By: Katie Sobiech
Not too many people would want to walk the streets of Akron’s most crime-ridden, strip-club-dotted areas past midnight, but RAHAB Ministries does.
Fear of any possible danger doesn’t stop them. They pray and go to the most lost, hurting people in this area.
RAHAB Ministries Founder, Becky Moreland, has been doing this for almost 11 years.
Lately, the ministry has begun to focus even more attention on providing a way of escape for women caught up in the human trafficking industry.
Nefarious: Merchant of Souls
“We recently watched a documentary called Nefarious. It clicked in our head that the women we serve are trafficked, vulnerable and someone is exploiting them – be it a pimp or drug dealer…They’re trafficked and lured onto the streets. It’s not just a choice,” Beth Blackburn, on staff at RAHAB, said.
Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, is a new documentary that exposes the disturbing trends of modern day sex slavery, while offering hope.
“You mostly think that it’s in other countries, but people don’t realize it’s happening right here, literally on this street, on these roads,” Amy, a former prostitute, said.
Walking the Streets
Amy, once a prostitute and drug addict, whose life has been transformed, remembers seeing RAHAB volunteers when she was still trapped in her addiction.
“I remember Friday nights I would just see them walk – a group of them together. They would have 2 or 3 men with them for safety. I was one of the ladies they walked up to, and they would just stop at the side of the road and pray with us,” Amy said.
As for their routine, Blackburn says, “We meet here (at the RAHAB home) and suit up, pray, put our ‘armor’ on. We go out, with no particular route, and as we meet women we give them a bookmark with the ministry info. and ask ‘Can we pray for you’? And we get their name and information.”
And if you didn’t think that was bold, they even go inside of local strip clubs, that is… if they are allowed in.
“There’s some strip clubs up here and we’ll pray for the girls if they’ll let us in. Sometimes they’re working and it’s impeding with business. They don’t really like us coming in there but we do,” Blackburn said.
Right Next Door
Often, when hearing about “human” or “sex trafficking”, people envision it happening in far off, distant lands. Not here. But the truth is, it is here, it may just come in different “packaging”.
“It looks a little different than overseas. You don’t walk down the street and see brothels where you have lines of girls hanging out prostituting, or being prostituted. Here you do see the girls, but maybe at a house,” Blackburn explained.
“There’s a man controlling her and he doesn’t need to say a whole lot to control her, she’s already broken. The chances are she has a history of sexual abuse. Right there, the marks are already against her, and now there’s a man telling her maybe not to come home until she has ‘X’ amount of dollars,” she continued.
“People don’t realize that there are women out here enslaved in addiction that are 15, 16 years old, out here prostituting. Their pimps will dress them up as if they’re 21, 22 years old and you couldn’t tell,” Blackburn said.
How it Starts
Blackburn says that one entry into prostitution and trafficking is strip clubs.
“If you can get a girl dancing, and to take her clothes off, maybe eventually you could get her into prostituting. And it just spirals downhill,” she said.
Pimps “capture” the girls mentally, to do what they want them to do physically.
“I know, being a previous dancer, that’s where it started,” Amy said.
It’s easy for vulnerable targets to be snatched right up, due to the ideas sounding promising, being offered “modeling” or other jobs.
A Whole New World Wide Web
Opportunities are endless when it comes to the internet… Making it easy for just about anyone to hop right on and form a connection, based on lies.
“[Name withheld] is a webpage set up like Craigslist, but it’s selling sex,” Amy said.
It’s also known as a place where one can find a slew of minors.
“I talked to a girl who was working off of [Name withheld], setting up appointments on her own, but really it was her father pimping her,” Blackburn said.
“Another thing we hear is women setting this up for their daughters – a woman who’s in addiction setting this up to have her young daughter prostituted,” she continued.
“I’ve seen mothers and daughters (both listing on these web sites),” Amy said.
“(Pimps) will also have a minor staying in a hotel and bring men in,” Blackburn added.
Cracking Down and Using Code
But, cops have caught on, so pimps have learned to become more secretive.
“They’re getting hip to that because cops are patrolling and looking at it,” Blackburn said, “So they’ll use all sorts of lingo to tell you the girl is underage. It will be hidden in ‘code word’ description of the girl.”
“Young and beautiful,” Amy chimed in.
And this has no cultural lines. It’s happening in the suburbs, it’s happening here…
And Amy and Blackburn have noticed, punishment isn’t normally equal for men and women.
“A lot of times the girls will get arrested in the act and there will be a john and a girl and he gets a slap on the wrist and gets his privacy. She gets hauled off to county jail, it’s all public record. I can go and take a look at a picture of who’s in jail at any time, but the guy walks away with a fine,” Blackburn said.
At the click of a button, “Operation John Be Gone” shows photos of all female prostitutes, but the men walk away with no record of what they’ve done.
“The City of Akron would always post (photos of women), but it would never be johns, always women,” Blackburn said.
A Way Out
The women caught up in this sick cycle need a fresh, new start, and a hand to hold as they try to untangle themselves from such a messy way of life.
One of RAHAB’s newest endeavors includes plans to open a safe house for women. They are currently looking for a house and land.
“We’d like to start out with about 12 beds to take women off the streets. It would be a long-term program, maybe a year, where they can heal in a more rural setting. A residential facility,” Blackburn said.
Their current home is not a place for the women to live, but provides rape crisis intervention, healing, grief recovery and discipleship.
They can always use volunteers from churches, prayer, and people that are healthy enough to mentor the women one-on-one after they leave a facility.
“We would like to partner the women up with someone, maybe a life coach,” Beth said.
As they continue to touch lives every day, bringing a new spark of hope to women’s lives, they need others to come alongside of them.
Amy may have never left her old ways, if it wasn’t for RAHAB, and their sharing the Gospel of good news with her.
“Everyone calls my friend Angel a Jesus freak. Well, I went and got a shirt that says ‘Jesus Freak’ cause that’s who saves me every day,” Amy smiled.
For more information on RAHAB, visit their webpage http://www.rahab-ministries.org