Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Story of Hope: Abuse and Redemption

The following is a repost from an online magazine for which I had the incredible opportunity to write a piece on a survivor of sexual exploitation that I met during my travels. This story brought to light for me that sexual exploitation comes in many forms and does not only affect women and children.

Please note: all names used are pseudonyms for protection of the individuals' identities

You can find the original article at Wax Ecstatic Magazine. Be sure to check out their other articles on organizations and individuals fighting sexual exploitation.



We walked arm in arm down the regal, crowded, European street. I looked up. He looked down. I was busy looking at the buildings, the lights, the shop windows. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her

Not until he pulled his arm out of mine did I notice her. She looked cold and tired. Before the empathy began to well up in me, my friend had already dropped a coin in her jar and spoken a few tender words. He walked back to us with his hand over his heart, saying something in his language. It didn’t matter what he said; I didn’t ask for translation. I knew exactly what my friend felt towards this woman, a stranger to him. He felt love. Love as pure as any I have seen. Love that drives you to give when all you have to live on is a salary from McDonald’s. Love that is strong because you have been loved. Love that truly knows what pain is, but has hope for the freedom of all.

That is the kind of love that I had the privilege of witnessing in my friend, Ricardo’s, life. I have his blessing to share his story with all of you. I hope that it does all he envisions, and more.

When he was just a young boy, living in a small, poor village in Eastern Europe, Ricardo’s father passed away. In an attempt to shield her children from poverty, Ricardo’s mother moved in with her sister’s family. Days after the move, she abandoned her son Ricardo, though she promised to never leave. Of course, Ricardo was angry at his mother, and thought only bad thoughts toward her. When he received the news that she had died as well, he was devastated, thinking that it was somehow his fault.

Life with his aunt was extremely harsh. She forced him to do chores and farm work for long hours, never allowing him to attend school, while sending her own children to their classes diligently. While he was under his aunt’s care, he experienced constant abuse from family members – even sexual abuse. As best as he can remember, Ricardo was first raped at age 6.

Ricardo finally saw the chance to run away to a big city after getting his official I.D. card at age 14. He tried to find a job – some means of survival – but as is sometimes the case with victims of sexual abuse, Ricardo resorted to the only work he felt worthy and able to pursue after his devastating experiences at such a young age. He found himself living on the streets in a large European city unfamiliar to him, making meager earnings through prostitution.

Many victims spend their entire lives on the move, searching for a better life. For Ricardo, the hope of a better life elsewhere always kept him wandering. Every new destination - though he always eventually experienced poverty, abuse, and disappointment - seemed to hold some sort of hope. At a certain point, though, that hope dwindles away. After being beaten, abused, cheated, and used day after day, Ricardo and others like him begin to feel that their life will never move beyond the current state.

At one point during his wanderings, Ricardo met other people from his home country, and they invited him to live with them. This seemed like an incredible gift, but Ricardo’s growing belief that no one truly wants to lend a hand was confirmed. The men he lived with demanded all of the money he made working in prostitution and beat him when he did not immediately comply. After four months, Ricardo finally decided it was better to live alone on the streets than to endure this type of torture.

He followed his last shred of hope back to the city where he had first worked on the streets as a prostitute.This time, he registered with the government of the country, which allows for legal prostitution, and worked for 5 years before ever feeling that lost hope return again

Everything began to change when he met Angela. She was working with her team on the streets, helping prostitutes in any way they could. Anything from a warm cup of tea to direct assistance in getting off the streets, they were willing to offer. The team had met him a year before, but this time it was different. Ricardo accepted more than just a cup of tea. He asked Angela if they could meet the next week – he had questions.

Ricardo knew that this was his chance. He didn’t want this life, and finally he felt that there was hope in leaving it. Someone was willing to walk through it with him. It wasn’t about a handout or an easy way out. What he needed was hope.

This hope spurred him to turn in his card that allowed him to work as a prostitute and drop his phone with all of his clients’ contact information in a river. Angela’s team helped him to start a new life, find a job, and get medical treatment as necessary. What was more important to him, though, were the people that invited Ricardo into their homes and lives. Never before had he been surrounded by people who wanted him to succeed, to hold on to hope.

Years later, the wounds are still there. Ricardo is HIV positive. This will always remind him of his difficult past, but hope is stronger. Once someone has hope, love can flourish – the kind of love I saw him show to the beggar woman on the streets. Ricardo wants desperately for this story to be shared. Though it is hard for him to recount these events, he sees it as a worthy sacrifice if it keeps even one person out of this type of life. Tears welled up in his eyes as he explained the fears he holds for his young nephew back in his home country, as he begins to talk of moving to a big city. I asked him what he would tell him if he could. Ricardo replied:

"I would tell him the whole truth about what it is like to live on the streets and be abused and misused."

In no way is this an easy truth to recount and share. Ricardo does so because he has hope that his story can help someone else hold onto the original hope that was taken from him at far too young an age.



No comments: