Living With Trafficking Survivors: Veronica's Story

“Aren’t you afraid of raising your daughter around all those prostitutes?”

That was one of the most common questions I got from others.

First, I had to correct them. The term “prostitute” is all wrong. You could use “prostituted person” or “human trafficking survivor” - either would be more accurate. In most people's mind, the word prostitute conjures up images blurred between Julia Roberts in Pretty Women and a hardened criminal who will rob you blind if you blink. Neither could be further from the truth in my experiences.

You see, for years, my husband and I ran the only safe house in the State of Hawaii for survivors of human trafficking. We specialized in providing women and children a safe place to heal and get back on their feet. Some came from labor trafficking situations. They had worked hard for visas and paid thousands of dollars for internships at US businesses, only to discover they had been tricked and manipulated into working 40, 50, 60 hours a week for only a couple dollars per hour. If they were paid at all. Scared and intimidated by the threats of their employers, unfamiliar U.S. laws, language barriers, and not knowing who to ask for help, they were trapped in these situations for months to years.  

Most of the ladies that came to us, however were American citizens from the exploitative sex industry. The sex industry tries to portray itself as simple business agreements between consenting adults, but it doesn’t take long to see through that façade. Middle of the night phone calls requesting help; embracing a young woman whose pimp’s shoe prints are still clearly visible across her broken ribs, holding another girl’s hands as she awaits the results of HIV testing, standing strong with each woman when her pimp issues death threats and calls for others to hunt her down for putting him in jail. Reassuring the young woman that “No, the church will not burst into flames when you walk in”; holding the young teenager when she finally realizes the man who proclaimed love for her actually uses all the same lines and tactics the other pimps do… it’s just a well-rehearsed script for manipulation.

Once I learned of the reality of the sex industry, there was no way I could remain inactive. Without dedicated safe houses in Hawaii and hundreds (if not thousands) of trafficking victims across the islands, the only thing I could think of was to bring them home.

So, for the better part of 10 years we have lived with trafficking survivors.

Sharing our home, our meals, our lives, and our time with these beautifully strong women. They have been my best friends on the worst days. We have cried together, argued with each other, ran races together, cooked dinner side by side, prayed and searched for other girls in the middle of the night , and we’ve held each other and cried over our miscarriages.

Initially, I was shocked by other people’s assumption that I would not want my daughter raised around these brave souls. It never even crossed my mind to stop caring for others because we were having a baby. I loved these girls as my own daughters (even though some were older than myself). I had spent countless sleepless nights praying and worrying over their safety and protection. I would (and often did) fight for them whether it be in the justice system, the legislative system, or simply on the streets.

I was blessed by their presence and support in my life once my daughter was born. If it wasn’t for one girl, I don’t know if my daughter would have ever taken a bottle! She was the only person who got my daughter to drink from a bottle. My husband and I would hide in our bedroom, peering through a crack in the doorway, watching in awe as she softly encouraged our daughter to try the bottle and our daughter finally accepting.

When I returned to work after maternity leave (yes, both my husband and I had full time jobs outside of this ministry) I would be in that mom-zombie state, feeling like I was going to die from not sleeping through the night. But… I would get updates of how some of the survivors (many of them single moms) were pursuing college degrees, getting certifications, starting careers for the first time in their lives, scoring scholarships for themselves and their kids – I would get their messages and I would think of them on my bad days. They would give me the energy to keep going. They were my inspiration to get through those tough mom days. Not to mention, my daughter loved all her “aunties” in the house to smother her with attention. She continually asks about many of them by name on a regular basis.

While much of the times and relationships were good, it wasn’t all easy-sailing. Some days I thought this ministry, parenting, and work was going to drive me crazy.

There were sacrifices, there were hurts, there were mistakes and there were some really scary situations.

One particularly challenging and very early morning, we were at the hospital to check in a young woman I had known since she was a teenager. I had picked her up shortly after sunrise from a questionable area. She was in a suicidal state, paranoid, afraid, irrational, and depressed – just getting her to the hospital felt like a miracle. For myself, the simple act of praying seemed nearly impossible at this time, let alone putting my hopes in her actually admitting herself.

As a mentor, there was only so much I could do. I am not her biological mom regardless what we have been through together. This young woman has to answer the admittance questions herself. I remember sitting anxiously in the waiting area off to the side of the admittance desk, praying for the best and simultaneously come up with a contingency plan. My daughter, about 2 years old at the time, is with us and she’s concerned about Auntie. She knows that Auntie is distressed. She’s asking over and over again “What’s wrong with Auntie? Why is Auntie sad? Does Auntie have an ouchie?” Honestly, all of my toddler’s questions on top of the complexities and stress of the current situation was nearly pushing me over the edge. I’m doubting if this was the best idea.

Could I have called someone else? Is this an appropriate environment for my daughter?

There were millions of questions running through my mind.

Finally there was a moment of silence. The next thing I knew, my little 2 year old quietly took the short walk over, put her hand on her Auntie’s hand and stood there silently at her side for the duration of admittance questions. 

I’ll never forget this moment, it’s burned into my mind.

The survivor, Auntie, paused and looked down and the two of them look into each other’s eyes. Auntie smiled for the first time in a long time, then bravely turned and answered this stranger’s intrusive questions about her mental health and addictions. I have never been more proud of either of my girls.

They both knew they were facing a tough situation. They both could have easily turned, cried, and ran away from it. Instead, they realized there was something powerful about coming together and they chose to face it bravely together.

After nearly a decade in this ministry. I’ve personally mentored over 100 women and children.  

I lived with most of them at some point and I can say a few things for certain:

You can’t change someone else’s life without changing your own.

Courage can only rise when there is something to fear.

The injustices of this world can absolutely be healed by the dedicated and passionate work of average people, working regular jobs – women and men, moms and dads, and yes - even our children.

{About This Kick Ass Story}

This story was written and submitted by Veronica Lamb.

Veronica and her family are excitedly awaiting the birth of their second child this winter. For the first time in their 13 years of marriage, Veronica and Lee Lamb are living without roommates (if you don’t count kids) in a cozy apartment in Hawaii. The Justice Ministry continues to grow and serve survivors of trafficking. Veronica now spends most of her ministry time empowering and raising up other leaders to multiply the number of safe homes and safe families. Through her business, Radiant Life Consulting, she coaches other justice-minded change makers and community advocates to prioritize healthy habits in their own lives so they can get fueled up & out the door, actively being the change they were created to be in this world. Facebook Group and Instagram

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