was important. I ended up telling my pastoral care professor at school hoping that she would pray over me and that a single prayer would make dealing with the mess simple.
It didn’t. She did intervene in my life and helped me find a therapist. Little did I know, freedom would only come after a lot of work, a lot of tears, and excruciating growing pains.
Between that one man who stayed with me through counseling and helped me to put words to what I was feeling, to my professor who saw that I needed more than what she could provide and helped me to get it, and finally to my therapist who compassionately and patiently guided me through the muck of my past, I found the hope that had lived inside of me all along.
JS: Your goal now is to help those who have been sexually exploited. What made you decide to pursue this as the purpose of your life?
Tricia: Initially I had no idea why. I had blocked out a lot of the abuse that I had experienced. When I first heard about CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children), I was a youth leader at a church. The thought of girls that were no older than my middle schoolers being sold and raped every night down the street broke my heart.
At a mission conference I was attending, a person from the International Justice Mission spoke about the problem of sexual slavery through out the U.S. She said something that I will never forget.
We don’t need your tears. We need your actions.
(Click here to tweet that statement.)
It was as if something clicked inside of me, and from that moment almost 6 years ago, I began seeking justice. I began seeking hope for these young women.
Upon moving to a new city with no help for CSEC victims, I then decided to act by creating Hope Redeemed, and my own story became a tool rather than a burden.
JS: How have you been able to help those who have been sexually exploited?
Tricia: I have a long list of things I am, and have been, involved with. I have been a mentor to young girls who are victims of this. I lobby and help in the advocacy realm. This includes writing, speaking and spending time at the capital. I also spent quite a bit of time at the juvenile detention center in Pittsburgh.
Thankfully, I have friends who love street ministry. We will walk the street during the middle of the night and pray. It still scares my mom a little, but I have seen God’s hand of protection throughout all of it. This, and all that I have been involved in, is not something I do alone by any means. I have amazing people with similar passions who walk alongside me in everything.
Most of my work is about presence and listening.
The victims that I have personally worked with just want to be normal teenage girls. One of the best moments I can remember was watching The Real World on a couch with one girl, laughing about the characters on the show. These girls deserve that. They deserve to have moments of normalcy. I’ve seen incredible breakthroughs in those very simple moments.
JS: What is 1 simple thing any of us can do to help those that are the victims of sexual enslavement?
Tricia: The first step is to be aware that this enslavement in the U.S. transcends race, class, age, and socioeconomic status. It affects everyone. Those who live in the suburbs and those who live in an urban area. Latino, African-American, white, rich, poor, you name it.
Most of what happens occurs on “the virtual street” or the internet. The people buying the services of these young men and women are, most of the time, fully aware that the victims are underage. Some even request it.
I want people to know that this is just not an overseas problem. It happens here. Many try to hide it, but the secret needs to be revealed. It is time to shed light, to seek justice, and to help the victims find hope and life.
One of the best things you can do is to be aware. And if you see something that doesn’t add up, tell somebody else.
Knowledge is like a high-powered flashlight. Every time you share what you know, the world becomes a little brighter, and an extra flashlight enters the room.
JS: Thanks Tricia for sharing your story. Thanks for choosing to do make a difference in the lives of those who fall victim to sexual enslavement.
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