I sit between them, each silently working their laptop, manning conversations, tracking story details. Occasionally, the radio goes off, another cop comes in to grab coffee, the one at the desk collects intel online. They are focused, but light hearted. Another day’s job. Only today, they are catching sex buyers and I am in the room.
It is so good for me to watch this part of it all, the demand reduction strategy. My heart broke long ago for victims, and then eventually, for the buyers too, both in need of restoration, both full of wounded stories. But though I’ve worked with law enforcement for years, I’ve never watched through their eyes. My heart is breaking anew.
It is mid-morning when I arrive. They have been working for hours. Several busts have already been made and they will continue, well into evening. Nearly 20, by the end of the day. Men from every generation, ethnicity, and class. Men from across the street. Men who drove up from another city. Men who are freaked out. I pray I don’t know any.
They might pretend they are confused, that they were only going to talk, but the officers on the computers have already made specific, lewd agreements. This is the important part, the part that gets the charge. And this is the part that feels most heavy.
For justice to prevail, sometimes the good guys must pretend to be bad.
Weeks before, I hear a presentation from two investigators. They spend their days online, pretending to be predators, pretending to be kids, pretending to be buyers. They have learned the lingo, the short hand, and though they’re 45, can morph into anyone. But they go home to a marriage. They go home to Little League games. One says he kept his phone on through Christmas Eve because so many pedophiles are active. He didn’t want to miss a kid.
In between the two officers, I look back and forth, read some of the conversations on their screens. I feel icky in this space. Evil is afoot. Addiction and arousal and sin are on fire. It is what gets the buyers here. But to make it happen, my friends have to play the part. And I wonder, how do you hold the weight of all this? How do you say what you have to say and go home to a spouse? Have a normal marriage?
Outside, I watch the police interact with the buyers. They are enforcing the law. They could be harsh, but they’re not. They speak evenly, calmly, respectfully. Big burly cops with tats and foul mouths, but I sense disguised teddy bears. I picture one as a gourmet cook, one a doting uncle, one his kids’ soccer coach. I can tell they are both, that to survive in this space they have to maintain a fierce shell and a soft core.
I am all soft. And I am dying. Poke me and I might wither, collapse into tears. They are just there under the surface. I want to wrap my arms around these heroes in blue. And I want to wrap my arms around the broken, broken men they arrest. Lord there is so much pain in this world!
Later, I plead with my counselor-husband: Make space for these officers. Care for them! Pastor them! We need them in the battle and they are too easy a target, too easy to take out. I could smell evil. It was lurking. I beg him to fight for their hearts.
Hours pass and I am emotionally spent. All I’ve done is observe, but I don’t want to see another arrest. I don’t want another face in my memory, the shame-filled eyes searing my soul. I leave them all, my friends on the laptop still working conversations, still pretending. They don’t get to leave. They don’t clock out at “emotionally spent.” But they are.
Law enforcement is the third, forgotten population impacted by sex trafficking, the world over.
We lament stories of corruption and celebrate victories of rescue, but what about all the in between?
The long days of living dirty so that your city may be clean.
I am holding them in my prayers in a new way these days. Would you join me?
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.