Crowned. When you read the word, what descriptions come to mind? For most, it signifies one who is deemed royal, favored, respected, and dignified. But for women who have been the victim of sex trafficking, being "crowned" has a completely different meaning.
Recent reports show that when a woman is coerced into sexual slavery her pimp will often brand her like an animal, declaring his "ownership" over her body. Traffickers will often tattoo a crown, gang symbol, or money sign on a woman's body as well as phrases such as "Property of" and then the exploiter's name. These women are stamped with a permanent reminder of their exploitation.
Even more sickening, some of those women were children when they were brought into prostitution. At as early as age 12, pimps will get the young women addicted to drugs so that they don't leave.
Jennifer Kempton was one of those women. At age 12, she was forced into prostitution in the city where she grew up, Columbus, Ohio. She was addicted to drugs, beaten, and forced to have sex with hundreds of men. In 2013, Jennifer felt she'd had enough. She tied a rope around her neck to hang herself, but the rope broke.
In a CNN interview, she said,
"God came to me and spoke to me, and he said I have a purpose for you and it's not to die in the basement of a crack house."
Jennifer escaped from the bondage; however, she still had multiple "brandings" from different pimps. She paid to get one of the tattoos covered over with a cross and 1 Corinthians 13, the verse that speaks to what true love actually looks like — the type of love that she now understands that her Redeemer has for her.
While the first covered marking helped in the healing process, she was still left with a few other tattoos that served as daily reminders of the pain which she's experienced. In order to help free her from those weighty reminders, a family member gave her enough money to be able to cover the rest of her tattoos.
After all of her brandings were covered, Jennifer said,
"I am no longer marked with the Name Of, or as the Property Of ... a man that manipulated me, abused me and coerced me into the streets to be a sex slave."
For that reason, Jennifer decided to start the organization Survivor's Ink.
Survivor's Ink is a non-profit organization which seeks to cover the markings of enslavement by offering scholarships to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation so that they may have their brandings covered or removed. Mike Prickett, the tattoo artist at Survivor's Ink, volunteers for no payment other than the reward of seeing women transformed. One young woman who escaped out of sexual slavery worked with Mike to come up with a design to cover up her exploiter's marking.
She had this to say,
"Finally, I'm going to be me again. I'm not going to belong to anybody but God, and that's how it's supposed to be."
For women who have been rescued out of sexual slavery, this is about more than just a cover-up tattoo; these tattoos are a symbol of freedom from the constant reminder of hurt, shame, degradation, and bondage. Of feeling like property and being owned by someone who exploits and uses them for their body.
While tattoos help take away the physical reminders, the only true way for women to heal internally and experience freedom is to meet their Redeemer. God is the only One who fully knows these precious women and was there through every moment of their lives — especially the darkest times where they felt most alone. He mourned with them each time an abuser violated them, misused their bodies and hurt a part of their soul which no person should have the right to do.
Because Jesus Christ came to earth and experienced the hardest suffering imaginable, He is perfectly able to sympathize and understand the deepest human hurts. The presence and comfort of our God during every single moment of our lives is something which no human being will ever be able to accomplish — something that makes our relationship with Him beautifully unique.
Recently, I came across the story of the adulteress in John 8. This story is different from the women's stories above because instead of being coerced, the woman had made the choice to have sexual relations with multiple men; however, a note next to the passage stuck out to me which I believe is applicable to both situations. After Jesus told the woman that he did not condemn her, the writer said this in the margin:
Surely this woman must have been shocked and overwhelmed to meet a man who instead of exploiting her for his own lustful and selfish purposes, showed loving concern and extended forgiving grace. Jesus not only refused to condemn her, but He redeemed and restored her.
Not only does Jennifer no longer bear the branding of her pimp, she can now be spiritually branded with "Property of Jesus Christ." Instead of bearing a crown symbolizing a trafficker, she has now been offered a new crown as a royal daughter of the King. For the first time, someone paid for her by sacrificing His own body — restoring her value and dignity.
Jennifer's story is an absolutely beautiful demonstration of a woman who is using her previous bondage to love on and help free others. There is something extraordinarily redeeming about taking what the enemy purposed for evil and repurposing it to help others find liberty in Christ. Jennifer's example should serve as a challenge to us as believers. Our previous experiences give us the ability to sympathize with fellow victims in a way which others cannot; may we not waste that opportunity. Just like Jennifer and her tattoos, each one of us can take our debris and, with them, create something incredible.