by Tracy Garza, Hope House Coach
Once a week I have the privilege to meet some of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met. They don’t have degrees, or fancy jobs, or anything really other than a few bags they carry around with them everywhere they go. They are the women you see on the sidewalk while you’re driving down any number of Seattle streets. Maybe you’ve seen them? Or maybe you’ve turned away? Over coffee and breakfast, I meet and talk with these women and listen to parts of their stories that don’t get told often. With few words, they tell me what human trafficking looks like.
Human trafficking doesn’t necessarily look like what you might think. It comes with a whole host of complexities that the average person doesn’t think about in their day to day lives. It looks like an endless cycle of trauma that most likely started as a young child or adolescent. It looks like addiction. It looks like losing your children; it looks like family members searching for days, weeks, months, years to find you. It looks like being shunned by society; it looks like not being wanted. It looks like hopelessness, like there’s no way out. It looks like not having choice; it looks like not knowing who you are. It looks like being forced to trade yourself to eat, to sleep, to be safe. It happens. It happens here in Seattle, even in your neighborhood.
Nearly every time I meet a woman who is being trafficked, she tells me she’s tired of the same old thing, that there’s no hope, that she’s tired, that she can’t live this kind of life anymore, that if only this situation or that situation would change...if only...if only.
At the Hope House, we get to hold hope for those who have no hope. I get the opportunity to share with them amid the hopelessness about God’s heart and about the program of the Hope House--how it is an opportunity to make a change, a way to get out and rest. The Hope House can be the beginning of a road that isn’t as difficult as the one they’re on now. Sometimes they aren’t ready to make a change and leave--and that’s ok. And then sometimes they are ready and I get to invite them into a home.
After leaving trafficking, life isn’t always easy; it can be challenging but rewarding and it looks like hard work. It looks like learning who you are and what you like to do. It looks like taking the difficult steps to pick up the phone to call that family member who you haven’t talked to in years. It looks like the sometimes overwhelming hard work of staying off drugs. It looks like waking up everyday to do something new. It looks like talking to professionals to get help for the trauma you’ve experienced. It looks like navigating a legal system that penalizes you for your own exploitation. It looks like talking to other survivors to share stories. It looks sad, and angry, and frustrating, and sometimes joyful and spontaneous and fun and hopeful.
The fact that there are still people being trafficked means it looks like we all have much work to do--we start by looking. I do this work at the Hope House because God asked me to and I do my best to do what he asks. But, I also do this work because I see that woman, the one no one wants to look at. The woman who people are quick to judge and cast aside. I see her. I see her beauty, her courage, her wisdom, her strength, her spirit that hasn’t given up, and her ability to persevere while facing insurmountable odds. I see God’s face in her face. If you take the time to look, you will see her too.