PHOENIX (Mennonite Mission Network) — After going outside to meet a casual friend who had driven up with two older men, 15-year-old Debbie* of Phoenix was pushed into their Cadillac. As the car sped away, the men tied Debbie up and threatened her.
Debbie’s captors drove her around the city for hours, until she was confused and exhausted. Then they raped her. To “break her” in preparation for prostitution, the men put her in a dog kennel and subjected her to further abuse.
Then men started arriving at all hours of the day and night – arriving for Debbie. Her ordeal went on for over 40 days before police, responding to a tip, broke down the door to the apartment. They found Debbie, terrified, hiding under the bed.
Lisa Hostetler, of Hartville, Ohio, is a member of Hartville Mennonite Church. Before DEO, she previously served with Mennonite Mission Network's Service Adventure program.
DEO is a partner program of Mennonite Mission Network, helping participants grow as disciples and develop as leaders. Four of DEO’s 12 months are spent intentionally developing faith within community. The first two months, participants live in a household with worship and spiritual development at the heart of daily activities. During the final stage, individuals return to their home congregations where they serve a two-month internship and share what they’ve learned.
Many girls like Debbie end up with Arizonans for the Protection of Exploited Children and Adults (APECA).
Lisa Hostetler, a current DEO (Discipleship, Encounter, Outreach) participant, has been working with girls like Debbie during her service assignment at APECA.
“I have become more and more aware of the tragedy and just plain sickness and lack of respect for human life that comes with human trafficking and forced prostitution, especially with teens,” she said.
Janet Olson, executive director for APECA in Phoenix, has begun a campaign to build Natalie’s House, an eight-bed home to support girls ages 11-17 who are escaping from sexual exploitation and abuse. Teens at Natalie’s House will receive shelter, food and clothing and take part in an intensive recovery program to help them make the transition to a normal, healthy life.
Hostetler is assisting Olson in conducting support groups and raising funds for Natalie's House.
According to Olson, there are a couple of homes already in place for adults in the Phoenix area. But younger girls are left to detention centers and foster homes. Natalie’s House will be a safe haven with an internal classroom and courtyard so the girls can take classes and be outside without having to feel uncomfortable about who sees them and attending school with their peers.
The name Natalie’s House was inspired by Natalie Grant, a popular Christian singer. Grant has seen human trafficking first-hand through travel to India and been inspired to speak to teen girls about self-esteem. APECA got permission to use her name for the house and Grant will even help raise money for the program.
Donations have been pouring in for the home. They have a piano, dinning room furniture, bookcases, books, bed units, mattresses and all the building materials and labor for the house. APECA has all the resources needed to complete Natalie’s House, except the land, but employees and volunteers are working to raise money to purchase property in Phoenix.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is very common among both youth and adults who have experienced abuse and life-threatening situations are common among the sexually exploited. Current support groups are in place for girls and adults who are self-injurers or have been sexually abused or exploited. Scrapbooking a collage is one exercise the girls have used to express their life in the past and present. All group sessions and materials are free.
Hostetler said, “I have heard many stories that have ripped my heart open … and I have sensed the hopelessness that people have who have been working with these issues for many years and seem to get nowhere.”
It will take much more than one home to meet the overwhelming demand for safe places where exploited youth and adults can go. However, every saved life is a community achievement.
Girls like Debbie now attend group support sessions with others who accept them. They talk about how anything that happens between an adult and a child is the adult’s responsibility. Why should their situations be different?
This is not their fault. They are not guilty.
*Pseudonym to protect her identity.