Note: This commentary contains sensitive information that may not be suitable for children.
Tonya was only 12 when she was approached by a man as she walked down a city street. Over the next few months, his gifts and compliments impressed her-and soon, she thought she was in love.
The minute he gained Tonya's trust, the man-who was actually a pimp-took her to another city and forced her into a nightmare world of sexual slavery. She was forced to sell her body to countless men. To keep her in line, the pimp beat her violently. He kept all the money she made-which came to a great deal because, as Tonya put it, "I looked like a baby."
Tonya lost her childhood to this pimp. He controlled her for five years, until he was finally arrested.
Why am I talking about Tonya on Valentine's Day? Because her trouble all started with false love and false promises that exploited a little girl's dreams of romance.
Tonya is not the only child who becomes a victim because she is desperate for affection. Shared Hope International, which rescues girls and women from prostitution worldwide, believes there are as many as 300,000 girls just like Tonya in the United States alone.
These are not girls who have been trafficked from other countries, but girls who were born right here-girls just like your daughters and my granddaughters. They are tricked into prostitution, like Tonya. Many runaways are forced into it-often because they are hooked on drugs. Others, including many middle-class girls, meet men online, arrange to meet them at the mall, and are then drugged and taken to faraway cities.
There, they are sold at hotels, on the streets, and in parking lots all over the country to everyone from business executives to political activists to truck drivers. Former Congresswoman Linda Smith, who founded Shared Hope, says many people know the trafficking of underage girls takes place-like hotel staff and taxi drivers-but they look the other way.
It is a human-rights tragedy, and it is only going to get worse. Our society seems to have an increasing willingness to regard other people as objects to be used and manipulated-bought and sold on the market. This worldview is evident in everything from embryo-destructive research to organs bought from the poor by the rich-and little girls bought by adult men.
As a society, we have come tragically far from the Christian worldview, which says all of us-no matter what our station in life, no matter how poor or small or helpless-are made in God's image and are worthy of respect. Trafficking of children may be illegal, but if everyone turns a blind eye, it is clear which worldview is prevailing.
Tonya was one of the lucky ones. She was rescued out of sexual slavery. Shared Hope is now assisting in her healing; she is finishing high school and plans to become a doctor.
On Valentine's Day, when we typically think of our one true love, I hope you will also think about people like Tonya, whose desire for love is tragically used against them.
You can contact Shared Hope to find out how you can help stop the buying and selling of our little girls-and help bind up the broken lives of the victims. Come to our website or call us here at BreakPoint (1-877-322-5527) for information.