Taking on the Child Sex Trade

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Child sex trafficking is a worldwide evil with devastating
fallout for the children it impacts. Current estimates from the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children indicate that
around 100,000 children are sold into sexual slavery each year in
the United States. Other non-profit sources and law enforcement
agencies suggest the number is closer to 250,000. The number jumps
to 2 million women and children worldwide. This is an
epidemic!

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These shocking statistics are disheartening-yet the issue remains
largely invisible to those of us in children’s ministry. And when
presented with this hard reality, most of us feel helpless to make
a difference. It’s easy to feel small and insignificant when it
comes to such a large, horrific problem.

Jenny Williamson felt the same way. She was sitting in her church
worship service when she heard the statistics. As a Christian mom,
Williamson couldn’t shake the sadness and horror she felt when she
heard the figures. After much soul-searching, she felt
compelled-and called by God-to step into the fray, especially when
she learned that child sex trafficking wasn’t only a far-away
problem-it was going on right in her backyard of Sacramento,
California.

Since that moment in 2007, Williamson has worked with a team of
mostly volunteers to build the Courage World Wide Foundation (courageworldwide.org), which
builds therapeutic homes for victims of the child sex trade to find
shelter, safety, a family environment, and healing. This
international foundation has thousands of supporters and donors, a
board of nine, a 90 percent volunteer-based staff, and plans for
significant future growth. Williamson’s foundation is helping these
young victims reclaim their childhood-and their future. The
following is a peek into her cause.

CM: Tell us how God called you to take action
against child trafficking.

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Williamson: I’m from Mississippi, and going to
church on Sunday is something I’ve done every week of my life. I
never went expecting my life to change. But on a Sunday in July
2007, my life did exactly that.

Don Brewster, a former pastor at my church, was back in the U.S.
from Cambodia. He and his wife, Bridget, were there to share their
story. They’d sold everything they owned, quit their jobs, and
started a home for young girls rescued from the sex-slave trade. I
was unprepared for the stories of torture and rape these girls
endured at the hands of people who perpetuate a worldwide,
multi-billion-dollar per year business. I sobbed so hard during
that service that I couldn’t even get up and eave for more than 30
minutes after it was over. My heart was breaking and I kept
thinking, I’m just a mom, what can I do? I didn’t realize what I
thought was a disqualification was exactly the qualification God
was looking for.

CM: What did God want you to do?

Williamson: All through the service I kept
hearing the Lord say to me over and over again, “It’s a home.” And
all I kept saying back was, “Cambodia? You want me to go to
Cambodia?” I couldn’t imagine how that was possible when I had a
family as well as a business.

After that, I tried to shake this heaviness in my heart. I
couldn’t forget that I lived in a world where children are being
sold for sex. I asked a friend of mine what she thought God was
doing with me and she said, “I think he’s giving you his heart for
these kids.”

Even now I remember my response: “It’s unbearable.”

I began to argue with God. “Put a hedge of protection around these
kids. Just do something!” I cried from the depths of my soul. God’s
response came to me so quick, so strong, and so clear within my
spirit that I thought he’d actually spoken out loud: “Why don’t
you?”

His response recalibrated my life. It sounded so simple. I just
wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do.

CM: How did you discover there were children here
in the U.S. who needed help?

Williamson: Several weeks later, my mom called
me, so excited, telling me about a women’s conference she’d just
attended. She said the speaker was starting a home in Houston,
Texas, for victims of the sex-slave trade here in the U.S. I almost
fell on the floor. I was shocked. I had no idea. I thought the
victims were international victims. I had no idea there were
victims here, too.

CM: Describe how you got the idea of a home for
victims.

Williamson: On the Sunday before Christmas in
2007, God woke me, and again he spoke so clearly to my spirit:
“Open the first Courage House in Sacramento for victims.”

Then I remembered God’s words to me during that church service:
“It’s a home.” At that moment everything in my life made sense. I’m
just a mom. But that’s exactly what these kids need-a mom, a
family, and a home.

CM: So you started Courage House, places where
young victims can grow and be restored. You also created Courage
World Wide, a nonprofit, international organization.

Williamson: God gave us the vision to eventually
build a Courage House in every city and country where one is
needed. Support from many sources let us buy a 50-acre horse ranch
in northern California (pictured above), which is designed to house
up to 75 of these child victims.

Around the time we opened the first Courage House in California in
2011, we also opened one in Tanzania, Africa. We’ve made recent
visits to Hawaii at the request of local organizations that want us
to bring a Courage House there. We’ve also received similar
requests from Mississippi and Florida.

CM: What’s something children’s ministers might
be surprised to learn about this issue?

Williamson: Sadly, much of it is in the church.
Many of the victims I’ve met say their families went to church and
that it’s family members who first began abusing them.
Unfortunately-and shockingly-there are men in our churches who
purchase underage prostitutes.

CM: What advice would you give to children’s
ministers who work with children every week?

Williamson: Notice children in your church and
Sunday school classes. Every victim I’ve met at some point attended
a local school and often a Sunday school class. Listen to children.
Learn to identify signs of sexual abuse. This problem is in the
church-not just in other places. The original trauma is early
sexual abuse. That’s what makes these children vulnerable to pimps
and other abusers-men who prey upon them promising love.

CM: What advice would you give to those who wish
to respond in some way?

Williamson: Join with like-minded individuals and
begin to speak out loud about the problem. Become educated. It’s
real and it’s increasing. Become a part of the solution. Isaiah
says, “Use your voice as a trumpet; shout it out loud!”

Tracy Carpenter is a 15-year children’s ministry veteran.
She is a children’s pastor and the chief creative officer for
Kidsworld Studios, Inc. (kidsworldstudios.com).

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