Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 13, 2009

Innocence Lost

12 October 2009 | Undisclosed Location in Kampala, Uganda

This morning we pushed and shoved our way through Kampala’s traffic en route to a safe house – a sanctuary for young women rescued from the local commercial sex trade. The location of this house is a safely guarded secret because the security of those rescued is at stake. The pimps and madams who have lost girls do not generally give them up without a fight — thus the need for guarding the location of the house.

Veronica, the director of The Comforter’s Center, arranged for us to meet with a Ugandan woman named Annette, the director of this safe house. As we neared our destination, our driver turned left off of a paved road past a foul-smelling pile of garbage and onto a deeply rutted and muddy dirt road. A short distance down the road a woman opened a gate and ushered us into the small, walled compound.

Annette greeted us with a winsome smile and firm handshake. She led us inside the house where we sat on an old sofa and an assortment of plastic chairs. Annette sat with graceful posture and began to speak. It only took a moment to realize that she is not only very intelligent, but is a compassionate woman governed by a firm resolve to make a difference in the lives of young girls who have lost their innocence in the most horrible of ways.

The residents at this safe house are as young as ten to thirteen years old. Some of these girls were trafficked to Kampala from nearby Burundi and Rwanda. Others are Ugandan girls rescued from the brothels of Thailand and returned to Uganda. All of them lost their innocence in the same way and have lived through an unimaginable hell of horrors.

“We are committed to helping these girls change from the inside out,” said Annette. She emphasized that only Jesus can cleanse and heal them from what they have experienced in the past and give them hope for the future. Annette and her staff work to educate, rehabilitate, and resettle these girls in places where they can use new vocational skills to support themselves. Most of the girls stay for at least two years, some longer.

Visitors, including family members, are not allowed to visit the girls in the home. This may sound like a tough policy, but some of these girls were sold into prostitution by family members. The youngest resident is a ten-year old girl whose mother is a prostitute. This child lost her innocence in her own home to her mother’s clients. Therefore home, for some of these girls, is not a safe place and family members are not people they can trust.

Young girls, like those who live at this safe house, are a valuable commodity in the commercial sex trade. Men fearful of getting sexually transmitted infections prefer younger girls. However, once these girls have suffered the indignity of repeated rape and abuse, they fetch lower prices. These girls, noted Annette, then make only between one and four dollars a day by having repeated sexual encounters with clients.

The pimps or the “mommas” they work for take all of their money, leaving them in a vulnerable and dependent state. Those trafficked from other countries must deal with the additional challenge of being in a strange and unfamiliar city with no relatives or friends. The resulting loneliness and isolation adds to their feelings of despair and resignation.

Girls who try to escape or who resist the vulgar advances of misogynistic clients are subjected to physical abuse. Many of the girls trapped in the web of the commercial sex trade bear the scars of physical abuse and live with the fear or reality of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Those who manage to escape and run to the police often suffer the additional indignity of being raped again, or must offer sexual favors in exchange for their freedom, or are returned to their pimps by the police. For some, it seems that there is no escape.

Annette and her team are working hard to provide a way of escape for young girls forced to prostitute themselves. The problem of commercial sex and sex trafficking is huge, but Annette is doing what she can to make a difference. And, who knows, God may use some of the girls rescued and rehabilitated by Annette and her staff to become champions who will in turn rescue others.

Annette reminds me that while we cannot do everything, we can each do something to help. A good place to start is by becoming informed about this and other issues concerning injustice. I recommend a book I recently read entitled, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. You can also learn more about what you can do to help by visiting the International Justice Mission website.

One of the last things Annette shared with us is that the young girls who reside at the safe house are encouraged to have a “Dream Book” in which they record their hopes for a brighter future. I like that. I am thankful that Annette, a wife and mother of three, has given her life to help young girls in need and to guide them toward a brighter future.

Please remember to pray for Annette and the young girls she cares for. Read more about this topic and ask God to guide you in doing something to help. Think about what you would do or would want for others to do if your pre-teen or teenage daughter was trapped in the dark world of commercial sex.

Pray for the young girls who lose their innocence every day in dingy brothels and other filthy places. And, pray that God will raise up more champions like Annette to restore hope to those trapped in the most hopeless of situations.


  1. Great post, Omar! I’d love to talk further with you about IJM and church partnership. Feel free to contact me at I am part of the Church Mobilization team at IJM HQ in Washington, D.C.

  2. Austin…

    Thanks for your comment. And thanks for your good work at IJM. I will get in touch with you.


  3. Hi Omar, I am in Kara Potts bible study. She shared with us today about her trip to Uganda. I was particularly moved by the story of Annette and her safe house. Kara told us today what it would cost to send one of those girls to school for 1 year. God has laid on my heart a desire to donate that amount. Please contact me and let me know how I can go about doing that. I am not a member of Kingsland (I go to Epiphany). I will look forward to hearing from you via email. God bless you! 🙂

    Claudia Turcott

  4. Hi Claudia…

    Thanks for your willingness to assist one of the girls at the safe house in Uganda. You may make your check payable to Kingsland Baptist Church and put “Uganda Safe House” in the Memo line. Please make sure the check comes to our missions office and we will wire the funds on your behalf to the safe house in Uganda. Thanks again for investing in this life-saving ministry.


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