Sonja’s Escape on Human Trafficking Awareness Day
It was 2:00 am and I was leaving Ben Taub Hospital filled with peace and hope and in awe of the Lord’s deliverance. It’s the second hospital I’d been in that day. Earlier in the morning, I joined Methodist Hospital’s Community Awareness Campaign and learned about the link between human trafficking victims and healthcare providers. In fact, 80% of victims have seen a healthcare provider in the previous 6 months. Little did I know I’d be a part of one victim’s experience that very day.
While hosting a Rescue Houston booth in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Day at Methodist Hospital, I received a call alerting me that a victim of trafficking, Sonja*, had been assaulted and needed medical attention. Immediately my colleague and I left Methodist to extract her and bring her to Ben Taub.
During her exit and the hospital in-take process, Sonja’s phone continuously lit up; several Johns (buyers of sex) and her pimp were trying to solicit her. The phone is a trafficking victims’ tether to her traffickers. Her phone emotionally and physically attaches her to everyone who uses her. I tried to gently persuade her to give us her phone so she could rest, yet she refused, frantic and anxious to hold on to her phone.
Wanting Sonja to have the freedom to make her own choices, and having helped her settle into her room, my colleague and I left Ben Taub around 8:00 that evening. Yet at 10:00 pm the ER nurse called to let me know that Sonja’s pimp was actively calling to find out where she was hiding. Without question we needed to get that phone out of her hands.
I called Sonja and told her I would love to get her a new working phone and a charger. If I could deliver on that, would she let me have her personal one? To my disbelief, she agreed.
After standing in the longest line in my life at Walmart for a new phone in the middle of the night, I finally arrived to Ben Taub to make the trade.
I walked in to find Sonja looking and acting like a completely different person. It was if the anticipation of releasing her phone ushered in hope. Instead of crying in the hospital bed, she had color in her face, was sitting up and ready to chat. At one point she didn’t hear what I said and politely asked “Pardon?” My mind was blown in disbelief.
We talked for a bit and she remarked that she couldn’t wait for her new life to begin, yet she couldn’t understand why we were helping her. And without any resistance, we switched phones.
To highlight how available we are for her, I had her call our number and test it out. Our colleague, Naomi, answered on the first ring and asked how she was doing. Knowing that we are reachable 24/7 brought her even more assurance.
As I was leaving, I saw the blue ribbon I had given her earlier still pinned to her hospital gown. I received it that morning from the staff of Houston Methodist to commemorate Human Trafficking Awareness Day. When I gave it to her, I shared that it represented the darkness and trauma that’s inflicted on those like her in this city and that we are committed to their freedom and healing. Jokingly, I told her the pin looked much better on her than it did on me, and of course, she agreed. Now, walking out the hospital doors in the early hours of morning, I am so incredibly grateful to see Sonja cut ties with her past and begin healing.
*not her real name