I hate to bring this up. I hate to talk about dumb things I did as a kid. But kids do dumb things. No offense to kids, no offense to parents. I had good parents. I still did dumb things. A lot of dumb things.
Recently, I read an article by a woman who was trafficked as a young 17-year-old in London. As I read her story, I expected to hear a tale of bad choices or of being dramatically kidnapped… but I never expected to read my story… right up until the point she was raped the first time.
I sobbed for that girl and I could not stop thinking about her for days. All I could think was “It could have been me.”It could have been me that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, making the wrong decision when the wrong person happened by. It sounds random and it is. My story occurred the same year that this girl’s story began, no less.
As my mom will likely read this story, I apologize. It will surely traumatized her as it did me.
When I was just a girl of 17, I was an exchange student in Germany. I had always wanted to be an exchange student and had wished I could have learned German in school, instead of French or Spanish as my school offered. Yet, one October morning, my junior year in high school, in the middle of the morning announcements I heard them announce they had applications for a scholarship program to be an exchange student in Germany.
My heart raced that entire class. I think it was math, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was moon clay sculpting. I heard nothing my teacher said. My heart was already in Germany. I ran to the principal’s office to get an application and spent the remainder of the day, reading through the packet or daydreaming of this opportunity.
As it would happen, I applied, won the scholarship and left for Germany the following July. I spent a month in language training school in Tuebingen before heading to live with a family I had never met before. The year was fraught with challenges, but I loved every minute of it!
And as it happened in the spring of 1994, I was put on a train to Bonn to meet with the other American exchange students and our German Bundestag representatives, as part of the educational requirement for the scholarship program. I had already been alone on a train several times, because such trips were common in this program. I barely gave it any thought… until my first train was delayed an hour. Then, I was placed on a speed train that had the misfortune of being placed on tracks behind a slow train with frequent stops. I arrived at the Frankfurt train station two hours late for my connection. They could not tell me what train to take next, but staying there was not an option, so I just hopped the next train heading to Bonn. It was a slow train.
When I finally arrived at my destination, I was six hours late, and my group, with whom I was supposed to connect with, had long since left. It was dark and rainy outside. And when I searched my suitcase for the paperwork or contact information, I realized I must have left it at my host family’s home.
This was in the days before cell phones, and I was all alone. One thing I knew, from watching a recent news story, was that this train station was known for child prostitution after dark. It was no place to be lost and alone as a young girl.
I sought help from the Polizei, but they snickered at me, called me a stupid American and refused to help me. The embassy was closed. I was out of options. I had nowhere to turn and didn’t know what else to do.
Exhausted and losing hope, I sat down on my suitcase and cried. Then a boy approached me. He looked my age, and he asked me what was wrong. I told him that I was an American there to meet my exchange group and how I’d been separated, missed too many trains and had no way to reach them. He told me his mother was arriving by train shortly and he was there to greet her with his father, but that he was sure they could help me.
They did. When his mother arrived, he and his family came and took my bag, and walked me to their car. I got in and they drove to their house in a city I didn’t know. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t have any way to tell anyone I was there, or that I was lost. I was helpless. They showed me to the guest room in their basement, I joined them for dinner, and then I went to bed.
This is where my story diverges. While the girl who was trafficked was a runaway and not an exchange student, the rest of the story, right down to the rain, was strikingly similar. Except she was raped that night. She had her clothes taken away and she was locked up. She was imprisoned, beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and drug addicted for several years, until one day, when she found help at a hospital where she gave birth to a drug-addicted baby after being stabbed in the abdomen. Hospital staff just thought she was a horrible person and didn’t understand she was a victim. She found no compassion that day, but she did find freedom. Many years later she was able to tell her story, and across an ocean, I was able to read it.
My life could have gone horribly wrong with this one bad choice. I got lucky, perhaps. Or maybe someone was praying for me and God took care of the details. I was just 17. I knew nothing of human trafficking. It wasn’t something people talked about back then. Even knowing of child prostitution, I never really thought about how they ended up there. I was naive.
My point is this: kids do stupid things. When we are seventeen or fifteen or twelve, we don’t know better. We think it will all work out for us, and sometimes it does. Sometimes, we end up ok or God rescues us, but sometimes bad things happen. I can say, I honestly didn’t know better. And neither did the girl who suffered sex trafficking for so many agonizing years.
I was lucky. But my kids won’t be. As much as I wish I lived in a world, in which I never had to tell my kids about bad people or scary things, I will teach them that bad things happen. It might scare them, but I am ok with that. My kids won’t be lucky; they’ll be educated. They’ll be warned. And I hope yours will be too.
Don’t Just hope for the best for your kids. Make sure they have a better plan, that they know more. Don’t let them fall prey to this evil.