When Sexual Exploitation has a Face

Stephanie’s Story

I still remember the day the first memory came back to me. I was in my late twenties – a wife and mother. At first it was a vague feeling of shame, but soon the details surfaced. The hateful words, the marks on my body, the rape games I played with Barbie as a young child, the strange men at the parties… Being told, “Take this candy, and do whatever he says to do.” I was no older than seven.

I felt sick to my stomach. And dirty. Angry. Sad. Confused.

I had lived my whole life with a painful awareness of my verbal and physical abuse. That was bad enough. But in this moment, as the memories were unearthed, the light came on. The abuse had been more than what I thought – it had been sexual too.

It would be years until I learned that my relative and some of his friends used to run a child prostitution ring. It ran during the time that I was a young child. I was stunned. My memories weren’t lying. My perpetrators finally had faces. And I discovered that my sexual abuse was actually sexual exploitation. I felt like I had been completely unprotected as a child. It saddened and disgusted me.

As hard as these realizations were, they did bring clarity. In fact, they explained most of my life. The alcohol and drugs that I started in middle school. The violence and crime I engaged in as a teen. My erratic behavior that followed me even into marriage and parenthood. My unexplainable tendency to hurt family and friends.

Now these things made sense. I hadn’t simply made a series of bad choices in my life. Rather, I had endured severe wounds from abuse that I now knew wasn’t just verbal and physical but included sexual exploitation as well. Each of my destructive choices had been rooted in this dark secret. It was an awakening for me. An excruciating one.

I pursued inner healing through Christian counseling. This counseling included a theophostic approach which involved my asking the Lord to take me back to the memories. It sounded scary at first, but I really did want to be free so I was willing to take the risk. As God led me into the memories, He revealed to me specific lies each event had caused me to believe (about myself, about God, etc.). This process brought great release for me; it helped me to work through forgiveness and exposed lies that were hindering me. It also gave me tools to keep working through this process on my own.

Reliving my story and inviting God into my horrific memories has been a long, painful, beautiful, freeing, life-changing process. And even now, the process continues. Each day, I am learning who the Lord says I am and am growing in my ability to see myself through His lens.

I’ve decided not to be defined by my abuse, but to be defined by Jesus, the One who has made me new. The One who has held my hand and led me into His healing presence. The One who has empowered me to forgive my offenders. The One who has now called me to carry His love to other survivors.

Stephanie Johnson, Founder and Director of Switch

Stephanie Johnson, Founder and Director of Switch

A Ministry is Birthed

In 2010 I learned that human trafficking was a reality in my own community, taking place at strip clubs, fake massage parlors, truck stops, and even website ads. I felt called to do something about it but also felt completely unqualified. I researched the issue for about two years while pursuing my own inner healing.

In November 2012, Switch officially launched. The name carries much meaning. First, it speaks of turning on a light, which causes darkness to disappear. This is central to this ministry’s mission: shining God’s light upon the darkness of sexual exploitation, thereby causing that darkness to flee. The name also relates to Isaiah 42:16 which reads, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

What Switch Does

Switch is a 501©3 non profit that shines light on sexual exploitation. We fight sex trafficking in Upstate South Carolina through awareness, prevention, demand, intervention, and restoration efforts. Our speaking engagements allow us to teach tactics used by traffickers and to encourage those dealing with sexual addictions to seek help, thereby decreasing the demand for illicit sex. We reach out to women in our community who are involved in the commercial sex industry in hopes of helping them to leave the industry and/or their traffickers.

How YOU Can Help

Besides your prayers for this ministry, there are two ways that you (as well as your church, small group, or business) can lock arms with us. First, you can donate to Switch at www.switchsc.orgEvery gift is an investment in the lives of survivors!

The second way you can help is by investing your time at Switch. Volunteers are an integral part of this ministry, and we would love for you to use your gifts here! We need individuals who can help raise awareness, participate in outreach, and perform office duties. More information is available at www.switchsc.org.

3 Comments on “When Sexual Exploitation has a Face”

  1. Beautiful testimony of redemption! My story is similar, and we also run a charity for victims of abuse, predominantly in religious settings. I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog! Blessings to you!


    • Thanks for reaching out, Trudy! Yes, Stephanie’s story is powerful and I know it’s going to encourage others!That’s so great to hear that you are engaging your community in this way! Blessings to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How brave you are. Thanks for sharing this and doing what you’re doing. He really can heal in amazing ways… I can’t imagine life without Him.


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