Ten months ago I became the executive director of a regional rape crisis center in Central Kentucky. Ten months ago my life and outlook on the world forever changed. It has become a daily personal struggle for me to try to navigate the harsh realities of my work, without giving up on what drew me into the field in the first place - hope for a better, safer, and kinder world. As an administrator, I don't even work on the front-lines with victims, so my heart particularly goes out to the counselors, advocates, and therapists who sit face-to-face with victims everyday. Maybe one day we'll be able to enjoy these things again, my friends. Maybe one day.
Five Things I Can No Longer Enjoy Since I Started Working at a Rape Crisis Center:
The Kentucky Derby
This week while most people in my home state are celebrating Derby week, my counterparts in Louisville are advocating for awareness around the spike of human trafficking during this time. Events like the Derby are targeted by traffickers who bring in women and girls in from all over the country for potential new customers. As we speak, Louisville metro police and victims' rights groups monitor websites known for advertising adult escorts, which often serve as trafficking mechanisms. They estimate postings on these sites have tripled for Louisville this week leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Prostitution and human trafficking rings are set up in hotels and motels in every part of the Kentucky-Indiana area surrounding Louisville. Local advocates distribute bars of soap and lip gloss to high-risk motels that are wrapped with information containing the National Human Trafficking hotline number, 1-888-3737-888.
Private Kid's Lessons and Friendly Strangers
Last year I sat through a day-long workshop on perpetrator identification training for law enforcement and anti-violence advocates. When the day was over I collapsed in my bed, unable to speak or move for the remainder of the night. I have a five-year old son and while the educated, logical me knows that I can't begin to view the world in worst case scenarios, I am finding it increasingly difficult to trust anyone with my child. This weekend at our local home improvement store, a very friendly man began engaging my son and our entire family in dialogue - kidding around about taking him home to help him tend his garden. He patted my son on the back and laughed and while I'm sure he was just being friendly, I froze, went into protection mode, and physically stood between the two of them. The chances of this friendly stranger grabbing my son and running off in the middle of a crowded public place were probably very, very small, but clearly the horror stories I've heard over the past 10 months are altering my capacity to think practically....or ever come to a place where I would feel comfortable leaving my son alone with a stranger.
It was probably at least a decade ago that I watched the gang rape scene in "Boys Don't Cry" and the brutal rape scene of Charlize Theron's character in "Monster". I remember having physical reactions during both times that involved me leaving the movie and going to the restroom to vomit. While that may sound like a pretty dramatic reaction, I'm confident that I wouldn't even be able to watch a rape scene at this point in my life. When you hear real-life stories daily, you just don't have any energy left in you to spend your "off" time voluntarily exposing yourself to reenactments of sexual violence.
Manicures and Pedicures
While this is obviously not true of all nail salons by any means, modern-day slaves are regularly trafficked into businesses like these with promises for a better life when brought to the United States. Upon arrival they are forced into a life of servitude, often times forced to work at a business for little or no pay, and at the traffickers house after hours. The trafficker exudes a high level of control over their victims from psychological to physical, and coaches them what to say when approached by law enforcement or the general public. Their immigration and identity documents are confiscated, making it impossible for them to escape or seek help. Common work environments for trafficked victims include hotels, construction, adult entertainment, domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing and salons. I haven't had a pedicure in 10 months.
This summer, we'll be celebrating my son's 6th birthday and we're one of those cheesy families that has a little bit too much fun with themes. One year we had a drive-in movie theater in our backyard complete with inflatable 12-foot screen and a rented popcorn machine. I've been known to order bulk supplies like cups, napkins, and little drink umbrellas from a party supply catalog that shall remain unnamed. I used to pride myself at paying mere pennies for these items, but now I can't bring myself, as a consumer, to support the unethical exploitation of labor in developing countries. I'm cursed with knowledge and I now realize that if something (like a low price tag) is too good to be true, it probably is - most likely on the backs of trafficked men, women, and children who are forced to work in dangerous work conditions for obscene amounts of pay.