USA (MNN) — News stories paint a picture of trafficking as young women being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Those stories do exist, but Mike Douris of Orphan Outreach says the reality of sexual exploitation of girls and women goes much further. And providing rescue and restoration to victims is as complex as the issue itself.
“When you look into orphanages, a high percentage of girls – and also boys, but particularly girls – have been sexually abused.”
A GLOBAL ISSUE
More than half of all victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation are women and girls, according to the U.N., and almost a third of all exploitation victims are children. In India, 70 percent of all women report abuse – primarily from family members. In Honduras, one in three girls have been victims of sexual exploitation – but statistics are difficult to come by because so few women choose to come forward.
A recent study in Guatemala revealed that 8 out of every 10 girls and women have experienced some sort of abuse. “Usually it’s the more severe cases that end up in the orphanages or in programs that specifically work with those girls who have experienced that,” Douris explains.
In developing countries like Guatemala and Kenya, a very small percentage of girls finish high school. Douris says many end up pregnant and have to make the difficult choice to step away from an education. “Education is such a key ingredient to really breaking the cycle of poverty,” he shares. “Sexual abuse has a lot of unintended consequences.”
Currently in Guatemala, Orphan Outreach supports two ministry programs that specifically target girls who have been sexually exploited. Hope & Future provides sanctuary, education, life skills training, and Christ-centered care for teen moms and their babies. Douris says the second ministry is a government facility in Xela that is home to around 130 girls.
MOVING BEYOND RESCUE
Douris believes providing care for those who have been rescued needs to go much further than simply providing shelter. “The first response we have taken is to provide therapeutic services. Many times these girls are removed from their community and they try to find a place for them to go – and many of the orphanages and residential programs take these girls in with their babies, but do not have adequate therapeutic services.
“The first step to healing with these girls is really more emotional than anything else, and that takes skill and time to work with all the emotional impact of sexual abuse in these girls’ lives.
“And also, if they have a baby, then helping them get to the point where they feel attachment to the child they’ve had. Many of the girls, because they’re so young, because they’re still kids themselves, they have a difficult time attaching to their child and ultimately have to make the decision whether or not they’re going to raise that child or [if] they’re going to place that child for adoption.”
It takes skilled caregivers and counselors to help a girl go through the process of thinking through such an important decision. Douris says part of the counseling is in assuring the young mom that there’s no real “right or wrong” in the decision they make. He says, “Some of the most courageous girls I’ve seen have placed their kids for adoption because they realized they’re not in a place to provide a safe and nurturing home.
“I would do ceremonies where the birth mothers would actually hand their child to the adoptive parents. You have the parents who are adopting crying for joy that they’re bringing this new life into their home, and then you have the girl who’s giving her child to that parent in tears because of that heartbreak, that sacrificial gift. It’s very emotional but also a picture of what love really is, and it’s looking out for the best interest of your child like Christ dying on the cross for our best interest – our eternal life. It’s a beautiful picture of what Christianity’s about.
“But then there are girls who feel that they can raise and they want to raise their child. So they need guidance [on] how to go about that and how to raise a child when they’re so young, and reintegrate into the community.”
Douris says investment is at the heart of all the programs Orphan Outreach supports. “When we make an investment in these girls’ lives, it’s a long-term investment. It’s not intervention that can be done in a few months. It’s really years of working with the children, to help them cope with whatever decisions they make concerning a child if they have a child. But also, if it’s been sexual abuse, how to cope with that and how to move on and how to forgive and how to build a healthy relationship beyond the pain of their past experiences.”
ENGAGING THE CHURCH
Orphan Outreach is now working with ministry leaders in Guatemala to develop a network of care with local churches. For young moms, reintegrating back into the community can be overwhelming.
Douris shares, “They know how to raise children properly and give them the proper nurture they need. But then it’s also the practical things of, ‘I’ve got to make a living, so how do I provide adequate daycare for my child at the same time that I’ve got to be able to develop vocational skills so I can actually have a job that supports my family?’
“And then there’s the issue of relationships – these girls are going to get married at some point. So what is an ideal, healthy [relationship] with a male, because the experience they’ve had has been dysfunctional. They’ve either been through sexual abuse or sexual trafficking or prostitution. They don’t have any positive role models to know how to have a healthy relationship.”
The goal of the network is to provide full wraparound services for the girls. “There’s an African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Douris. “And these girls really need support from many people to make it through the challenges they’re going to face. The Church is the perfect vehicle for that. So we’re really going to challenge the Church in Guatemala to adopt a girl and then pour into them and provide resources, support, [and] prayer to help the girl reintegrate successfully back into their community.
Douris says there are a number of ways people can invest in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children who have been impacted by trafficking and sexual exploitation. The first is prayer.
“Praying for the children we’re caring for and the programs we support around the world, and praying for our staff on a daily basis. The work they do is really amazing work, but it drains a lot out of them as they serve. Pray for strength and also for wisdom, because these issues and the pain these kids have gone through – it takes a lot of wisdom to know how best to meet their needs on a daily basis. Prayer is such a powerful force in providing for these kids.”
Sponsorship is another way to get involved. “You have to hire very good quality staff to get good quality results. So sponsorship is a way that, not only can you connect with a particular kid and pray for them, but that money is pooled to provide the resources and expertise needed to meet their needs.
“The other is to go on a trip,” shares Douris. “I think to be able to meet these kids and see the strength they have, the hope they have, and the power of relationship is such an encouragement to these children. So if you have the ability to be able to go on a trip to develop a relationship with the children, to get connected, you can pray more thoughtfully but also be an encouragement to them.”
Learn more about Orphan Outreach ministry efforts, and join them on a mission trip in 2017.