Nine mug shots appeared in our local paper’s headline story this week. Nine men ranging in age and ethnicity, economic status and background. Despite their differences, they share both the cause and effect of their public exposure: shame.
Shame descended upon them the moment the paper hit the press. Employers and wives and neighbors judged and banished.
Shame had already met them in the station, at their booking, when the flash snapped, immortalizing their actions. Fingerprints and charges enlisted them as law breakers.
Shame was present at their side earlier, when they scrolled the ads, chose flesh and sacrificed money and time to possess it. Loneliness and selfishness and whatever else commercializes sex consumed them.
But shame’s origin in their lives was long long before. Shame’s birthplace is rarely in a newspaper.
Where was the birthplace of your shame?
The jury is out on public shaming tactics used by newspapers and some law enforcement agencies. Even in our community, the sheriff’s office and city police department differ. When arrest records are public, well, a reporter can do anything he wants despite warnings from those on the ground.
And I would have warned him.
I would tell of the First Offender Restoration Initiative (FORI), a court alternative so named because of a deep belief that restoration is possible. We’ve been offering it for a year now and have seen shame diminish as repentance and then grace take root. It is stunning to witness the birth of grace.
Men charged with soliciting sex from a non-minor come to FORI angry. They are mad at the officers. They are mad at the newspaper. They are mad at the fall out (as many have lost jobs and marriages by then), which means they are mad at themselves and the people who have banished them. They are mad at a prudish community because isn’t prostitution a victimless crime, a consensual business transaction?
My counselor husband contains their anger and spends the day reshaping it. They learn about the backstory, broken systems and broken kids and the nature of exploitation. They learn about the world of human trafficking. By the time they hear from a survivor, who bravely stands before them and tells her story, they are near tears. Some do shed.
They cry as they are broken. And brokenness leads to repentance.
So at the end of the day, when my husband asks them about their own story and the origin of their pain, they are already changed men. Shame loses it’s grip as light is cast upon the place of wounding, the place in need of restoration. Because beneath the loneliness and selfishness that fuels the demand for commercial sex are little boys with their own backstory.
When we use public shaming tactics as a means of curbing demand, we lose. The real winner is shame and our enemy who wields it as his primary method of oppression. Restoration, and subsequently demand reduction, comes when grace floods the soul. When a perpetrator confronts the darkness of his soul and a seed of hope falls: perhaps there is forgiveness. Perhaps another story can be written.
The beauty of the gospel is that it is for all of us. God’s love and mercy extend to those who are exploited and trafficked, to those who manipulate and coerce, and to those who buy. Shame has had its way with each of us, but grace is for the taking.
In a few months these 9 men will be offered grace. My husband and I will send out a request to our faithful and they will bathe the day in prayer. The District Attorney will send them. Our local police department will be present. A medical center will teach. And a brave woman will tell her story.
Pray with us, that grace will be born. And shame will flee.
Beth Bruno is founder and director of A Face to Reframe, a non-profit committed to preventing human trafficking through arts, training, and community building. She writes about women in ministry, girls becoming women, and exploited women. Her writing has appeared at Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman, InterVarsity’s The Well, and she is a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. She can be found in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and 3 kids or at www.bethbruno.org.