In Pursuit of Love
Kim Anthony, host of the podcast "Unfavorable Odds," talks with human trafficking expert Rebecca Bender. Bender fell into prostitution through the encouragement of her boyfriend who was a trafficker, and explains how she turned to drugs and eventually overdosed. Hitting rock bottom, she found herself at a Christian rehab center where she encountered God and was radically delivered from her addiction. Now drug free, Bender tells how she returned to her boyfriend, only to leave him later for another trafficker, where she endured violent abuse. Fearing for her life and the life of her daughter, Bender tells how she eventually escaped.
About the Guest
- National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888, SMS: 233733 (Text "HELP" or "INFO")
- Learn more about Rebecca Bender or her book, In Pursuit of Love. https://rebeccabender.org/
- Listen to the entire episode of Kim Anthony's talk with Rebecca Bender, episode 17 of Unfavorable Odds. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/unfavorable-odds/17-in-pursuit-of-love/
- Find resources from this podcast at https://shop.familylife.com/.
- Check out all that's available on the FamilyLife Podcast Network. https://www.familylife.com/familylife-podcast-network/
- Have the FamilyLife Today® podcast and resources helped you? Consider becoming a Legacy Partner, a monthly supporter of FamilyLife. https://www.familylife.com/legacy
Kim Anthony talks with human trafficking expert Rebecca Bender. Bender fell into prostitution through the encouragement of her boyfriend who was a trafficker, and explains how she turned to drugs and eventually overdosed. Bender tells how she eventually escaped.
In Pursuit of Love
Bob: When Rebecca Bender’s boyfriend turned out to be not a boyfriend at all but instead a human trafficker, Rebecca’s life had already taken a downward spiral. She was a single parent; now, she was a drug addict, a victim of domestic violence, and desperate.
Rebecca: My mom had shown up to take my daughter from me. She thought I’d just become a drug addict; no one knew I was being trafficked. I don’t think any small-town family thinks, “Human trafficking!”—right? You think, “Something’s wrong with Becky.” That’s what they would say: “Something’s wrong. Is she on drugs? Is she in domestic violence?” Everyone thought domestic violence because I was being beaten; but no one realized that it was to keep me in compliance.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 24th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear Rebecca Bender’s story today and hear how God delivered her from the desperation she was in. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t think you guys have had a chance to hear this—today, what we’re going to hear. I recently listened to an interview that Kim Anthony—who has a podcast that’s part of the FamilyLife® podcast network called Unfavorable Odds—Kim is telling stories/introducing us to people who have, in the middle of very difficult life circumstances, found hope and redemption and help and healing.
She interviewed Rebecca Bender recently. Rebecca’s story is one of those stories that—this is happening all around us—but we don’t see it; we don’t know it. It’s a story of being trafficked/being led into prostitution—how she got trapped in that/how she didn’t have any hope of getting out of that—and how God met her in the midst of that.
What you guys are going to hear, and what our audience is going to hear, really is a remarkable story of redemption. I think we have to remember, as we listen to this, whatever the desperate circumstances that people are in, there is no circumstance that is beyond God’s ability to step in and to rescue and redeem.
Dave: This story, from the little I know, is a testament to that. Just as I looked at the details, I’m like: “Only God could take this life from the pit and do what God does. Only God can do this.”
Ann: It’s also a reminder that God can take our mess and make it our message. I think that’s what’s happened with Rebecca.
Bob: You’re going to hear that today as we pick up the interview. This went on for almost an hour-and-a-half. If you listen to the podcast, you can listen to the entire interview. Rebecca met a guy; they became boyfriend and girlfriend. They moved from her hometown to Las Vegas. Everything was moving forward in their relationship. She was not following Christ.
One night, he suggested they try a game; and that game was that she would sleep with somebody else, and they would make money doing it. That was the introduction that ultimately led to this being the regular practice. This was how they made money—he was trafficking his girlfriend as a way to make money. She was trapped in it, because she was dependent on the money she was making in order to survive. That’s where Kim picks the story up as we listen to this excerpt from her podcast.
[Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: This was a man who was telling you that he loved you; yet, he was selling you to other men. Did that ever raise a red flag for you?
Rebecca: Absolutely; I mean, I think that’s partly why he got sick of me constantly crying and saying, “This isn’t what you promised me.” I can actually remember a time—we would get in physical fights quite a bit, and a domestic violence call had been called on our apartment—I can remember once he slapped me across the face, and he left. I remember just falling to the floor in the kitchen and just crying. I wiped my mouth, and I saw blood on my hand. I remember thinking: “What more can I do to make him love me? I’ve crossed lines I’d never crossed. I’ve done things I swear I’ve never done. This wasn’t what he promised me. He calls it the game, but this isn’t a game to me. This is my life!”
Later on, when I finally met Jesus, I can remember the first time—within the first few months of getting saved—the Lord brought that memory to my mind of sitting on the kitchen floor. I remember hearing the voice of God say to me: “That’s how I feel about you. What more can I do to make you love Me? I’ve given My life to the point of being crucified on a cross. What more can I do to make you love Me?” I wept because I would never want to give Jesus the same kind of heartbreak that I know I’ve felt in my life.
Kim: Before you met Jesus, how did you cope with living with that lifestyle?
Rebecca: I ended up using a lot of drugs and alcohol to cope, in the beginning. I became addicted to cocaine by the age of 21; I was a full-blown addict. If my dealer wasn’t around or available, I’d resort to any drugs—smoke crack, bent over in the floorboard of a car. I can remember hitting my pretty lowest of low at that moment, thinking, “I’ve really crossed some lines.”
I don’t know, in our brain, where we make these invisible lines; right?—like, “I’m not an addict if I don’t shoot needles,” is what I kind of thought in my brain. But then, when I’m hunched down on the floorboard of a car, smoking crack, I thought, “Wow; I really am an addict, and I need help.” I definitely self-medicated to cope.
Kim: Tell me about the night that you and your friend, Amy, decided to hang out. Do you remember that night?
Rebecca: Oh, yes; Amy—what we’re referring to as Amy—she’d become a friend of mine that was also being trafficked. Her and I used drugs together frequently, and my mom had shown up to take my daughter from me. She thought I’d just become a drug addict; no one knew I was being trafficked. I don’t think any small-town family thinks, “Human trafficking”; right? You think, “No, something’s wrong with Becky.” That’s what they would say: “Something’s wrong. Is she on drugs? Is she in domestic violence?” Everyone thought domestic violence, because I was being beaten; but no one realized that it was to keep me in compliance.
Rebecca: My mom had taken my daughter. I felt, at that moment, like I had no other reason to live; and I tried to kill myself twice. The second time was with Amy; I purposely tried to overdose to kill myself. I just thought [emotion in voice]: “I just want to go home to Jesus. Maybe everything would be better in heaven.” I thought, “My daughter is with my mom now, so she’s safe.” I just didn’t feel like I had any more reason to live, and I couldn’t figure out a way out.
Kim: Did you know Jesus at this time?
Rebecca: My grandma was a praying grandma. She took me to Sunday school when I was a little girl if I’d spend weekends with her. She was always in charge of the vacation Bible school in our town, so I’d go to VBS every summer. She would take me to AWANA. I can remember memorizing verses as a Spark for Jesus: “’Sparks’ to light the world.” I can remember that still to this day. I was like six—and here I am, thirty-eight—and can still remember the song; so clearly, it works! [Laughter]
Yes, I had a view of Jesus; I probably was a little bit skewed. My parents never went to church. My parents weren’t living for the Lord, but my grandma did. My praying grandma really made a difference in my life for sure.
But they don’t teach you about Rahab and Tamar. [Laughter]. They don’t teach you that in Sunday school; they’re teaching you much more age-appropriate stories. [Laughter] I didn’t realize that Jesus loved girls like me. He loved Mary Magdalene; He trusted Rahab—He loves girls like me. [Emotion in voice] I didn’t know it; I felt so ashamed that God would never love people like me anymore. I was unsure how to even change some of my behaviors or mindsets.
I just kept crying out, with Amy, that I wanted to go home. I kept trying to overdose on drugs; I eventually blacked out. I don’t really remember how I got to the hospital, but I woke up in a hospital. They thought that my brain was hemorrhaging, that I had overdosed; they wanted to do a CAT scan. I just remember thinking, “I’m going to get in trouble from my trafficker”; so I ripped the monitors out. They made me sign an AMA—Against Medical Advice—that if I died, they wouldn’t be held liable.
I woke up, several days later, in the back of a car. I can remember waking up, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I never had any medical problems since. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if Jesus healed me; I don’t know if He stopped me from dying. All I know was the doctors were concerned; and I woke up, three days later, in the back of a car—healthy and fine—and ready to get help.
Kim: “…ready to get help”; so who did you turn to for that help?
Rebecca: I called my mom and I said, “Okay, I’m ready to go to rehab.” I believe my mom and my grandma—maybe my aunt, I’m sure, collaborated—got me a list of rehabs. There was a list of several rehabs, that they gave me over the phone, I wrote down on a piece of paper.
One of them was a Christian rehab; and I thought, “I ain’t going to no Christian rehab.” [Laughter] I remember saying, “These Christians ain’t got a clue what life on the streets is like. I ain’t doing it!” [Laughter] Nowhere had vacancy but the Christian rehab; that’s just how God works.
Rebecca: Everywhere—“No vacancy,”—everywhere I called.
Kim: So you went back to Oregon, and you went to Victory Outreach; was it?
Rebecca: Yes, I went back to Oregon. I left—I just left it all—I left every couch, every piece of clothing; I just packed up a bag. I left my vehicle in the airport parking.
I just remember leaving a voicemail to my “boyfriend,” saying: “I can’t do this. This isn’t a game to me; this is my life! This isn’t what you promised me. I’m going to go get clean. I’ve got to get my daughter back.” I think he was pretty happy to let me go. I was kind of the trouble girl out of everyone he had—just because I was so in love, and I was so hurt—that I made that known. [Laughter] And I left a voicemail for my drug dealer that I wasn’t coming back either. [Laughter] Those were two—
Kim: —two people.
Rebecca: —two calls I made and left everything sitting there and went to Victory Outreach.
Kim: And you encountered God there, didn’t you?
Rebecca: I had a radical encounter with God that changed my life. I was radically delivered from drugs in the blink of an eye at the altar, which I know is not everybody’s experience. I’m so grateful.
You hear stories; but you don’t really know—like: “Okay, that’s good for you. That’s not how it works in the rest of our world,”—you know, I’ve heard stories like that, and so to have it actually happen. I got delivered probably the first of 2003, so 16 years clean and sober—never desired to use drugs or smoke cigarettes ever again.
Bob: We’ve been listening to an excerpt from Kim Anthony’s podcast, Unfavorable Odds, an interview she did with Rebecca Bender. Again, I’ll remind my listeners, if you’d like to hear the entire conversation—and it is riveting—go to FamilyLifeToday.com. The complete podcast is available there.
It was interesting to hear her say, “When you are in this lifestyle…”; I mean, we’d all look and say, “Why don’t you just step away?” It’s not that easy.
Ann: I have a friend, that grew up in Detroit, that was trafficked in Detroit. She’s come to know Jesus; I’ve been mentoring her for several years. That same question came to my mind, “Couldn’t you just walk out?” But it’s so complicated. There are so many things that are going on that I don’t think any of us really understand the magnitude of the hurt, of the addiction, of the pain, of the fear that’s going on in these women’s lives.
Dave: I think it’s also interesting—Rebecca talks about being healed. Yet, healing sometimes is a moment; many times it’s a life. She’s going to continue to be healed as she goes forward, as we’ll hear.
Bob: She was healed from drugs, and from alcohol, and from cigarette smoking; but she met another guy. What she thought was maybe going to be a different kind of relationship wound up being the same kind of relationship she had been in before—and was back into being trafficked.
[Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: So was this new place [with new boyfriend] your ticket out?
Rebecca: Man, this place ended up being worse than I’d ever, ever seen or experienced—so intense brainwashing and so much extreme violence. I’d been beaten so much that I had my face broken in five places: my palate cracked, my nose twice, my maxillofacial [jaw], of my turbinate’s [nasal cavity] impounded. I actually had to have surgery several years ago because I wasn’t equalizing when flying, so I would have lots of pain when flying.
I didn’t even know that this kind of abuse happened other than on movies. It was very extreme; I started to feel like I was going crazy. Living in that kind of fear really affects your psychology. I felt like this guy’s following—I’d get out of the car and try to check my mirrors for—I was so paranoid I thought cameras were in my car. He would tell me conversations that I’d have in private—he’d repeat to me—which made me think he was listening or following. He would randomly show up, where I was—made me think he had a tracking device.
I mean, it was extreme; I thought, “I’m going crazy; I have got to get out of this.” I literally felt like my mind was slipping away from me, and I started feeling like, “I’m going crazy,”—like—“I don’t know how to get out of this! I feel really, really trapped.”
I started one night—I just remember beating my head against the floor. We had this marble bathroom; and I just remember beating my head against the floor, feeling like [emotion in voice]: “I’m going crazy. I don’t know how to get out of this anymore”; like this was really extreme. Whereas, before, I was trapped from love—I was in these mental chains from love—and now I’m physically being abused daily. My brain is slipping away; and “I don’t know how to get out of this anymore.”
Kim: Did you ever think about Jesus and the relationship you had developed with Him during these times?
Rebecca: Absolutely. My first time back, right after I had left Victory Outreach, I can remember actually feeling like I could actually see the demonic a little bit in people—like their face is shifted when they would buy me. That didn’t last very long, though, if I’m honest. It lasted about a day or two, and I must have grieved the Spirit.
But I can remember praying over myself. Victory Outreach is a Pentecostal church. I can remember going full Pentecostal, like, “I bind the spirit of rage in the name of Jesus and loosen the spirit of peace over my home.” I would pray like that over myself while being trafficked, and I just imagined that Jesus was sitting next to me in the car. I just felt like: “I don’t know what to do anymore God. I don’t know how to get out of this. [Emotion in voice] I’ve gotten myself into some stuff that’s real dangerous, and I don’t know what to do.”
He showed up again; He always comes through. I’m so grateful—just what a mighty God we serve.
Kim: How did He show up, Rebecca?
Rebecca: 2006—the Feds raided the Dallas home that the other victims were in there. They had warrants for my trafficker and the wife-in-law that had recruited me. They had a warrant for their arrest, but they weren’t there; they were in Vegas. At that point, we knew the Feds had been watching us. They took the other two women in. They were hoping to build a case of trafficking against our trafficker in hopes that the victims would talk. But everyone was way too afraid, and way too brainwashed or traumatized, so no one would talk.
At that point, we learned from those women, being released on bail, and starting to begin a potential plea deal for whatever charges were going to stick. We knew that they had been surveilling us for 18 months. They had been badging our trash man/pulling our trash man over, at the end of our street, and taking our trash and digging through it for evidence. My trafficker, at that point, started getting very paranoid—like, “Oh, the Feds are watching you.”
Imagine that sinking in, and thinking like: “This is serious. The Feds are after you. This is no joke. I’m going to lose my baby to the state! I’m going to end up in prison. I can’t do this; I’ve got to figure this out.” That was real scary.
Kim: Rebecca, how did you get out?
Rebecca: Well, my trafficker was sentenced to 24 months in prison for tax evasion. He had a self-surrender date that was coming up, and he ended up violently attacking the little boy in the home. [Emotion in voice] I remember rushing my daughter to her room and shutting her in, and saying, “Don’t come out until mommy comes and gets you.”
Then I called my aunt, who worked at a domestic violence shelter. I told her what happened; she said, “That’s going to happen to your little girl.” I said, “No, no, he loves her.” She said: “She’s seven and compliant; at fifteen, when she talks back for the first time, that will happen to your little girl.” That hit me; I knew she was right. I knew, as soon as you disrespected or said something you weren’t supposed to say, that you would be hurt.
I packed up everything I could as soon as he left to go tell his mom he was going to prison for tax evasion, and I grabbed my girl and ran. I asked my mom to put our plane tickets on her credit card, which she, of course, did. But it made me think—later on, when I started getting involved in the anti-trafficking work—it made me think about all the young women or young people out there, who don’t have a mom to call.
Rebecca: A huge percentage of trafficked people in our country come from foster care. In my state—in the state of Oregon—95 percent of trafficked teens have been in foster care since age 2. They don’t have anyone to call; they don’t have anywhere to go. I think that’s why anti-trafficking efforts are so valuable, because there are people who want to run. There are people who need to run, and have a moment when they can; but they don’t know who to call, and they don’t know where to go. We need the people of God to rise up and help become defenders and protectors of our widows and our orphans, right?
Kim: For those young women, who are listening right now, who are being trafficked, where should they go?—what should they do if they don’t have a family or a mother to call?
Rebecca: If someone’s listening, that’s being trafficked, right now I would tell you:
You’re not alone. You don’t have to live like this. There are actually hundreds, if not thousands, of advocates out there, right now in this army to fight sex-for-sale, that have been fighting for you: that value you, that know you’re important and you’re loved; and there’s resources.
I know it’s hard; but just like grab your suitcase and run, man, and call the 1-800 human trafficking hotline, which is 1-888-373-7888. You can also text, “HELP” to BEFREE.
Bob: Again, we’ve been listening to a conversation that Kim Anthony had on her podcast, Unfavorable Odds, with Rebecca Bender. Rebecca has written a book that shares her story of being trafficked. The book is called In Pursuit of Love. It’s a book that we’ve got on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, along with the toll-free number that Rebecca just mentioned and the text information. I’ll give the number again; it’s 1-888-373-7888; or you can text the word, HELP, to 233-733; that’s BEFREE.
If you listen to the entire interview—which, again, is available on our website as well—you learn that Rebecca is married; she is raising her kids. You hear about the conversation she had with her boyfriend, who is now her husband—where she had to say, “This is my past”; and how that went—and what it meant for her to open up and be honest about that.
Dave: And to hear that a woman, like Rebecca, can have a new life brings hope. You hear this story and you think there’s only going to be darkness at the end of this, and there’s light. Jesus actually can do that in all of our lives if we take a step toward Him.
Ann: I get a little fiery about it because I think, “We need to be praying, because this is going on in our country.” People aren’t talking about it, and they’re starting to acknowledge it; but we need to be praying that God will set these women free.
Bob: Yes; well, again, you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to listen to Kim Anthony’s entire podcast interview with Rebecca Bender. It’s the Unfavorable Odds podcast. You’ll find a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s information about Rebecca’s ministry/about her book. All of that’s available at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you have any questions, we can help you. Give us a call at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329— that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We hope you have a very good weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk about how to raise daughters, who are confident in who they are, especially when the culture is trying to press them into who they ought to be. Maria Furlough is going to join us to talk about that. We hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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