Thank you, God, for Melissa Woodward’s testimony last night about the American sex trafficking industry. I know about the nasty sides of trafficking—I’ve been a part of ministry in a red light district, watched the documentaries, worked with an anti-sex trafficking nonprofit in both Thailand and Cambodia. I’ve known, too, that it exists in America to the tune of roughly 300,000 a year, but hearing about Melissa being molested, forced to watch porn, and addicted to heroin by age five, pimped at six, set on fire after being handcuffed to a bed in an underground warehouse after she told her school guidance counselor what was happening . . . my mind and heart are more opened to the realities of it. “A single death is a tragedy” indeed.
Thank you for carrying Melissa that whole time she was being used, her body abused and twisted. Thank you that she speaks out to us, recognizing the power of voice. Thank you that so many people were there to hear about your providence
I’m sorry to be critical—you know I can’t help it: “will what was formed say to He who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”—but would you mind slapping those Christians who bookended her talk, God? Nicely, of course. Like with the power of the Holy Spirit and intention of further sanctification and all? Because Melissa finished her talk with this beautiful call to just action—to speak out, to ask questions, to look for the oppressed and get involved—she was specific and bold. She was inspiring. Then your people—okay, okay our people—got up there and chopped down her life’s story to fit into a little box about freedom in Christ with a tiny addendum about legal help for anyone who “needs it for this kind of thing.”
Haven’t we done enough to the stories of the oppressed? Manipulating sex trafficking narratives into melodramas? Paring down multifaceted women into one identity (sexual slaves) in three hundred words to elicit more donations? Forcing the sexually harassed to “pitch” us their stories so we can “buy” them—or not, depending on our own shallow experience? And then we’re going to use Melissa Woodward’s testimony—which didn’t exactly ignore the fact that it was God who miraculously deleted her 22-year heroin addiction in order to get her back in his arms—for a five-minute proselytization session on a campus near-saturated with Christian groups?
One of my least favorite parts of high school was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And this is not because I believe the book did bad work, inciting its readers to support the abolitionist movement with undeniable fervor. I laud it for its consequences, but continue to be nauseated by the way characters—and the narrator herself—step out of the story to convert us. It’s as if we don’t trust narratives to speak loud enough. As if, as characters in God’s narrative, we feel the need to step out of our storyline and explain things to the other characters.
“Look. See what happened there? That was God’s wrath for what you did. And you see this? Now your job is to . . .” Puh-lease.
Sometimes I imagine God rolling his eyes at us and sometimes laughing uncontrollably—like his roommate whispered an inappropriate joke in public and God can’t stop the guffaws rising up in him at the ridiculousness of it all. How silly we must look, pulling a stunt like that—trying to tell when the showing has already taken place. Explicating what is not only obvious but unutterable.
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
I wish we would stop murdering peoples’ stories and let them speak for themselves.
 Vance, C. S. (2012). Innocence and experience: Melodramatic narratives of sex trafficking their consequences for law and policy. Duke University Press 17(2), 135-144.
 Clair, R. P. (1996). The use of framing devices to sequester organizational narratives: Hegemony and harassment. Communications Monographs, 60, 113-136.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).