Breaking the Silence
Last weekend I sat among a group of 70 pastors listening intently as police Sgt Grant Snyder described his work setting up sting operations to arrest men and rescue victims of sex trafficking and forced prostitution in Minneapolis.
Snyder’s work, as part of the Crimes Against Children Unit of the Minneapolis Police Department, consists largely of working with detectives to plot the arrest of men in the Twin Cities who are purchasing sex from children, mostly from underage girls.
Snyder connects with these men -who are about to become convicted criminals- in chat rooms and sites like BackPage.com, where he poses as a young girl. He corresponds with the men and then arranges to meet with them in a hotel room.
Little do these men know that on the other side of their hotel room door is not a young girl with whom they can fulfill their pedophiliac desires. Instead, a team of police greet these men with a pair of steel hand cuffs. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well for them.
Snyder persists in his career, which is a very taxing line of work, in hopes of shutting down the supply side of our city’s devastating child prostitution and trafficking problem. A problem which, in more recent years, has [finally] come to be understood as existing mainly because of demand. So, the law has turned its focus toward shutting down the demand side, and arresting its “Johns”.
And this is what Snyder does; find the men and bring them to trial. He does this in hopes of sending a ripple-effect message that says it is wrong and unlawful to rape children or to sell them for profit. And as a mother to several children, daughters even, it sounds like this should be obvious, really. Yet here we are, with a growing problem of children for sale in our city, and a growing number of men buying them
As Snyder described the personal details of his cases to this group of pastors, you could have heard a pin drop. In this room full of middle aged, white, suburban, educated male pastors, what he was taking about was disquieting. And the discomfort was palpable. I got the feeling they either weren’t expecting to hear such a topic so early in the morning, or, it was even hitting home for some of them.
Then, Snyder even stepped it up a notch. He looked across this room of captivated pastors and made it relevant, “These men that I arrest, they are not your typical criminal. They are not men who have ever felt the cold press of hand cuffs around their wrists before. No, they look like…me. They look like you.” He could have continued, “They look like the men in your church. They ARE some of the men in your church.”
Snyder brought his example closer to home when he went on to describe a recent arrest that he made at the nearby home of a suburban family man. It was an arrest that broke his heart.
“I had to step over chalk drawings in the driveway while walking up to this guy’s house” he says. “They were drawn by his children. He had a family. A family that was devastated by his bad decisions.”
This family man that he arrested seemed surprised by the impact of his risks and decisions. As if he’d been unaware of the illegality of choosing to meet up at a hotel and buy sex from a teenager that he met online. He acted out of a compulsion that, Snyder describes, is rooted in covetousness, “When I chat with these men, I can see when their covetous desires take over. I pray they don’t say it. I pray they don’t cross the line and make the deal with the ‘girl’. But then they do.”
The family man he described in his recent arrest, like many of the family men he arrests, began sobbing as soon as they answered the door. “He sobbed when he saw us. He sobbed as we cuffed him. He sobbed like a baby in the back of the police car all the way to the station.”
How did they get here? Snyder said that every one of the men he has arrested began down this dark road by first igniting these ideas with use of pornography. “It’s the gateway drug”. Though not everyone who looks at pornography lands in prison or becomes a pedophile, Snyder says that there’s not a man who he’s met yet who has gotten there without it.
I was left with this vivid picture of a family torn apart the day of that man’s arrest. Of a wife in shock and disbelief, wondering, “What do I tell the kids?” and “What does this mean for our marriage?”
I saw the picture of a man wandering off a path of safety into a snarl of trouble, almost unaware of himself and the myopic covetousness that landed him in that place.
For his wife, for those children, there will always be that day. The day the police came to the door. The day their family life came unraveled. And there will always their life before and after dad’s arrest. How would their lives be put back together?
Would the marriage survive? Would this man be treated for his sex addiction? Would he be rehabilitated? Would he be brought into authentic, honest relationships that keep him accountable and feeling connected? What would the rest of his life and his family’s life look like?I looked around the room as I thought about this. And about how many of each of these men’s congregants are being effected by a sex addiction or similar addiction that could lead them down a path to becoming one of Grant Snyder’s next cases.
And I also wondered, how many churches will breach this topic in a helpful, healthy way? Who would be willing to break the silence about this? Certainly there are many men going to church each week who are on the brink of making a really bad and devastating choice like this. Where is the church in their struggle? Is it doing anything to help?
I couldn’t help but feel that by making church a safe place in which to talk about sex addiction and the related topics of human trafficking and prostitution, we could do a world of good. Maybe we could save a family from being torn apart. Maybe we could save one more girl from being victimized and violated.
As I thought about this I couldn’t help but notice the stillness in the room listening to Snyder speak from his many experiences of decade ex on this field. The vulnerability of the men in this room was brought to light by the uncomfortable silence that hovered between us all. The kind of quiet where no one wants to speak or make eye contact. I wonder what they were thinking and feeling. I imagine, some of them were wondering, “Could that ever be me?”
And of course the answer is yes. In the wrong kind of situation, given the wrong sequence of circumstances creating disconnect and isolation, it could be so many more of us than we would ever like to think possible.
As for the many church-going men who are arrested for such sex crimes, I have to ask, where was their church in all of this? Were they talking about this at church? Where was their pastor? Was he broaching this subject with individuals, with the congregation, ever? Where was the guy’s best friend? In what ways does the arrested father wish someone would have intervened in his life? What could have prevented his journey down that dark path?
And I wondered, would it ever be possible for men’s groups in churches to create a culture of safety and openness that breaks the silence about sexual addiction? Would they ever talk about this at their men’s group and then have some actionable follow-ups (like an anonymous help line to call)? Would the church ever be a place of prevention, openness and healing in this arena?
In his talk, I could hear Grant Snyder’s passion for the men in the room. He wanted them to know the dark place of destruction to which sex addiction leads. He has sat in sorrow with hundreds of victimized girls and hundreds of absolutely broken down men. He’s watched their and their family’s lives fall apart
And even so, remarkably, in some of the cases of arrested men, he says he has seen turn-arounds that give him real hope. He has actually visited a mega-church in town and had a man who had served time after being arrested by Snyder’s team, come up to him, tell him of his changed life and thank him. Now that is redemption.
Snyder’s passion for helping both the girls he rescues and the men, hit me too. I walked away feeling that more men in more churches need to hear Grant’s message. More people should be openly talking about this!
We can all benefit by taking in what Snyder has to say, whether it furthers our awareness of the problem of trafficked girls or stops a man in his tracks from doing something that he will regret for a lifetime and more.
And if you want to hear more about the work of Grant Snyder, check out the NPR special documentary podcast in the link below.
MAY 12, 2016
Bought and Sold
Advocates for kids are pushing for a new approach to combating underage prostitution: treating young people caught up in sex trafficking as victims, not delinquents. We embed in a police sting, visit a horse ranch for young victims of trafficking in Minnesota, and visit male sex-buyers in Seattle who are trying to change their ways. This documentary examines how police and lawmakers are increasingly turning to a public health approach to help vulnerable young people break free of sex trafficking. And it explores efforts to stop traffickers and buyers.