As I write this article, I’m filled with words that have been locked up in me for so long: I cry like a child, I tremble, and I recall horrible memories. But I still choose to unleash these words. Maybe, just maybe, I think, God can use my tears, pain, and horrific memories to help others have a voice and know that they are loved.
You see, I’ve kept these memories silenced within me for decades—about 40 years. A few years ago, the man who sold me into the hands of others died. All of those painful memories resurfaced and hit me like a truck. I didn’t know if I or my Christian friends could handle the atrocity of the trauma I’d gone through, but I’m writing about my story because I believe God can use it. My hope is that these words will be a like a psalm of the heart for you, readers, who either understand from experience or who desire to understand the reality of sexual exploitation.
Scrub, Scrub, Scrub
I remember exactly what it feels like to be sexually abused. You see, I was sold by my own father to our neighbor and others as a sex toy. At that time, I felt as though I was completely trapped. I felt like a commodity—used goods that were sold to men. Big men, big hands. I was small and tiny. I had no voice—I was gagged. The images in my mind are so horrific. I was repeatedly used by my own father and other men in our town. I felt so worthless.
I wanted to disappear. Maybe if I work really hard, I thought, I can pay my own way to get out of this town. To ease my pain, I would take a hot steaming bath as tears flowed. I scrubbed and scrubbed until my skin was raw. I tried to scrub myself clean from the filth of those big, evil men. I thought I could scrub their rough touch away.
I ended up getting pregnant, but I couldn’t scrub the baby away. I woke up every morning and vomited. My mother got so angry with me that she made me clean up my own vomit. I continued to scrub and scrub, but it just made me sick again.
Eventually my pregnancy became too obvious to hide, so they took me to an abortion clinic that was 260 miles away. My parents acted disgusted with me. They blamed the pregnancy on my boyfriend, but my father knew the truth. He knew, and I knew. I locked that secret away . . . and I scrubbed and scrubbed.
Soon after, our house became a like war zone and violence began to reign. My father threw my head against the fireplace and he threatened me with a gun. Slammed, slammed, time and again. I scrubbed some more.
I finally left the house at 18, the day after I graduated from high school. I walked two miles with only the clothes on my back and I never returned. I hit the streets, selling myself sexually for a meal, a place to sleep, and arms to hold me. My life was a blur of men.
I ended up becoming pregnant again, this time by a man I thought I loved. But he didn’t have time for a wife and a baby. He was on a successful career path, after all. So I ended up having an abortion, once again.
God to My Rescue
One night, I’d reached my limit. I planned to take my own life. I just couldn’t scrub my pain away any longer. And, then, somehow God got my attention. It was as if God shouted at me, I love you! I love you! I was overwhelmed. The love of God that I sensed rendered me speechless.
I was redeemed the very night I’d planned to take my life. God began to replace the lies my father told me about myself with truth. My addictions, the men, the drugs and alcohol—all were now replaced with heavenly joy.
Somehow I knew, even then, that God wanted me to be a voice for the voiceless—for victims of sexual exploitation. I am committed to fight for them. My deepest desire is that those affected by sexual exploitation can live freely in the love of God without the haunting memories that often come after being sold as a sex object—a commodity for another’s corrupt, evil pleasure.
I am still overwhelmed and speechless that God loves me and calls me his. I’ve learned that the consuming love of God gives us courage! Our loving Father never fails us, and we won’t fail those who have been sold into slavery. He hears us when we call. There’s no more scrubbing—God washes us clean.
As a young woman, I was unwillingly thrown into the sisterhood of the exploited. Today, as a counselor, speaker, and author, I am proud to be able to help and be a part of this community. We, together, can be warriors that have the courage to face these atrocities. We can support the sexually-exploited, helping them go on to live a productive, healthy life.
Julie Woodley is the founder and director of Restoring the Heart Ministries, Inc. A speaker, author, and certified trauma counselor, Julie is currently finishing MDiv.