Today I attended the sentencing hearing for a local human trafficker. Over the last 2 years since his arrest, VAST (Valley Against Sex Trafficking) Coalition, has sought to work alongside law enforcement and prosecutors by providing stabilizing support for 7 of the victims.
The room was glaringly empty. A newspaper reporter, and a couple other people besides me and one VAST volunteer. This volunteer has served as a support person for one of the victims who was considering giving a victim impact statement. The trafficker had no family or friends present. Though the victims were given the opportunity to come and read a victim impact statement, none came. 2 had something read on their behalf, but none of them wanted to see him, interact with his family or give him their time by coming. One of the woman whose powerful statement was read said “…I lost a lot in my life because of him…I am saying all of these things so that he gets what he deserves.”
I had many feelings as I observed him. So, here he is. The one I have been hearing about and feeling everything from anger, bewilderment, sadness, compassion and more as I have listened to many of their stories that included love, loyalty, deception, dependence, power, violence, manipulation, exploitation, trauma bonds…
The judge said it well as he confirmed the sentence of 30 years, 20 years supervised release, sex offender and drug and alcohol treatment program, and registering as a sex offender: “What you have done is almost unbelievable and the fact that it was allowed to continue for so long…It almost couldn’t be more offensive, and that for most of the process you appear to have no remorse. …Incarceration is the most important sentence to insure you are segregated to protect society…you were adept and manipulating them to get them to participate in your “program.”
Justice. It’s God-given and God-derived. Tonight I happen to be going to an event to talk about the Biblical call for seeking justice. Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission says that to say God is a God of justice is to say that “He is a God who cares about the right exercise of power or authority.” God hates injustice and any impulse we have for justice comes from the character of God. I am thankful we live in a country that seeks, though not without flaw, the protection of proper use of power and authority.
The ladies we have interacted with are human beings who have a voice, honor, and dignity. As the judge provides this sentence, he is declaring something important. Evil is seen and there are consequences. Today provided a small taste of justice and restoration for the women who have endured the atrocities associated with his heinous crime.
Later, after telling one of the survivors about the outcome, I reminded her of the courage I see in her and how I have learned so much from her and how she gives me hope. She thanked me and expressed appreciation for my influence in her life. “…I didn’t think I’d be able to ever walk away from the life and because of you believing in me, loving me, building with me and falling and building again, I am seeing my potential, sister. Thank you.“
God calls His people to join the work. We are His instrument for bringing an end to injustice. We carry it out in the way that we are voices for the voiceless, as we take time for the wounded, as we have hope and confidence in the broken and as we patiently and relentlessly pursue and relate to the victim. God takes them, rescues them, restores them and provides justice, but He chooses to use us in the process. What a privilege.
Today a judge declared a sentence that protected victims, society and even the offender from his deception and exploitation. This was possible because of faithful law enforcement and investigators who identified the victims, detained the offender, and built an undeniable case. And for the last 2 years, individuals like the leadership and volunteers of VAST made efforts to bring support and stability for the victims. It’s God’s justice work, but He invites, equips and utilizes His people in it.
Psalm 10: “Arise O God, lift up your hand. Forget not the afflicted…but you do see…to you the helpless commits herself. Break the arm of the wicked and evil doer; call His wickedness to account till you find none…o Lord you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen your heart. You will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed.”