Necessary Paranoia || Life as a Female

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It was around 10:30 pm and I had just wrapped up a collaborative photography project for an anti trafficking group with a local male photographer. We had done some shots with a model and then we took some night cityscapes of downtown to be used for the website for the group we were both a part of. Afterwards, I went to his apartment that he shares with several other guys to load my pictures onto his computer. It was right downtown, only about a block from where my car was parked. Yet after we were done with the photos, I had to ask him to walk me back to my car.

It’s one of those things that as a woman, you are forced to be painfully aware of. We had just talked about how downtown was a major hot spot for human trafficking, so as an eighteen year old girl, walking a block through a dark ally was just not going to happen. It’s not the first time, and as I leave home for a college campus, definitely wont be the last.

I am an amateur runner. This May I started training to run and I love to take sunset runs down country roads nearby my house. I also love to have music in my earbuds to motivate me and I track all my stats on my iPhone. Yet I can’t really go running on bike trails nearby. Once, I tried to go over to this super awesome bike trail about a mile away and ran for about two miles over the hills on a beautiful day. But you know what? I felt so paranoid the entire time. My mother raised me with a heavy sense of Stranger Danger. I used to have nightmares growing up about being kidnapped. Since I was thirteen, I’ve been involved in anti trafficking efforts and have heard so many stories about girls being raped and trafficked in my own state. And yes, I’ve probably watched one too many crime shows that involve a female runner getting murdered on trails.

If I am single in my twenties, after grad school is finished and I’m “settled down,” I have no doubt that I’ll get a large dog. While I am a dog person, I would get a large one despite my preference for small dogs simply for safety purposes. That way I can go running and hiking and can sleep soundly knowing that even if my pooch is a softy at heart, he/she will scare off any intruder.

Within my first semester at college, I plan to take a self defense class. I also feel the need to get my conceal and carry permit. Which as a pacifist who can’t even watch movies with much violence because she can’t stop thinking of the souls of the people, that makes my heart heavy. Yet I am a young, single female who’s life goal is to work with survivors of human trafficking. I also plan to do a lot of work with troubled youth and women who have been abused, including domestic abuse. It’s not the safest life path to take. Therefore, I have to take precautions while also acknowledging that I could do everything right and still end up in an unsafe situation. (Note: because rape is NOT a woman’s fault. Repeat. DO NOT blame the VICTIM.)

And do you know what? I hate everything I had to write thus far. I hate it with a passion in my heart. I hate that I live in a world where I have to remember to “park under streetlights” if I go to a grocery store after dark. I hate that I can’t walk back to my dorm room by myself after working out at the wellness center across campus. I hate that I don’t feel comfortable going to parties in college because you never know when your drink could be spiked and you could wind up waking up with some vague recollection of being raped.

This is not the world that I want to live in. This is not the world that I want my friends and family to be living in. This is not the world that I want to raise my daughters in. I do not want to live in necessary paranoia just because I happen to be of a certain gender. I don’t want to live in this gut wrenching anticipation that my mentally handicapped sister will likely be taken advantage of in her lifetime because she’s pretty and vulnerable.

No, no, no. This is not what I dream of for myself or for women anywhere.

I dream of backpacking through Europe by myself.

I dream of hiking mountains.

I dream of solo camping.

I dream of going on a cross country road trip in a vintage camper by myself.

I dream of being able to walk to my car at night without twitching at every sound.

Not only do I dream of a world like this, but I want to do whatever it takes to get the world even a bit closer to that goal. Because I do not want to have my daughter someday to have to continually ask men to walk her back to her car. I want my daughters to feel as safe on the streets as my sons.

Am I crazy and delusional? Maybe.

Do I still hold on to hope? Absolutely.

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Meet the Jua Project

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One year ago, I sat in my economics class and I was introduced to the concept of social entrepreneurship. In a nutshell, it’s the idea that you can take a business and use it for good. In that class I was also introduced to the concept of micro-loans and how women being able to start businesses provided excellent returns on investments as well as broke cycles of poverty in third world countries. I have fallen in love with the concept of using business and turning it into something that brings a bit of good to this world. I believe with all my heart in the ability of capable people with big dreams being able to make a real difference in the world. This is the reason why I’m going into Advertising and PR, because I want to be a megaphone for the dreamers and the doers.

Currently, I have the opportunity to partner with a group that is all about dreaming and doing. I would like to introduce you to Jua Project.

What is Jua Project? Well, they are an organization that works with a group of 9 women in Kenya. They teach these women to make paper beads that they turn into jewelry to sell on Etsy and back in the US. They pay these women for their time and teach them valuable skills. Their goal is to make these women self sufficient and able to provide for themselves and their children. Not only do they work with these women, but they have a Bible study that has about 100 people attending. Jua Project seeks to provide hope in every sense of the word.

One of the cool things about Jua Project is that they also have a US base. This is the business side of things. The dreaming and planning and fundraising side of what they do that makes the rest of the work possible. This base happens to be in Moorhead, MN – right across the river from where I will be attending school at NDSU.

About a month ago, I was contacted by a facebook friend who spent a good portion of last year in Kenya working with the Jua Project. She said they were looking for someone to help with media. Well, I can’t say no to doing something I love for an amazing organization! I’m so excited to get to volunteer with Jua and be a part of this really life changing and personal work in the lives of these beautiful women.

Why is it so important? Because this work, this work of training women and giving them a source of income is vital to both ending poverty and ending human trafficking. There needs to be ways for women to bring in money for their families since they are often the most vulnerable and most abused in places like the Kenyan slums. The ability to help these women provide for their families means that their children are taken care of and have a chance of breaking the cycles of poverty. Jua Project keeps these women safe from exploitation, homelessness, and starvation.

If you would like to poke your hands into the work going on with Jua, there are several ways to give. Firstly, you can buy some of the jewelry made by these women. It’s beautiful and you’ll feel a special connection knowing that it comes from these beautiful women who are working so hard to get by. You can also sponsor one of the women for $10 a month (or more if you want… no one is arguing!) or give a one time donation. For sure, get to know these women and hear their stories. I’m sure that they will inspired you even if you are unable to give financially at the moment.

{Also, if you are a creative, then please consider entering the t-shirt design contest. We are really excited to be involving more and more people into this journey and are attempting to give everyone more chances to get involved.}

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As you may be able to see, this is a group that I am passionate about and excited to support. The work they are doing is beautiful and meaningful and being able to fix technical glitches and promote contests for them is something that gives me great joy. Ultimately, it comes down to the saying that I’ve been told has become a mantra for Jua, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

I Didn’t Want to be a Feminist

Courtesy of Hannah Nicole

“I like to help women help themselves, as that is, in my opinion, the best way to settle the woman question. Whatever we can do and do well we have a right to, and I don’t think any one will deny us.” – Louisa May Alcott

 I didn’t want to be a feminist.

Growing up homeschooled, being a “feminist” was a dirty thing. Those were the women who want to burn bras and turn all the fairy tales into woman saving herself. Those were the women who didn’t believe in femininity and wanted to act like men. Those were the women who were ruining our society with over-sexualizing everything.

Then, the strangest thing happened around a year ago – I realized that I was a feminist.

The idea sort of shocked me at first. Not just the idea that I could be in favor of property rights and equal pay – I was never against those things. It was the idea that I was extremely passionate about women’s rights as a whole. I was passionate about the fact that my gender did not make me one ounce lesser of a person in any way than my male counterparts. I was passionate that girls should receive a proper education in every corner of the globe. I was passionate that rape was never a woman’s fault and recognized the horrific double sexual standard that permeates our world. I was passionate about utilizing social entrepreneurship and micro loans to females in order to curb poverty in third world nations. I was passionate about human trafficking victims getting a chance at a new life by not prosecuting them, but the men who sell and buy them from sex.

And you know what? I’m pretty sure I was born a feminist.

I’ve always been a feisty little spit fire, ready to take on the world with as much screaming, kicking, and spitting as I needed to. It’d probably be because you insulted my doll’s “realness” and my maternal instinct just went into overdrive. Please, you can’t blame a kid for having spunk. My catch phrase as a toddler was “Ea do it!” See, I was the type of girl who was obsessed with Jane Eyre at the age of seven. Yes, that amazing piece of nineteenth century feminist overtone literature that involves a plain and penniless governess falling in love with a rich man only to assert her free will to leave him in order to stay true to her morals. Uh huh… that’s what I told people my favourite book was when I was seven. They should have known I’d grow up to be a feminist then and there.

I also really liked hatchets. And chopping down trees. And Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. And worms. And make believe. And fishing. And reading. And crafts. And more reading. And my dolls. And dancing. Even though I was never very good at it. Too much facial expression, not enough coordination. 

It wasn’t just my all-over-the-place-do-what-I-want interests that set me up to be a feminist. It was also what made me passionate, even at the age of six. I was determined at the age of six that I was going to go off to India someday and take care of girls. I was inspired by Amy Carmichael and her story of rescuing temple prostitutes – so I decided then and there that I was going to go do something crazy with my life. My independence ran deep. As did my desire for other girls to live a full life.

 That desire never really changed. 

When I was thirteen, I read a book about modern day slavery and I wanted to do something. So I decided to try to get my church to collect loose change through Zach Hunter‘s Loose Change to Loosen Chains campaign. During that process, I started digging more and more into the world of human trafficking and especially sex trafficking. Not only did I read up on the dramatic problem in India, I came to realize that sex trafficking was a problem in my own backyard among girls my own age. While to many others, I seemed too young to care about the problem, the fact is, thirteen is the average age of entry into prostitution and if girls my age were enduring this – I certainly wasn’t too young to try to help. I wanted to see other girls, not that different from me, live a better life.

My life has not been perfect thus far. In my family there has been physical illness, job loss, mental illness, and many struggles. Yet I have also been very blessed. I have a loving family, always have had food and shelter, and I have been emotionally cared for and protected. All throughout my life, I think I had a craving to get the most life had to offer – and for others to get that too.

Not too long ago, I heard a trafficking survivor share her story. She was seventeen when she moved to Minneapolis and started selling her body; the same age I am now. It breaks my heart every time I think of how astoundingly full my life has been and how much I wish that every woman could experience what I have.

I am an empowered female. I’m educated, an entrepreneur, confident in my body and sexuality, and among other things am able to be myself and speak my mind without fear.

While it took me many years before I could admit to the label of feminist, I know today that I am a feminist not because it’s the “hip” thing to do, but because I truly believe that all human beings have an innate and equal worth. I want to see each and every one of them live a healthy and whole life. I want to see every man, woman, and child come to a right relationship with God. I believe that God’s design for the genders was to make us different, but still to make us equals. I believe that women are created as beautiful and unique individuals – individuals with rights and ability and a voice.

 At the core of my beliefs, I believe we are each created with an innate worth as well as with a broken heart. We live in a corrupt world and we have corruption in our souls. This life is a fight and a longing for something better than what we have and something better than we have ever seen. This whole feminism thing is not even in fighting for what I deserve, it’s in realizing that I have more than I deserve and I want others to receive more than they deserve. I want more for myself. I want more for the women who stand beside me. I’m not ashamed for wanting more.

Ultimately, the term feminist means so many different things to different people. There’s a spectrum and there are so many different ways of looking at the term, yet this is how I define a feminist: someone who is fighting from their heart outwards for something better for women than what they currently have and have ever had before. 

Somebody’s Baby Girl – a Prostitute’s Story

Just yesterday she came home in a soft pink bundle. “It’s a girl!” was her anthem. She was beautiful, a princess, and somebody’s little baby girl. Her mamma had some issues and so did her daddy. She wasn’t an expected baby – in fact, she was the opposite. Yet she was loved. She was tiny with her lanky fingers and precious toes peeping out from her blanket. Her head was full of rings upon rings of ebony hair and her eyes were large and sparkling.

She didn’t stay a baby forever. She graduated to pink dresses and to Disney cartoons. Her naivety was her blessing. Daddy left at year two and another man came in at age three. As momma went from man to man, the little girl thought that was normal. Fear did creep into her as she heard yelling and momma crying from the next room. Once, a lamp flew up against the wall, waking the little girl from her sleep. She simply shoved her fingers into her ears and told herself stories to block it out. Mamma said never to leave her room after bedtime.When she was ten, one of mamma’s boyfriends thought she was pretty. Too pretty. All at once, her innocence was gone. That was the day that she shed her pink dresses and her Disney fairy tales. In her mind, that sort of stuff was not for her but for “good girls.” That was also the day that the void in her heart was opened. That was the day that her craving for love, for the love of men, was unleashed and became her drive.

Push-up bras, mini skirts, low cut tops – whatever she could do to draw some attention at the age of thirteen. Sometimes, she would lie and tell boys that she was sixteen. That’s what she said to him, but he was too smart. He saw the truth about her. He saw her need for love. He saw that she was young and beautiful. He saw an opportunity. And he most certainly took advantage of everything that he saw.

She offered her whole soul to him. She was so willing. Her heart was so hungry. Her body was at his disposal. He urged her to come live with him. He was older. The life sounded exciting. Being his lady, maybe getting to have a few sips from his bottle of jack, and running away all appealed to her desire to grow up. She wrote a letter to her momma, though she doubted her mamma would be sober enough to read it. She packed her bag with excitement seeping out of every pore.

The life she found was not the one she had expected. She wasn’t his only girl. And he didn’t want to be her only boy. No, he told her that if she really loved him that she would help him out on a favor for a friend. She was hesitant. He was persistent. She obliged. The friend grabbed her hand and headed into the bedroom. There were two other girls in there. He ordered them out. If only she knew that it was just the beginning.

“I need you to work.” He said to her one day.
“Okay,” she replied cheerfully as she smiled at him and stroked his hair. “Where should I get a apply?”
“Honey, you need no application.” He smirked. “Remember that friend of mine? He said that you did just fine. That means that you can work like all these other girls do. Just doing some more favors. That is, if you really love me, baby.” His voice was so smooth. How could she say no? She hated being with his friend, but she figured that it was worth it as long as he still loved her. She was getting to drink his jack – was give some cocaine to stay awake from time to time. She was getting her big girl life.

So she did favors for his friends. At first it was just a few men a week, but gradually it became six or seven per night. She had moved from just being inside the cramped apartment to standing on the streets – doing favors in cars that stopped sometimes. “Can’t I just sleep tonight?” She asked Him. He laughed in a chilling manner and just took another swing from his bottle.

Then, he brought home another girl. This was a blow to her ego and most importantly to her heart. Until that point she didn’t realize that the other girls had loved him too. The other girls were just like her. Now she was just like them. No longer the favorite.

“I think I’m ready to move out.” She told him the day after the new girl came. Before she knew it, his bottle was against her head, knocking her to the floor. A string of curse words flew from his mouth as he pulled her off the floor by her neck.
“I’ll teach you to never say anything like that every again.” It wasn’t long before she blacked out. She she woke up as was a pulverised mess. Blood covered her clothes and bruises her flesh. “You’re working tonight,” he stated as a fact when he saw she was coming to. “And if I hear anything less than perfection came from you, I wont be so forgiving.”

This was the first point where utter despair swept into her being. Her soul felt crushed. Her spirit was captured, locked inside a solitary confinement cell. “This is what I get for not being a good girl,” she thought to herself. “I deserved this from the very first time momma’s man looked at me.” So she accepted her fate. She drowned it the best she could. Any chemical that she could throw into her body – she willingly took. Anything to make her not have to feel. Anything to make herself forget.

Her fourteenth birthday was spent with five men and a joint.
Her childhood was such a distant past that she forgot the plots of the Disney movies.
Her life was a doomed disaster.

She started as somebody’s baby girl.
She now is somebody’s whore.