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From Being Trafficked as a Toddler to Claiming Victory and Joy in Life

“My earliest memory that I have was being shown pornography of me as a toddler. Then also to being taken to different brothels, childhood sexual abuse, having buyers, people who exchanged money for time with my body, individuals coming to my home, into my house to use me.”

For as long as she could remember, Jessa Dillow Crisp lived as a prisoner, trafficked and abused by the very people who were supposed to protect her: her parents.  

"'You're too stupid to do anything but be a prostitute and that's why you can't go to school,' and so that really hit me as ‘Okay, this is the reason why God created me.’"

As members of a religious cult, her parents didn’t allow Jessa or her ten brothers and sisters to go to school, teaching that God created women to please and submit to men. Failing would bring swift consequences.

“I was taught that God was an angry person. I was afraid to get to know him. I was scared of him in the sense of ‘If I don't do everything perfect, if I am not perfect, then I'm not going to be okay. I'm not going to be able to get through this and to live.’”

Yet somehow, Jessa knew there was something better.

“I remember standing in my bedroom window and looking out across the back yard and seeing kids walking to school, I'm like, ‘What is that like? What is it like to be able to go play and kick a ball around?’ I still knew that there was something dark and evil, and that there was something light and something good."

As a teenager, Jessa dreamed of escape and tried several times to run away.

“I tried to go ahead and mentally escape when I could, and that was hard. I had a lot of daydreams that like someday I'd be rescued, or someday that I would be able to live with freedom.”

She also began cutting and entertained thoughts of suicide for years. Then, in 2007, at age 20, Jessa was handpicked by the cult’s leader to attend a remote camp for girls. She felt anything but special.  

“I felt like I was worthless. I didn't want to live. I hated who I was. I hated the fact that I was a woman. I hated the fact that I had even been born. I was a complete wreck, and I was in this dark place; I was trying to figure out how to kill myself. I literally cannot do this anymore."

One afternoon, while out for a walk, Jessa was planning her suicide when…

“The sky became completely black, the loudest thunder that I've ever heard in my life took place right over my head. And then out of the heavens came this big, huge lightning bolt that touched the ground so close to where I was standing a couple feet away. And in that moment, I just started to call out, like, ‘Jesus, if you're real, if you're real, save me, save me!’ Out of the heavens I heard an audible voice saying, “The enemy has not won, I have claimed the victory!” I knew without a shadow of a doubt that that wasn't this God that I'd been taught, but rather a God who cared about me and a God who saw all of that dark evil that took place in my life, all of the trauma. He saw it all and that he was the light. And that was so profound. I also learned in that moment that as a woman, God can talk to me and that I can communicate with him and that I don't have to go through these men, I don’t have to go through a cult leader.’” 

Afterwards, Jessa was convinced that God not only had the power to help her, He wanted to. She began reading the Bible to learn more about God.

‘“I felt this little whisper inside and it was like, ‘I've forgiven you; I have forgiven you.’ and it was in that moment that I was like, "Okay, God, I accept Your forgiveness and I want to know You."’

Still, when she came home days later, Jessa remained a prisoner. Then, a year later, she was at a Kansas City hotel when a woman slipped her a phone number. She knew the signs of someone being trafficked. Eventually, Jessa got up the nerve to call, and the woman helped her buy a plane ticket to Denver, Colorado. She immediately drove her to a safe house, where Jessa began working through her anger, her pain and discovering the truth about God.

“I started to find that He was completely opposite of the god that I had been taught. He cries with me, He cares for me, He loves me in that tender, intimate way. And then realizing like He created me, and He didn't create me to have sex. He created me to just be me and He created me to worship Him.”

While there, Jessa was taken in and adopted by Jody and Linda Dillow. She went on to earn her GED, graduate college at the top of her class and get her Master's in clinical mental health counseling. During that time, she also met and married her husband, John. Together, they founded BridgeHope, a nonprofit to help victims of sex trafficking. Jessa says her life is now filled with all the promise she ever hoped for.

“No matter what one has experienced, there is hope. Now, I live life with freedom! I have so much hope, I have so much joy! I have a reason to live. I have a purpose. I have the ability to experience emotions and be able to experience a God who loves me and has changed my life completely.” 

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