When *Hope took the first brave step to get away from her trafficker, she was a trembling ball of fear, shame, and brokenness. I was only one of several volunteers working with ministry experts that help girls in the sex industry, so, right away my role became supportive in nature. Mainly, to begin feverishly praying for Hope and her situation while the leadership began formulating a plan for where she could go to be safe and protected from him. The following morning, I was one of two women from our team who were asked to remain with Hope until the final arrangements were made for her to go to a shelter in her home state. Hope said she was 19, but for a girl who still carried her childhood blanket and a box of My Little Pony Band Aids in her purse, it was hard to believe. Regardless of her true age, she was a helpless little girl.

We tried to do normal things while we waited with her in the hotel room...eat breakfast, watch TV, chit chat...but when she wanted to take a shower and mentioned that she didn’t have any belongings, it was an awful wake up call to the fact that her trafficker owned her. That was anything but normal.

Any provisions we offered felt like a feeble attempt at trying to replace some small shred of the dignity that had been stolen from her. She suffered a life of sexual and physical abuse long before even meeting her trafficker, so any dignity she may have had left before she met him was most likely finished off by him, much like a vulture who picks clean the remains of a carcass.

Soon, it was time for me to leave. My plane home from Chicago was calling. I was due to meet my whole extended family for a family vacation in the fresh mountains of Lake Tahoe. The juxtaposition between Hope’s reality and mine was not lost on me. As I left, plans were in place for Hope and it was just a matter of time for her to be escorted to her new safe place. I left with a sense of hope for Hope.

I arrived back home into what felt like some sort of alternate universe. It looked the same as my original universe yet it was fundamentally different. Fundamentally changed. The next morning, I woke up to the heartbreaking news that at the last minute, Hope became too afraid to follow through with leaving her trafficker and so, she returned to him. It was a crushing blow to know that this same girl with My Little Pony Band Aids and a chance at freedom would go back to the same bondage and abuse that she attempted to get away from. This was the first glimpse I had of the difficulty that survivors face in breaking free from the emotional and mental control of their traffickers.