Our Keepsake Journal is Here! 🎉

I used to live near a sex trafficker. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, only being in about third grade, but the strange goings-on in the ground-level apartment that faced the pool were whispered about around the low-income complex we lived in. In the building across from me and around the other side, lived a man in his late 20s—and a constantly fluctuating number of very young girls. The fewest I can remember was four, but usually, I counted at least seven girls and women coming and going. 

My mom only allowed me to swim at night, and looking back, I can see that it was probably to make me less visible to whoever was in that apartment. Just a few yards away with the door always open and neon lights in the window, I could see right into the living room. I’d heard the scandalous stories of the very young girls who all lived with him, some speculating that they’d run away, some suggesting he was some kind of cult leader. But swimming in the dark I could see right into the hub of activity, the headquarters, the room filled with couches and music and girls. So many girls. 

RELATED: I Was Four the First Time My Innocence Was Stolen

I remember peering in and wondering why they stayed, wondering what was so great about this man that so many girls ran to live with him. He didn’t seem handsome or rich. I never spoke to him myself, but in my spying, I’d observed that he seemed quite friendly, outgoing, and relaxed. How though, I wondered, could any girl see that there were already so many other girls and want to join that? I didn’t know what “that” was, but I knew enough to see that an apartment full of girls competing for affection wouldn’t seem the least bit appealing to me. What was so special about this man in the two-bedroom, rundown apartment that brought so many girls willing to squeeze in just to live near him? 

I realize now how faulty my thinking was.

It wasn’t that there was anything special or appealing about the situation that made these girls choose it, it was that they didn’t know they had a choice at all. 

Sex trafficking has been heavily discussed in recent news cycles, shared on social media, and generally brought to the public’s attention on a greater scale than ever before. More and more victims are coming forward, sharing horrific stories that hurt to hear. Security footage and code words are shared in an effort to educate others on hidden dangers. Strangers carry a heavier weight now, seem a little more dangerous. The predators have always lurked and the business has always been active, but in a desire to guard our hearts against the horrors, we’ve traded information for ignorance. We are trying to catch up to an industry that has had a centuries-long head start. 

While listening to some survivors of sex trafficking recently, I was struck by a theme that came up over and over in each victim’s story—they didn’t know how to say no. 

We rally cry about consent, teach our kids to stop when they hear no, teach our kids to just say no, but rarely have we actually prepared them to actually say no. We’ve been so focused on learning what predators look for that we’ve failed to teach our children what no looks like. 

RELATED: 7 Tips From a Survivor For Talking With Your Kids About Sexual Abuse

We discuss hypothetical situations where teens are drinking and friends are offering drugs, we warn of strangers with puppies and boogeymen at the water park, we might even bring up pushy boyfriends or girlfriends who don’t take rejections as conclusions.

But in thinking we are protecting our children from fear, we are making them vulnerable to reality. 

Statistically, sex traffickers and predators are much more likely to have formed a relationship with the victim. Family friends, neighbors, teachers, people who have had influence in a child’s life and whose power is used to create a situation that a child doesn’t know how to say no to. Recent news has revealed tactics that use the victims’ own friends to recruit them. Sexual predators, we’re learning, look less like a man in a trench coat and more like a soccer coach. In light of these revelations, though, we haven’t updated our education to adapt to the situation. 

Yes, we must make it abundantly clear that children are allowed to say no at any point, but we have to give our kids more than a single word to use with people who don’t honor their autonomy or innocence as it is. No is a complete sentence—it does not need a justification to follow or a circumstance to be flexible. This means that we have to be willing to offend, that our children have to be told that their safety is more important than approval. Kids are natural people-pleasers, teenagers are notoriously insecure, both facts predators know and use to their advantage. 

Our kids need to know if a person in power makes them uncomfortable, it is OK to say no. If a person they love asks them to do something they hate, it is OK to scream no. Kids will fear the consequences of saying no without realizing the consequences of silence are far greater. 

This is not victim-blaming, this is not putting the responsibility on the victim or assigning fault to survivors silenced by fear.

I’m painfully aware that many, many victims scream no, repeatedly, and their tragic circumstances muffle the cries to concerned ears. No child is willing or responsible. But many children are groomed over a period of time, and many children are intimidated by the predator they know. This familiarity and desire to please create a gray area of discomfort, causing a child to think they must choose between being uncomfortable and being disappointing. 

RELATED: Not My Child: Protecting My Son from a Sexual Predator

We must, must teach our children how to say no. In any situation, to any person. We must instill in them the fact that no is a non-starter, not up for debate or coercion. No is a stop sign, and if someone ever asks you to go past that stop sign, then they are not worried about your safety. Even if the person says they love you. Even if the person says you owe them. Even if the person threatens you. Even if the person pays you. Even if the person has known you for your entire life

No is the period at the end of the situation, and any sentences said after it are not valid. There is nothing that someone is allowed to say to ignore your no. There is no relationship more important than your no. There is no embarrassment worth avoiding or popularity worth gaining that will cost you your no. 

Practice with your kids. Give them realistic situations, persuasive lines.

I know we worry about our loves losing their innocence, but it’s much better for them to be aware than it is to have that innocence stolen.

We know how important the word no is, but our kids don’t, and when battling an industry that caters to people who say yes to more things than we can imagine, we must do all we can to prepare and strengthen our children’s no. We have to teach our kids not just to say no, but how to say it. 

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.

5 Kids in the Bible Who Will Inspire Yours

In: Faith, Kids
Little girl reading from Bible

Gathering my kids for morning Bible study has become our family’s cornerstone, a time not just for spiritual growth but for real, hearty conversations about life, courage, and making a difference. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours. My oldest, who’s 11, is at that age where he’s just beginning to understand the weight of his actions and decisions. He’s eager, yet unsure, about his ability to influence his world. It’s a big deal for him, and frankly, for me too. I want him to know, deeply know, that his choices matter, that he can be a force for good, just...

Keep Reading

A Mother’s Love is the Best Medicine

In: Kids, Motherhood
Child lying on couch under blankets, color photo

When my kids are sick, I watch them sleep and see every age they have ever been at once. The sleepless nights with a fussy toddler, the too-hot cheeks of a baby against my own skin, the clean-up duty with my husband at 3 a.m., every restless moment floods my thoughts. I can almost feel the rocking—so much rocking—and hear myself singing the same lullaby until my voice became nothing but a whisper. I can still smell the pink antibiotics in a tiny syringe. Although my babies are now six and nine years old, the minute that fever spikes, they...

Keep Reading

Right Now I’m a Mom Who’s Not Ready to Let Go

In: Child, Kids, Motherhood
Mother and daughter hugging, color photo

We’re doing it. We’re applying, touring, and submitting pre-school applications. It feels a lot like my college application days, and there’s this image in my mind of how fast that day will come with my sweet girl once she enters the school doors. It’s a bizarre place to be because if I’m honest, I know it’s time to let her go, but my heart is screaming, “I’m not ready yet!” She’s four now though. Four years have flown by, and I don’t know how it happened. She can put her own clothes on and take herself to the bathroom. She...

Keep Reading

Each Child You Raise is Unique

In: Kids, Motherhood
Three little boys under a blanket, black-and-white photo

The hardest part about raising children? Well, there’s a lot, but to me, one major thing is that they are all completely different than one another. Nothing is the same. Like anything. Ever. Your first comes and you basically grow up with them, you learn through your mistakes as well as your triumphs. They go to all the parties with you, restaurants, sporting events, traveling—they just fit into your life. You learn the dos and don’ts, but your life doesn’t change as much as you thought. You start to think Wow! This was easy, let’s have another. RELATED: Isn’t Parenting...

Keep Reading

Our Kids Need Us as Much as We Need Them

In: Kids, Motherhood
Little boy sitting on bench with dog nearby, color photo

During a moment of sadness last week, my lively and joyful toddler voluntarily sat with me on the couch, holding hands and snuggling for a good hour. This brought comfort and happiness to the situation. At that moment, I realized sometimes our kids need us, sometimes we need them, and sometimes we need each other at the same time. Kids need us. From the moment they enter the world, infants express their needs through tiny (or loud) cries. Toddlers need lots of cuddling as their brains try to comprehend black, white, and all the colors of the expanding world around...

Keep Reading

Your Kids Don’t Need More Things, They Need More You

In: Faith, Kids, Motherhood
Mother and young girl smiling together at home

He reached for my hand and then looked up. His sweet smile and lingering gaze flooded my weary heart with much-needed peace. “Thank you for taking me to the library, Mommy! It’s like we’re on a date! I like it when it’s just the two of us.” We entered the library, hand in hand, and headed toward the LEGO table. As I began gathering books nearby, I was surprised to feel my son’s arms around me. He gave me a quick squeeze and a kiss with an “I love you, Mommy” before returning to his LEGO—three separate times. My typically...

Keep Reading

This Time In the Passenger Seat is Precious

In: Kids, Motherhood, Teen
Teen driver with parent in passenger seat

When you’re parenting preteens and teens, it sometimes feels like you are an unpaid Uber driver. It can be a thankless job. During busy seasons, I spend 80 percent of my evenings driving, parking, dropping off, picking up, sitting in traffic, running errands, waiting in drive-thru lines. I say things like buckle your seat belt, turn that music down a little bit, take your trash inside, stop yelling—we are in the car, keep your hands to yourself, don’t make me turn this car around, get your feet off the back of the seat, this car is not a trash can,...

Keep Reading

So God Made My Daughter a Wrestler

In: Kids, Motherhood
Young female wrestler wearing mouth guard and wrestling singlet

God made my girl a wrestler. Gosh, those are words I would never have thought I would say or be so insanely proud to share with you. But I am. I know with 100 percent certainty and overwhelming pride that God made my girl a wrestler. But it’s been a journey. Probably one that started in the spring of 2010 when I was pregnant with my first baby and having the 20-week anatomy ultrasound. I remember hearing the word “girl” and squealing. I was over the moon excited—all I could think about were hair bows and cute outfits. And so...

Keep Reading

A Big Family Can Mean Big Feelings

In: Faith, Kids, Motherhood
Family with many kids holding hands on beach

I’m a mother of six. Some are biological, and some are adopted. I homeschool most of them. I’m a “trauma momma” with my own mental health struggles. My husband and I together are raising children who have their own mental illnesses and special needs. Not all of them, but many of them. I battle thoughts of anxiety and OCD daily. I exercise, eat decently, take meds and supplements, yet I still have to go to battle. The new year has started slow and steady. Our younger kids who are going to public school are doing great in their classes and...

Keep Reading

You May Be a Big Brother, but You’ll Always Be My Baby

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother with young son, color photo

It seems like yesterday we were bringing you home from the hospital. Back then, we were new parents, clueless but full of love—a love that words can hardly explain. I can vividly recall holding you in my arms, rocking you in the cutest nursery, and singing sweet lullabies, just like yesterday. I can picture those times when you were teeny-tiny, doing tummy time, and how proud I was of you for lifting your head. And oh, the happiness on your face when “Baby Shark” played over and over—that song always made you smile! We made sure to capture your growth...

Keep Reading