Liberty and Justice
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” Psalm 82:3
Over the past few months, several Courage Girls have been called to testify against their traffickers and other perpetrators. The experience of facing one’s tormentor for hours in a courtroom is unnerving to say the least, and I am sympathetic to those who question the wisdom of having minors serve as witnesses in sexual assault and trafficking cases. It should go without saying that we would never encourage a young woman to testify if we believed the experience would place her in physical or emotional danger; the last thing we want for girls who have endured the horrors of sex trafficking is to be traumatized yet again. Still, there are times when victims are compelled to testify, and the reality is that most trafficking cases collapse without a credible witness.
Although our experience is admittedly limited, we have found that with proper preparation and a solid support system, our girls have been empowered by the process of testifying. Not only have they seen justice served in their own cases as defendants are convicted, their faith in our justice system itself is restored.
During a recent meeting with a member of Congress in Washington D.C., I remarked that children who are trafficked for sex in this country are the most overlooked population I have ever encountered. In spite of nationwide efforts to raise awareness about trafficking, the children who are exploited still go unnoticed. Our child welfare and juvenile justice systems do not identify children who have been bought and sold for sex as trafficking victims. They are simply viewed as runaways or problem children who are “acting out sexually.” As a result, trafficked children are either placed in homes with well-meaning foster parents who receive no specialized training in how to deal with this type of trauma, or they are sent back to the very circumstances from which they were trafficked to begin with.
The girls who come to Courage House have usually cycled through numerous foster homes, group homes and juvenile detention facilities — none of which are specially equipped to care these victims. They have been preyed upon by parents and other family members, by so-called boyfriends who exploited them, and by their clients and customers who purchased them as a commodity.
To say that they are jaded by the justice system is an understatement. But when a vulnerable child is given a platform and a voice, a world of change can happen. For the first time, she can face her trafficker on a level playing field. Cleaned up and sitting meekly at the defendant’s table under the watchful eye of an armed bailiff, he doesn’t wield the same power over her as he did on the street. She has the force of the law — and a tenacious team of Courage House advocates — on her side. As one young woman who recently testified put it, “he finally doesn’t have a hold over me anymore.”
It has been said that justice is the firm and continuous desire to give to others what they are entitled to. For perpetrators, this means a sentence commensurate with the severity of their crime. For Courage Girls, justice means an opportunity to be fully restored in body, soul, mind and spirit.