Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Five

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 ::: ENGAGING :::

Featuring Gina Pantzlaff, Milwaukee Child Welfare

“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” - G.K. Chesterton

A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation/sex trafficking (Part One, Part Two, Part Three - Interview with Emily Matson, Vintage Pearls, and Part Four - Interview with Katie Linn, Exploit No More). I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks.

Our interviews wrap up for this series with my dear and beautiful friend Gina Pantzlaff. After meeting Gina in 2004 at college, I have been beyond blessed by her company, even getting to be one of her roommates my senior year of college. It’s been startling watching where God has taken her, how He’s used her, and how He’s glorified through her.

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Gina graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with BAs In Psychology and Theatre. Upon graduating she toured around the upper midwest with two children’s theatre companies, “The one thing I noticed while touring, “ writes Gina, “was that all children need the same thing - a sense of love and belonging.” She goes on to say,

“For me, being raised in a safe and stable household, I have always had this feeling. Not only did I have my family and friends giving me this love, I also had my Savior to help guide me. I decided I wanted to help others feel a sense of belonging and safety, so I looked into becoming a social worker. I felt I would be able to help strengthen families and a child’s sense of belonging, so for the past three years, I have been working for a nonprofit agency in Milwaukee. I started there as an Ongoing Case Manager, an area where we worked with parents to create a safe environment for their children so they could be returned to them after being in and out of home care. After working in Ongoing Services, my focus area moved to family connectedness, playing an active role in developing and creating father engagement programs and family connectedness programs. I currently serve as an Engagement Coach training and educating my agency on family searching, engagement, and relationship building.”

 Gina explained that her eyes were opened to trafficking and sexual exploitation by her job:

“Since I work with children who have been abused and neglected, working with this population has honestly caused me to have to lean on God more and more. Hearing about and seeing the aftermath of sexual abuse is probably the most challenging because it will affect a child’s relationships for the rest of their lives. I will never forget being at a conference where the main topic was the sexual abuse and torture of children. As I listened to case after case of children being mutilated by all the sexual abuse they suffered and/or being sold among adults for sex, I felt myself feeling sick. I started thinking, ‘Why am I in a profession that this is a topic of discussion?’

That moment was when a realized how important it is to have children connected to positive people so they have someone to go to when they need help. When children are reported missing, it is a team effort, and I’m thankful to have been involved in helping locate some of our missing teens that we believed were being trafficked.

But then I thought, what if we would have had relatives or people who cared about these children looking for them? Maybe we would have been able to find them more quickly versus a few social workers looking them?

Every experience in child welfare was one I have never experienced before. I grew up in a small town, have a wonderful family and church community. No one ever really worried about the safety of their kids in my town. Most of us just had the rule to come home when the street lights came on. If you think about the most vulnerable children in our society, our foster children would be at the top of the list. They have been through traumatic experiences and are not always connected to healthy adults to help them through. They look for someone to show them the slightest bit of acceptance and belonging and they will latch on to whoever gives it to them. To give reference, children in foster care are twice as more likely to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than a US soldier coming home from war! It is not uncommon for me to meet 12-18 year olds who are being prostituted here in Milwaukee or who have been trafficked to other states. Part of my job is utilizing family to help us locate these children.

One thing that amazes me is the children in the system who run away from their safe placements to their pimps. Think about it, they are in a safe location, but run away to the person who exploits them the most. I believe that the reason this happens is because they feel this person understands them and that they now belong to something. It is comfortable for them - that is what they know.

In my first year I wanted to leave. My heart could not handle it. I was consistently having nightmares and not able to sleep. It is still hard to make sense out of how someone could choose to damage a child so much. I have no reason for why God gave these children so many challenges and has blessed me so much. Without looking to God for guidance, I do not think I could emotionally do what I do.

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The turning point for me was talking with a Christian social worker friend who reminded me to look for Christ’s love in every situation. I thought, ‘How did I not think of this? I am the daughter of two Lutheran grade school teachers?!’ As soon as I did that I was able to see Christ in what I did and started looking more to Him for guidance. Although I cannot share what I believe, I can live and lead by His example, treating others with continual love and compassion. To be honest, it has become easier once I started looking to Christ. I have been able to put more of the stress, fear, frustration, and anger on Him. Having someone help me carry the load has been such a blessing.

However, there is always a child, always a case that you worry about, and I have to continually check in with myself on how I am coping with my job. I work with some challenging individuals, but I aim to remember that Christ died for us equally This helps me keep some perspective, as well as the will to continue to do this extremely difficult work. Because I put my trust in Him, being able to go to work with a clearer head, puts me at a good place to talk to the children and families I meet. The way I see it, I will continually look to learn about God’s Grace through both the good and bad in my job.

I do the work I do because there is a need.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21.

Jean-Jean-Coffee-Bean (endearingly so), we are ever so grateful to you for taking the time to share your thoughts and your voyage. Personally, I know your words are not just said, but lived. You hit home a resounding theme: whether it’s through friendship or mentoring (aka discipleship!), fostering, adoption, whatever, the need for relational involvement, in all of its confusion and disarray and baggage, is necessary for engaging the crises of sex trafficking and exploitation, especially when you feel the most inadequate.

If you’d like to read Holy Hen House’s four previous posts on the difficult, but crucial matter of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, they can be found here via these links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. Thank you for taking the time to read and to pray.

KristieSignature

Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Four

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::: ENGAGING :::

Featuring Katie Linn, Exploit No More

“It was then I felt the Holy Spirit saying: ‘You know, Christine, most of My church thinks they are compassionate because they cry or, like you, they feel bad when they see injustice. That’s not compassion—that’s just emotion. Compassion is when you cross the street.” – Christine Caine, The A21 Campaign

A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation/sex trafficking (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks. 

I would like to introduce another beautiful lady in our series of interviews on those fighting sexual exploitation and trafficking (for the previous post featuring Emily Matson of Vintage Pearls please follow link here). This morning, welcome Katie Linn, the Executive Director of Exploit No More—an organization working to end child sex trafficking in Milwaukee, WI.

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In response to the love of Jesus, Exploit No More’s vision is to establish long-term rehabilitative care to child victims of sex trafficking; to build community awareness about the problem; and to help others advocate for sound anti-trafficking policies and legislation. Katie writes,

“First, I have to say that I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story with the wonderful readership of Holy Hen House! We’re currently in the early stages of fundraising and building a plan for the first sex trafficking safe-house for juveniles in the state of Wisconsin! It’s a very exciting time for the Board and the people who support our critical mission. You can learn more about our work and our vision at http://www.exploitnomore.org.

My draw to Exploit No More’s vision is in direct response to God’s call for us to defend the most vulnerable among us. Throughout scripture, we see that Jesus’ love for the oppressed and marginalized isn’t figurative. It isn’t removed. And it isn’t a one-time transaction. Instead, Jesus is present with the voiceless in a way that is tangible and radical, especially given the culture at that time. In my life, I have heard so clearly that my call is to be a resource to all who feel hopeless—especially little girls who, deep in their hearts and minds, believe that their lives have no value.”

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I asked Katie how God had opened her eyes to sexual exploitation and trafficking, how He had moved her feet to action, and this was her response:

 “I was working as an intern for a legal program in Charlotte, NC. Our program offered legal services for adult sex trafficking victims and other victims of sexual exploitation. Most women we worked with were terrified to approach law enforcement for help, but our program offered special protective services that enabled some women to feel comfortable enough to come forward with their stories. My role was to do intake interviews with victims to see if they qualified for our services.  Most women were able to tell the stories of the horrific trauma they were forced to endure with an astonishing lack of emotion. How could they talk about such graphic sexual violence without any inflection in their voice?

I quickly learned that this emotionless response was how many victims of sexual trauma learn to cope and live, day-by-day. One incredible young woman I worked with was only 14. Her response to my initial interview was more emotional, almost as if she was reliving the acts that were done to her as she retold them to me. She gripped the handles to the chair and sobbed and jerked her body around as she told me what had happened to her. She spared no detail. By the end of the interview, I knew that my role in this work was to retell her story and the stories of others girls like her who have been forced to endure such horrific acts.

It’s difficult to listen to the stories of people who have been sexually exploited without being moved. The explicit and excruciating detail of some stories has shaken me to my core. If I’m honest, when I first started doing this work, there were days when I laid my head down at night and wondered why and how our loving Father could allow this evil to continue to exist.

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Even without coming into direct contact with victims, people are often overwhelmed by the very idea of sex trafficking happening in our own backyard. So often, we think of young kids being forced into prostitution as some far off problem, for some far away land. People are surprised, overwhelmed, and hurt when they learn that Wisconsin continues to have one of the highest rates of sex trafficking of minors in the country. Just this past July, the FBI reported that Milwaukee law enforcement recovered the second highest number of exploited children in the nation after a one-night, cross-country counter-trafficking raid.

One night. The second highest number of exploited children in the country.

I often refer to my moments of doubt, fear, and anger as my Habakkuk moments. I say this because my prayers can sometimes turn to complaints, similar to those of the prophet’s complaints to God. In the book of Habakkuk we see him somewhat challenge God when he pleads, “Why do you make me look at injustice? How long must I pray for help, but you do not listen.” (Habakkuk 1: 2-4)

Like Habakkuk, the injustice I often see makes me feel like I should complain to God. “Why do you tolerate this horrible evil? Why do you allow such devaluing acts of violence? Why do you stand idly by?” But in my moments of doubt and self-pity, He always replies:  “…Why do you?”

We all have a part to play. We can pray. Mentor kids or teens. Volunteer our time with friends who care about this cause. Share news stories via social media. Watch documentaries about trafficking with our circle of influence. Give financially to organizations who are dedicated to ending this injustice. Read about anti-trafficking laws in our home state. Attend human trafficking seminars.

At Exploit No More, we seek to build a coalition of people who engage in what ways that seem ordinary—the “everyday ways.” Not all of us are called to work directly with victims or to lead the charge in policymaking, but there are small steps that each of us can take to change the way our families and communities think about this issue. Without these steps, greater, systemic change can’t gain traction. It takes all of us dialoguing about this tragedy to change the narrative for the girls and boys in our own backyard.

For change to happen, we have to take ownership of this issue. It is our issue. It’s hurting our kids, in our community. Rewriting the story starts with each of us—in the giving of our prayer, money, time, words, and platforms. Regardless of how we engage, we must engage. We are His hands and feet, called to love the most vulnerable among us above ourselves.”

Katie, we are so grateful for your presence on this blog and in the Milwaukee community. To note, Katie’s new role with Exploit No More occurred simultaneously with her sharing on Holy Hen House, and I ask that you please join me in prayer that God will equip Katie and Exploit No More as they journey forward. They are exceptionally blessed to have her in this role. Especially if you’re in the Milwaukee area, please take a look to see the ways you can get involved with Exploit No More’s work: Volunteer, Cultivate Others, Parter With Us, or connect on Facebook.

“When we murmur, ‘God? In me, I can do nothing’  – this is exactly the moment when God says He can now do something in us.” – Ann Voskamp

If you'd like to read Holy Hen House's three previous posts on the difficult, but crucial matter of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, they can be found here via these links: Part One and Part Two and Part Three. Thank you for taking the time to read and to pray.

KristieSignature