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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

God4Girls Restores Hope

AG ministry poised to help child sex-trafficking victims

By John W. Kennedy
Sept. 19, 2010

The number of Americans traveling overseas for the purpose of “sex tourism” has declined since the enactment of the federal Protect Act in 2003. As a result of the legislation, those convicted of going abroad with the intention of having sex with a minor face up to 30 years in prison.

However, most perpetrators now look inside the country for their prey. An American caught in many U.S. states for the same crime faces less time behind bars.

As a result of the less stringent sentences, child victims — increasingly comprised of American rather than foreign girls — became readily available in Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities that are major airline hubs. Urban areas that are the convergence of interstates likewise have become heavy sex-trafficking areas.

“A businessman can fly into the city in the afternoon, contact an escort service, have three little girls brought to his hotel room, and still fly out and have dinner with his family that evening,” says Jane Christiansen, founder of God4Girls, an Assemblies of God ministry for underage girls who have been victims of exploitation or trafficking.

Girls are sold again and again at various times of the day and night, turning their earnings over to pimps. Failure to return with the nightly quota of hundreds of dollars can result in food deprivation, beatings and inhumane confinement.

Lisa L. Thompson, liaison for the abolition of sex trafficking for the Salvation Army, says children cannot give meaningful consent to participation in commercial sex acts. Thompson says many girls form an “emotional trauma bond” with their pimps that makes it difficult to flee, akin to domestic abuse victims.

“They are in a position of vulnerability and always it is the adult — the pimp or sex buyer — who has the real power and control,” Thompson says. “Compliance can be a survival strategy.”

 While runaways and homeless kids still comprise the vast majority of those who are sexually trafficked, more girls are being enslaved.

“This isn’t just happening in big cities like New York and Los Angeles,” says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, Va. “This is happening on Main Street U.S.A.”

Just five years ago, Allen says, pimps confined prostitutes largely to city streets and truck stops. Now, most transactions are initiated via classified ad Web sites or social networking sites. Customers can shop from the privacy of their home and have a girl delivered to a particular location.

The market has increased in tandem with the growing demand for and availability of child pornography, which has become more graphic and brutal in recent years.

“There’s a continuing quest for more outrageous, extreme images,” Allen says. “A disturbing number of the guys gratified by these images at some point will reach out to real kids.”

Consequently, the FBI and NCMEC estimate that at least 100,000 American youth are abducted and coerced for exploitation — each year. Sometimes an older boyfriend who doesn’t make his motive known until he has gained trust and affection will lure an unsuspecting girl. Allen says the average entry age for girl prostitutes is 12.

Since being launched in 2003, the FBI and NCMEC’s Innocence Lost Initiative has recovered 1,038 children. Yet when law enforcement officers bust up a child trafficking ring, authorities usually have no place for the youth to be rehabilitated. Currently, there are combined spaces for only around 80 girls at residential treatment facilities in the entire country.

Those who end up in foster homes, group homes or juvenile detention centers don’t receive the counseling necessary to counteract the psychological damage that has been inflicted on them. In addition to the manipulation and serial sex abuse, violent pimps typically rape the girl themselves, and subject them to drug addiction and torture. Yet the girls fear leaving, opting to stay with their captors in order to avoid further violence or possibly death. They believe they only have worth as a sexual commodity.

Christiansen aims to do something about that. She has secured funding to purchase a facility in southwest Missouri where sexually abused girls discovered in the United States can transition safely back into society.

“Our vision is to restore their dignity and usher them from exploitation to empowerment,” says Christiansen.

Mexican prototype
While that may seem like a tall order, Christiansen already has proven she can pull it off in Juarez, Mexico. She has been involved in Assemblies of God World Missions since 1994, working with Latin America ChildCare and Teen Challenge before launching God4Girls in 2003.

The dynamics are different in Juarez, which has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world. God4Girls operates a safe house in the city for adolescents who are under the threat of being abducted or killed. Some of the girls who have disappeared just across the border from El Paso, Texas, have been tortured and murdered in “snuff porn,” depiction of an actual death on film.

In Juarez, God4Girls counsels 100 girls a week, and 70 percent of them accept Christ as their Savior.

There are four components to the ministry: Scripture, sustenance, schooling and skill. Girls participate in Bible study and learn how to pray. Their medical and nourishment needs are met as they learn how to grow their own food in a garden. A customized education program is designed for every resident. And they are taught specified marketable vocational skills relating to computers, sewing, painting, music or purse design in order to become self-sufficient.

“These all break the dependency on the person who exploited them,” Christiansen says.

“It’s a well-developed ministry,” says AG World Missions Executive Director John Bueno. “Mexicans speak highly of her. She is intense, sincere and passionate about what she believes in.”

While financed primarily by U.S. congregations, the faith-based nonprofit operates indigenously. It employs five on-site Mexican Christian psychologists who specialize in treating sexual assaults for different age ranges.

Christiansen expects to replicate the Juarez program with a facility in Missouri. The new one will be the first faith-based safe house in the country where victimized elementary-age girls can recover with help from professional staffing.

Just as in Mexico, the facility will have credentialed psychologists able to treat girls who have been sexually exploited and assaulted.

“We only want the girls to stay as long as it takes to be reacclimated with the family — if the family was not involved in the crime,” Christiansen says. “But these children need to recover, and it takes professional help before they can resume their lives.”

“These are very damaged kids who need to be dealt with, particularly initially, in a very secure setting,” Allen says.

Funding help
Peter Kraft, pastor of Eastside Assembly of God in Tucson, Ariz., has invested in the Mexico project. When Christiansen spoke at the church’s missions banquet in April, Kraft committed $10,000 on behalf of Eastside AG to help pay for the Missouri property. However, afterwards Kraft, his wife, Sheila, and board members all independently thought the church could raise more — $50,000 — for the project. Church leaders challenged congregants to give, and vowed to match $50,000 from the general fund. On Mother’s Day, individuals in the church — which averages 775 attendees on Sunday morning — donated $75,000 for God4Girls. With the match, the $125,000 equaled the exact remaining amount that Christiansen needed to buy the $200,000 property before a looming deadline. Eastside gave the money, deferring funds marked for an ongoing building project of its own.

“We need a new church home, but these girls need a new home more,” says Kraft. “People are unaware of how serious this really is. There is such a deeper, darker side to it that is pure evil.”

AG National Women’s Director Arlene Allen, who has been working with Christiansen since the beginning to make the Missouri site a reality, says its central geographical location will provide nationwide accessibility.

“Children need someone to speak up for them,” says Arlene Allen, who plans to keep working on the project after she retires in October. “Jane has integrity and passion in fighting for victimized children.”

Christiansen anticipates that most staff members will be Assemblies of God U.S. Missions personnel who raise their own support.

Meanwhile, Christiansen remains an AG world missionary, working in the United States with special approval by the missions board.

“There are no borders as far as viable ministry is concerned,” Bueno says. “This is new ground for us, but it’s worth taking the risk because Jane is doing it.”

“We need to be in the forefront of this as a Fellowship,” Christiansen says.

NCMEC’s Allen is grateful for Christiansen’s efforts.

“What she is doing will really address a need and fill a void,” he says.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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