The connection between foster care and trafficking couldn't be clearer to me. In fact, I'm always surprised when others are surprised to learn that foster kids are the prime targets of traffickers. I guess that's because I know what it feels like to be unwanted and what it feels like to desperately want to belong and to feel wanted, and dare I say, loved.
Kids in foster care have experienced loss that is far beyond the obvious. The loss of a sense of belonging and being a part of something and belonging to someone is deeper and more profound than I have words to articulate (perhaps because I was left by my mother before I was verbal.) Even if the something and someone to which you belonged wasn't good, the loss is still painful beyond the comprehension of anyone who hasn't endured it. And the sense of loss isn't instantly healed by the new people in their lives.
Being separated from your mother is like someone ripping your right arm off. You don't simply grow a new arm. So just because you get a new mother figure, it doesn't guarantee that you grow a new relationship that perfectly fills the gaping hole left by the one from whom you've been separated. The successful graft of a new relationship may happen, but it certainly doesn't happen immediately, and it sometimes doesn't happen at all--this is especially common when the separation from mother was her choice.
For those who were separated, physically or emotionally, from a parent (in other words, all foster kids and countless others who never entered foster care), especially from the parent who birthed them, there remains a gaping hole. We may be well-behaved, do well in school, and appear, on the outside, to be well-adjusted to our new normal, yet still have a gaping hole in our hearts that we desperately want to fill. Enter the sweet talking guys or gals who act like they want us.
We can be intelligent, resilient, and even street savvy, with bright futures ahead of us, and then BAM, we can become melted butter in the hands of the person who makes us feel wanted. And when that person makes us feel wanted AND loved, we willingly relinquish our personhood to him or her. We yield our aspirations and our voice to that person. We quash our desires and needs and merge completely with the identity of the "unit" we willingly join, all with a level of loyalty rivaling that of a band of brothers in combat. Imagine someone robbing you of your dignity, your personality, and everything you own or will ever own, with nothing more than sweet talk that penetrates the strongest defenses and goes straight into the tenderest part of your soul. That is what traffickers do.
I was never trafficked, but in hindsight I can see how easily I could've been lured in. I'm grateful that I found the belonging that I so desperately needed before falling for the counterfeit sense of belonging that traffickers offer. I found my belonging in the big Italian family that I married into (a beautiful adoption of sorts). I found belonging among the good people and organizations that care for kids and families through my career of helping to manage their risk. And most importantly, I've found genuine, unending belonging AND Love (yes, with a capital L) in the family of Jesus, Who, according to His Words, created me, choose me, and loves me--yes, even me, and yes, you too. I hope that everyone who wants to feel wanted and loved finds those things in their personal and professional lives, but also in their souls, through joining The Family that will never leave nor forsake, or use or abuse them.