Sherri was a little girl, born with big brown eyes and bouncing curls. She was the forth child born to her parents, but was the first girl. She was born into a seemingly normal family, with two parents and three older brothers. More often, this girl grows up into a lovely young woman, prepared to carve her place in the world. However Sherri's story was different.
Sherri became blind at a young age and her father did not want a daughter, especially not a disabled one. Her family had no money, and her brothers were never around. Her mother's mind seemed to live in a very dark and distant place, and she offered little guidance.
Her father cared more about whiskey and drugs than he did about his family, so too often, little Sherri was on her own.
She would try to search for her parents, someone to feed her and care for her -- but even when she did find them, her father would most often snatch her up and throw her in a closet so that she would stay out of his way. She spent the majority of the first six years of her young life in that closet. Maybe, in some ways, it was a blessing that she was blind during these times. The darkness of the small closet might not have been quite as scary.
When Sherri was seven, her father found another use for her. It was the most awful and vile thing that a father could do to his little girl. He repeatedly abused and raped her, over and over, year after year, until she was 11 years old, at which time, she became pregnant. It turned out to be a minor problem for her dad, which he took care of with his large leather boot firmly on her back, kicking her flat on her face at the bottom of the stairs, and ending the pregnancy.
During this time, Sherri's father would also beat her mother daily. Even though her mother wasn't there for her, Sherri loved her, and wanted to protect her. After all, it is all she'd ever known.
The abuse continued and her dad often ran out of money to supplement his habits.
That is when he discovered another use for his blind, teenage daughter.
He began selling her to different men for the night. They would pay him in cash or drugs. It didn't matter to him. He would send man after man into her room each night. Then, when he was done using her, he would throw her back in the closet, which locked from the outside.
This closet became Sherri's sanctuary. She knew that if she was in there, then she was going to be left alone -- at least for a little while.
One day, while Sherri was in her closet, she was feeling around through the clothes on the floor, looking for a place to lay her head. Instead, she found a guitar. She had never held or played a guitar, but she discovered that she loved the pretty sound it made when she thumbed her fingers across the strings. The strings would vibrate, and she would listen to the sweet, soothing sound. For the next several years, this sound blocked out all of the other noises. Sounds that used to frighten her were now replaced by the soothing sounds of the guitar.
Sherri did go to school when she could. She loved school, because it meant that she was not at home. She learned everything she could. She worked on her studies as much as possible -- and despite everything, she became valedictorian of her class, and received a full scholarship to college.
The blind little girl with the bouncing curls was now off on her own, finally escaping the dark hell that was all too familiar to her.
At least, this should have been her escape. But every weekend, her father would threaten to beat, rape, and even kill her mother if Sherri did not come home. So, feeling that it was her duty, Sherri would go home and face the abuse that she had suffered all her life, not realizing that she finally did have a choice.
One Sunday, one of Sherri's friends from school invited her to church. Sherri enjoyed church, and she made friends quickly there. One night, after the service, a couple of the women leaders asked Sherri about the visible scars and sores on her body. Sherri confided in them out of desperation, sharing her darkest secrets for the first time.
That same night, the women came to her dorm, gathered all of her stuff, and took her to a safe place -- the first safe place she had ever been -- a 50-acre farm in my home state of Kentucky.
This story is almost too horrible to be true, but it is. I can tell you this, because I recently sat across from Sherri while she shared her story.
Today, she is a beautiful, healing young lady with purpose, goals and dreams. She is writing music and playing her guitar -- the same guitar that she taught herself to play on in her dark, sanctuary of a closet. Her songs tell of hope and redemption.
She played one for me last week called, "Beautifully Broken," and there was not a dry eye in the room. Her strength, courage and resilience are incredible and inspiring.
Listen to Sherri's "Beautifully Broken" above.
The home that welcomed her in is a ministry called Refuge For Women. The ministry provides "safe homes" for women who have similar experiences like that of Sherri.
Refuge For Women is the largest organization in America to provide free housing and a Christian environment for women who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.
Trafficking is a serious issue, and it is not limited to Third World countries. It is right here in our homeland. We hear the saying, "don't turn a blind eye." How fitting it is to say that and think of Sherri.
There is a government role in combating sex trafficking and the abusers -- but what about the victims? These women are broken physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They need healing in all areas and Christian-based programs have proven to be successful over and over. Refuge for Women provides these women with hope, and the promise that they will be loved unconditionally -- a love that most of these women have never experienced.
I will continue to be a voice for these victims. I will stand up for harsher punishments for their abusers. And, I will partner with organizations like Refuge For Women to give these women a fresh start, and a path towards recovery and redemption.
I have started an internship program for the young ladies from Refuge for Women. I will offer a paid internship in my Kentucky office with the hope of giving them a second chance. I hope you will give them a chance as well, and look around your community for organizations, like this one, to help.
If you are a victim of sex trafficking and abuse, or know someone who needs help, please visit www.refugeforwomen.org.