“Daddy Issues” A Father’s Role In The Fight Against Sex Trafficking
As my social media filled with posts this weekend from my friends honouring their fathers, I too felt incredibly grateful for my very special and loving Dad. But I also felt the glaring truth that many of those I work with, many of those exploited in the sex industry, did not receive love, support, and protection from one of the most important members of their family: their father.
We’ve heard the label before. It was used a lot when I was a teenager to explain the behaviour of young females that exhibited neediness, insecurity, or co-dependant tendencies. It is often how we explain away girls who jump from relationship-to-relationship or who end up in the sex industry.
“She’s trying to fill a void in her life. She has some serious daddy issues.“
And while it may be a sweeping generalisation (and a potentially harmful one at that), the term touches on a truth we often don’t acknowledge when it comes to the issue of sex trafficking.
A father’s role matters. A lot.
As a father, you have an important part to play in shaping your daughter’s view of herself and her worth. You have the opportunity to be an example of what it means to love and accept your daughter for who she is. You can affirm her value based on her humanity, not on what she does or how she looks
Too often girls who fall prey to the charms or attention of loverboys/pimps exhibit a vulnerability that comes from an unstable home life. Poverty, marginalization, lack of access to education and opportunities, and an abusive or unhealthy home life can all be factors of vulnerability. Too often this vulnerability is filled by a charming young man, or a ‘daddy’ (such as the story of Sarah Kruzan, a young girl who was groomed for prostitution by a man who served as a surrogate father in her life and later became the pimp who forced her into commercial sexual exploitation. Her story of abuse is not uncommon). The absentee father, the abusive or dysfunctional father, the father who makes his daughter feel that she does not measure up, or that her worth is based on her performance or her beauty, all of these unhealthy father experiences leave a gaping hole in the life of a young girl.
As a culture we so often poke fun at the pain of rejection or abandonment felt by a female who has not had a healthy father/daughter relationship. We even use this as a technique to shame or blame women for behaviour that we deem to be destructive or unhealthy. The reality is far from funny and rarely the ‘fault’ of the young woman or girl who feels a need to be affirmed in her worth as she shapes her identity and value in this world. A child who ends up in exploitation because she needed to fill a value gap in her life left by a vulnerable family situation is a disturbing thought.
The same goes for raising sons. As a father, you have an important role in shaping your son’s view of himself, his worth, and the worth of the women in his life. You have the opportunity to show him love and respect, and show him how to love and respect the girls that he will encounter.
A friend of mine is a child psychologist here in Amsterdam who works primarily with lower income families and often encounters young men who show signs of violent, aggressive, or criminal behaviour. She recently commented that the majority of young boys who pass through her office come from families where the father is absent. She noted that not only do these young boys desperately long for the affirmation of their fathers, quite often the fathers desire a relationship with their sons as well. She said that many times the fathers have been made to feel that they are not needed, and so they back off from the parenting role. Part of her work is to try to bring both parents into a conversation that helps them recognise the value of both the mother and the father in raising children.
A father just may not be in the picture.
According to the Dutch Youth Institute (Netherlands Jeugd Instuut), 20% of families in the Netherlands are single-parent homes and according to a 2011 census, 27% of children in the United States are living in a single-parent household.
That is not to say that every single-parent family is missing a father, nor is it to say that every single-mother raising her children without a father in the picture will face the potential that their children will be vulnerable to exploitative situations or criminal activity. My own family, a two-parent middle class household, has faced our share of hardships as each child has entered adulthood and chosen their own (sometimes destructive) life path. I would also like to add that a girl can come from a family where she has had a loving and affirming father and can still fall victim to exploitation or end up in the sex industry. This is not meant to be a post to shame those strong women or men who face the reality of raising their children alone, or to put blame on parents whose children have fallen victim to crime or have made difficult to reconcile decisions.
My hope is simply to say, for all those fathers who have the honour and privilege of being a part of your children’s lives: your presence matters. Don’t doubt the importance of your affirmation, of your unconditional love and acceptance, of the sacred action of simply being present in the life of your child. This world is full of those who will seek out the vulnerable with the goal of using and exploiting them. You may never know how valuable your part is in protecting your son or daughter by simply showing them that you are there for them, and that as their Daddy (their real daddy, not the twisted kind I referred to above) you love them – those special individual people you helped bring into the world.
And because not all men will be fathers in the physical…
I remember the day I received a teaching on the “Father Heart of God”. I was eighteen and kind of a mess. An unmarried man who does not have any biological children shared on God’s Father heart towards us; His people, His children. I literally ran from the room because I was terrified of what God as a Father meant. This man called me back, pulled me into a hug, and prayed for healing, for the walls to come down, and for me to experience the love of God as a Father. He was not a Father in the physical sense, but in this moment he was a father in the spiritual sense, showing me the unconditional love of God. I have had many men pass through my life who have played the role of ‘spiritual’ fatherhood. Men who have stepped into a place of protection or affirmation, especially as I live far from home and don’t often have the chance to see my own dad.
Just as many children grow up without a father present, many men will not have the opportunity to be a father, but that doesn’t mean they cannot show the love of God our Father, in particular to the ‘fatherless’ of our society. There is no greater calling or opportunity then to display love the way Jesus did, in a patient, selfless, and unconditional way, especially to those who are most vulnerable.
Fathers as a Form of Prevention.
If we want to address sex trafficking, fathers have an important role that should not be ignored. Whether it is to raise their sons with a healthy view of women, a view that treats them respectfully and not as an object. Or if it is to impress upon their daughters a healthy view of themselves, that their worth is not based on the man they are with (or not with) or on their sexual desirability. The presence of a father who engages with his children in a life-giving and affirming way can play a huge role in protection and prevention. And for those who step into the lives of families who may be missing a father, for whatever reason, to show a healthy male role model can also be a part of protecting and preventing exploitation at the very basics of our societal structures.
So a huge shout out to all those life-giving fathers, father figures, spiritual fathers, and my own father. Thank you for investing your love and time into the lives of others in order that they may know their value and worth!
Happy Fathers Day.