An article from Jeff Barrows, MD sharing the story of Melissa, a victim of human trafficking who received assistance from Gracehaven.
From the earliest time that Melissa can remember, her father asked her to keep secrets. At first they were secrets having to do with special clothes she was supposed to wear with him, then she had to keep the “touching” secret, and eventually at age 10, he was doing things to her she didn’t understand at all. Melissa grew up in an upper middle class American home with a brother and a mother who was a stay at home mom. Her father had a very successful job allowing them to live in a very comfortable neighborhood. But whenever she was alone with her father, Melissa had new secrets to be kept. At age 10, Melissa began cutting herself because she found it made her feel better.
As Melissa got older, her father became more controlling and threatening so that she was locked in her room for many hours at a time when she did something her father didn’t like. Her mother was unable to protect her because she was being abused as well.
She was labeled as a “troubled child” and began having increasing difficulties in school. At age 13, her parents became separated, but she was still forced to go visit her father. During their alone times together, the abuse became worse and more sadistic and painful. There were times she was also given pills by her father that made her feel very strange.
Unable to tell anyone what was happening because of the threats from her father, Melissa began acting out in various other ways at school. Because of her acting out, Melissa was sent to a special program during her seventh grade year. She mentioned the abuse happening at home, but a simple letter from each parent denying the abuse was enough to keep any further investigation from occurring.
By the time she was released from the program, each of her parents were marrying other partners. Melissa’s step-father discovered a roll of film at the house and when it was developed, it contained pornographic images of Melissa when she was 7 to 8 years old. However, nothing was done and the matter was quickly buried and forgotten. Her father continued to have visitation rights with her, and the abuse continued.
At age 15, Melissa went on a weekend visit with her father. Her father had a friend there and gave him permission to rape Melissa. In spite of her cries and pleas for help, her father didn’t step in to protect her. Melissa continued to believe that everything was her fault…that she was bad and evil.
With the continued abuse, the acting out became more prevalent with Melissa and she attempted suicide several times. She also continued in risky sexual behavior with other men and by the time she was 18, she left home and soon after she became pregnant.
About this time, Melissa moved to Ohio with her daughter and tried to start a new life by working and attending school. However, there was a void in her life that she couldn’t control and it drew her to sex with strange men. She began to place ads on the Internet for sex and within a short period of time, came under the control of a man named Mitch. At first, he was very kind to Melissa and told her that she was special. He told her that he loved her and wanted to take care of her. Then after he felt he had control over Melissa, he brought other men to her apartment with him and they raped Melissa. Using a mixture of sweet talk, threats, and violence , Mitch trafficked Melissa to as many men as he could over the next several months.
It was during that time that Melissa was on the Internet and came to the Gracehaven website. She got my (Jeff) email off the website and wrote asking if she could talk to me on the phone. Within a day or two of receiving the email, I talked with Melissa on the phone. She didn’t talk about everything that was going on at that time, but simply stated that she was feeling drawn back into prostitution at the time and wanted to find a counselor who was willing to help her deal with that desire.
I connected Melissa with a pastoral counselor I knew and they began to meet. At that time, we had no knowledge of Mitch and his ongoing attempts to control Melissa and traffick her. However, while the initial counseling sessions were occurring, Melissa lived at home and on the weekends was being trafficked by Mitch through his ongoing efforts of coercion, and threats against her daughter. Finally, after several weeks, Melissa was attacked by a John, tied up and physically assaulted. This forced her to go to the ER and the truth began to come out. She asked us to help her move out of her apartment to get away from the control of Mitch. A group of us moved Melissa out that weekend and later we found out that Mitch was watching from a distance.
We kept Melissa safe, but during that time we realized that she needed the help and counseling of a specialized facility that could help her work through her past trauma. Melissa initially went to a facility in another state for several months, but wasn’t getting the healing that she needed. She returned to Ohio for a short time, and then a second facility was located that specialized completely in helping girls and women recover from trauma in sex trafficking. Melissa is currently finishing the program in the second facility and is doing very well. She has been there for the past year, and hopes to return home within the next 4-6 months. She admits that she is no longer the same person she was when she went into the facility. Her relationship with the Lord is much stronger and healthy.