I saw Lisa Dugan in a crowded room the day of the inauguration of the Life Of Freedom (LoF) Center in Miami. It was a humid afternoon and the Center was packed with colorful people and journalists trying to get a hold of her and the director of LoF, Jorge Veitia. Veitia’s purpose is to help rescued victims of sex trafficking to gain independence in the job market.
A camera crew was interviewing the gorgeous 41 year old blond and I waited to meet the survivor of this horror that is happening in our own backyards.
Lisa was wearing an elegant black dress and looked excited and nervous at the same time. She mentioned that she is not used to get this kind of attention. No one could ever tell that this radiant woman was once a prostitute struggling with drug addiction. A pariah that lost all she has ever loved in life: her family and two children.
“I was sexually abused when I was five years old”, she said with a clear voice. I can’t imagine how hard it is for someone to tell bluntly all the bad things that happen in their lives; however, Lisa’s story is different. Her message to other abused women is that there is hope at the end of the tunnel and no matter how low it has been emotionally; mentally or physically there is healing and restoration process through God’s love.
Riding a bike in her very nice neighborhood, being “watch over” by her older brother (“I guess he didn’t do a good job”, now she jokes) Lisa was raped by two neighbors who told her that if she talks, they will kill her family. So she didn’t.
“My mother was at home that day. My house was the biggest on the neighborhood. I grew up with a nice family, was a spoiled girl, I had a good life but I grew up with a very low self-esteem”, said Lisa. “I hated my mom because I felt that she didn’t protect me so at 13 I started to rebel myself”, she added.
Even when she was a popular girl at sports in her high school years, the hole in her life already started to erode. She met a man at a gas station when she was 19 or 20 years old. “My parents were on vacation. He paid lots of attention to me for about three weeks. He made me believed that he had a lot of money because he drove an expensive car. Then I said to myself: “this is life, I want this”, recalled Lisa.
Growing in a small town in Michigan, the time and money that “the man” dedicated to her was all he needed to seduced and introduced Lisa to a spiral of hell until way beyond her 30’s.
“He told me he was leaving to go to Chicago. He was a manipulator and said that he loves me and I could make big money so I went with him”, said Lisa. The guy gave her heroin but she decided that she didn’t like that but it was too late. She was beaten, raped and he told her that if she calls home, he would tell Lisa’s mother that she is a prostitute. “I didn’t want my mom to go through that pain”, she remembers.
The pimp usually controls everything and in order to subdue their victims, they had to crush them physically and emotionally until they are submissive and fearful. That happened to Lisa over and over.
“At one point, he made me go to work at truck stops. I started to conform to that life”. But deep inside Lisa wanted to scape. She recalls one day seeing a police while she was working as a prostitute in Indiana and she said to herself “this is my chance”. She jumped out of her pimp’s car and ran to the policemen. “The pimp came behind smiling. I didn’t realize he had so many connections with local police. It seems that everyone in the town knew him”, she said.
Finally her pimp was arrested. She was 26 but the damage was already done. Lisa was addicted to heroin and crack. “I met another guy, he was a drug dealer. Every time I met somebody worse. I though he was my hero because he didn’t hit me but all he wanted was that I buy drugs from him”, Lisa told me.
Between 26 and 37 years old she tried to stay clean going to rehabs and AAA meetings. She even stay sober for 4 years, worked and had her first child, a boy, but his addicted mind didn’t allowed her to recover. “My son had to be adopted because of my addiction. Child Protecting Services took my child from me. It was a long battle. Drug traffickers made difficult for me to stop using drugs because they kept feeding me with them”, she recalls.
Even when Lisa didn’t have a pimp, she was controlled by drug dealers. At that point Lisa didn’t have any ambition or hope so she went back to do what she was used to do, prostitute herself. “I have met a pastor at the program ‘Teen Challenge’. It was a ministry to reach people like myself every Friday on the streets”, said Lisa. “He told me about the program and he was surrounded by happy people that wore my shoes”, she emphasized.
In 2009, after a year-long recovery journey Lisa graduated from Teen Challenge program. “I remember thinking: ‘now what I am going to do? I have burned so many bridges”, she said. But the program was more than receiving Christ as her savior “and stuff like that”, in her own words. They helped Lisa to build her character and find peace and happiness. However, she made one big mistake when she went back to the world: staying on the same area. “It took me sixth months to find a job”, she remembers. Only her mother and another lady helped her. “I went to church but all of them had their own lives. I worked and even became a manager in a couple months but I made a mistake getting pregnant again. My daughter Heaven was also adopted because I went back to prostitution”, said Lisa.
A much needed network
The network that a survivor like Lisa needs to overcome their past wasn’t there. “I didn’t have support and that is important for girls to leave prostitution”, she said. Finally Emily Fitchpatrick, founder of Fields of Hope (FOH), a Christian program from On Eagles Wings Ministry and Kim Kearn, managing director, took her and help her through their same programs that will be implemented at the LoF Center in Miami.
“They believed in me”, said Lisa, who now helps other girls that have been in her shoes. “I am so different. I know is God. When I pour myself in them (the girls), I feel strong”, she added.
Fields of Hope work with the survivors on different programs designed to help them regain working skills. The girls also manufacture products such as candles, make up and jewelry and keep the profits for themselves. The sense or worth and productivity is a key factor in this process.
Emily Fitchpatrick told a true story the night of the LoF center inauguration that describes this feeling: “A girl from the program was paid $200 dollars for the first merchandise she made and sold. Then I saw her ironing the bills and I asked her why she was doing that? She answers me: ‘it is the first time I earn money without having to prostitute myself for it”.
Lisa goes twice a week to the center in North Carolina to work and also supervised the girls on weekends. “I just go to the movies and sometimes just hang around with them”, Lisa pointed out. “It is important to win them by love”, she added. Also is important to talk about what they have been through. The Center has a therapist that work with the survivors. “We are proud to say that almost all girls never went back. We have great success stories”, said Emily Fitchpatrick.
Lisa is one of them and she is telling her story whenever she can to create awareness. “They are seducing our girls, drugging our girls. It could happen to anybody”, she said.
As for Lisa, to be at this point in her life, she had to endure gang raping, being stabbed by his pimp, pointed with a gun, imprisoned many times, having their children taken, separated from her family and many other horrible things, but with FOH she had the chance of a new beginning. “At the program they made me realized that I was a victim”, she manifested. Lisa said that the programs do not impose religion, but they show true love. “As they used to say: ‘you don’t have to believe in God, but God always believe in you. “I am amazed. God healed me and I don’t care what people can say about me but what He said about me”.
As a mentor, now she is happy and she found her gift while finding it on the girls she helps. As for her children, she said full of hope in her voice: “I know I will see my children Marcus and Heaven one day”.