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It was not the fishnet tights, nor the high heels, nor the heavy make-up, that caught my attention one night when two teenage girls walked past me in downtown San José. These are commonplace in front of a brothel on a Thursday night.

 

The short-short skirts, revealing tops and elegant hairdos can be seen on any girl whether she is 14 or 47. Nonetheless, it was not these things that caught my attention that life-changing night ten years ago.

 

What did catch my eye was the fact that one of these two very young girls was so high she could not walk down the sidewalk in a straight line. This one kept tripping over her own long legs wearing stiletto heels, while the other girl worked to keep her friend off the street away from oncoming traffic. 

 

But, before I could reach them, they were gone. Instinctively I whispered, “Oh God, bring them back to me.”

 

Twenty minutes later, they came stumbling past the same spot, on the same corner across the street from San José’s largest brothel. As they passed me, I tapped one of them on the shoulder. “Hola, chicas, como le va?” I spit out in my very gringa Spanish accent.

 

In a daze and surprised by my touch, the girls whipped around to see me, a gringa. “Hola, momma,” they said with a look of relief mixed with desperation. This began a 15-minute conversation that changed my life.

 

Pivotal conversation

I gathered my Spanish speaking friends around us and we talked. We asked about the girls’ families, why they were on the street, what part of the country they were from and many other things I cannot remember.

 

This I will never forget. One of the girls, who looked to be from India, held tightly to my arm and hand. The longer we stood there the tighter her grasp became. She looked into my eyes with such desperation as her fingers pressed into my flesh.

 

My mind reeled. I had my suspicions that we were being exploited.

 

The young girl continued her tight hold on my arms as the other girl grew more anxious to leave, knowing someone was watching them.

 

I asked the girl gripping my arm two simple questions. Looking squarely into her beautiful brown face I asked, “Do you have someplace safe to sleep tonight?” With her large brown eyes screaming at me, she slowly shook her head “NO” and dropped into my arms, her body shaking. I wrapped my arms around her and comforted this small, fragile body.

 

After a few seconds I pulled her back away from me to look again into her eyes. I asked the second question, “Is there someone in your life here tonight that you are afraid of?” She nodded her head “YES.”

 

As her friend pulled her away from me, I can still hear the words she cried to me: “Please keep me with you. I want to stay with you. Please do not leave me here.” She spoke these words until the tips of her fingers could no longer touch mine.

 

She left my arms and was raped the rest of the night in exchange for money, by lust-hungry men who did not bother to ask the girls’ ages, assuming it was consensual and not the crime it was.

 

That was the night I became an abolitionist. That was the night I knew I had to create a safe space for teenage girls who are being sold into prostitution that makes them victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

 

At that time, Costa Rica had no safe house for this population of trafficking victims. At that time, the only police and law enforcement I knew were corrupt and participating in these crimes.

 

Freedom House

 

Today there is a safe place for teen and pre-teen girls who have been trafficked and exploited. It’s called the Freedom House, a safe house operated by the Face of Justice Association.

 

 And what does this have to do with serving coffee to pimps? Well, the countless hours and multiple nights I have spent in front of that brothel were spent serving coffee and cookies to everyone there. I probably served coffee and cookies to the very men who were selling these two girls.

 

And we continue serving coffee and cookies as a kind gesture of hospitality in dark, cruel spaces where everyone is buying or selling something, where bodies are sold for a piece of bread. We choose to love the buyer and the seller as well as the sold. For love is our greatest weapon against the evil that walks and operates in the streets and communities of this beloved country selling innocent children for sex.

 

My favorite author, Victor Hugo, said it best in his epic story about a young mother who sold herself for the love of her daughter: It has been said that slavery has disappeared from civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists . . . . . its name is prostitution.

 

Acts of kindness

 

These acts of kindness and service cultivate our opportunity to confront the other two elements of human trafficking, the pimps — traffickers — and the men who come to buy sex.

 

I have also served coffee to the very same man who I saw years earlier pick up an unconscious teenage girl off the sidewalk, accompanied by a corrupt policeman in an old police truck, and drive off with her in the back seat completely drugged out.

 

This is why I serve coffee to pimps. I believe that through kindness and love, I can impact the life of a man who does not value life and the women he sells at a price. Either way, I am planting a seed of hope. Hope for redemption or rescue.

 

To get involved and support a cause close to our heart to help end child trafficking in Costa Rica, please donate and contact www.faceofjustice.org

See this article in the magazine

To get involved and support a cause close to our heart to help end child trafficking in Costa Rica, please donate and contact www.faceofjustice.org

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