I was 18 years old when I first felt powerless. I stood, frozen, as a gun was pointed at my head. I was demeaned and called unprintable names. The victim of abuse and sex trafficking, I was repeatedly violated and tortured and then blamed for it all.
On April 15 that powerless feeling returned. That was the day it was reported that 230 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped and forced at gunpoint from the safety of their boarding school, from the safety of their families’ protection, and from the sanctity of the right to their own thoughts, dreams and bodies.
It’s been a month now, and my feeling of powerlessness continues to free fall. Yet without giving into helpless emotions, I raise a voice for the now voiceless Nigerian schoolgirls.
For me and the girls I work with at Living Water for Girls, a residential and therapeutic program for young American girls victimized by human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, we realize that there’s a thread that binds the victimized, whether we’re in Nigeria or Nebraska. That is why I’m convinced that Boko Haram, its lieutenants and foot soldiers have already begun exacting physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse on them.
I know from personal experience that their suffering cannot be described or even fully comprehended by most, because there is not a suitable context in which to frame the evil that has taken up residence in their young lives.
These beautiful schoolgirls are not commodities; they are not political pawns; they are not throwaways: They are children. They are our children. We here in America are kin to them—not by lineage but by counting ourselves as members of the human race. Because of this connection, I urge Americans to remember them, and to continue to support the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, even as the news fades from the headlines.
In my work at Living Water for Girls with survivors of human sex trafficking, I talked to girls and young women about the atrocities being carried out on their sisters across the seas. They knew firsthand about these horrors. After all, many of them have been abducted, lured or tricked by traffickers (or pimps as they’re known in the streets), and suffered indescribable crimes that rendered them mindless, bodiless and spiritless, too.
Our girls spoke of the stolen and sold girls and women here in America who go unnoticed, unnamed, unimportant, every day. Many of them will never make it back home because they were overcome by the drugs that made them compliant victims or because that last beating or merciless thrashing behind the dumpster was, indeed, their last.
As I listened to them, my heart could feel that they were grieving for the Nigerian girls and wanting desperately to help rescue them from their worst nightmare. Survivors here in America, they wanted to extend some measure of solidarity to their kidnapped sisters in Nigeria, and a gesture of hope to their families who pray day in and day out for news of their safe return. Their longing to fight for the schoolgirls and themselves ignited in me a new sense of urgency as to why we must remain a beacon of hope in a world where the darkness of human sex trafficking is robbing and devastating the lives of girls and young women in communities we call home.
Lisa C. Williams is the founder of Living Water for Girls, a program of Circle of Friends: Celebrating Life, a nonprofit organization. She is the author of Beautiful Layers: Stories From Those Who Survived the Life of Prostitution and Child Sexual Exploitation.