To many children, a trip to Walt Disney World is like a childhood rite of passage. But when your childhood is rife with trauma, exploitation and instability, moments like a trip to Disney World take on a whole new meaning.
For a young teen like Ruthie who can hardly remember a time in which she did “normal” girl things – like playing with dolls, dressing up like her favorite princess, or going to the mall with friends – a visit to the “Happiest Place on Earth” is an opportunity to be a typical teenager. To be carefree. To be enchanted by the fun and wonder of a place as magical as Disney, and to enjoy it all without the added dread of knowing once the day is over, she will be expected to “pay” for it with her body.
Ruthie’s story of healing and wholeness is still being written, but already in the time since she has been in the care of One More Child, her life trajectory has completely changed. When Ruthie first came to our safe home for victims of sex trafficking, she was angry. Years of abandonment and loneliness bubbled over into feelings of dejection and worthlessness brought on by months of trafficking and exploitation. For Ruthie, life had been one hardship after another, having been left at a young age to fend for herself, without any real parental supervision or family support. She understood firsthand the uncertainty of not knowing where she would spend the night, simply because she’d lived it.
Then, just when she’d found a place that felt like home with a caring older couple, it had all fallen apart. A relative of the couple took advantage of her vulnerabilities and began trafficking her for sex. Afraid to speak up about what was happening, Ruthie began acting out in anger and running away, until finally, her behavior forced the couple to make a harsh decision – to put Ruthie out of their home.
She found herself alone again, and even angrier at being exploited and misunderstood. She turned to the only semblance of “love and care” she had left – her trafficker. Thankfully, God intervened in the form of a child protective worker, who rescued Ruthie and placed her into care at One More Child.
Which brings us back to start of our story, and a day at Disney World – a day several months in the making for Ruthie and the other teenage girls like her living at our safe home. A day that represents more than just a fun outing at a theme park. This trip represents a milestone moment in a long journey towards healing and restoration. It is a moment in which Ruthie, and other young survivors like her, can actually enjoy a day in the life of a “normal teenager.” She can swirl and spin in the teacups until she nearly throws up and ride the tram over the park in carefree abandon for the first time in her young existence. She can marvel in wonder at seeing her favorite Disney characters up close, and she can do so knowing when the day is over, she will return to a safe place, where compassionate coaches and safe home team members will listen to her when she needs to vent on hard days, and be patient with her when she lashes out at the memories of her childhood trauma.
More importantly, days like the one at Disney World, are an opportunity for her to let her guard down and let God in. God can sneak in healing through moments of vulnerable laughter and joy – something Ruthie has never allowed herself to do, until now.
*Name changed for privacy reasons