Photo by Joe Boyle
Pastor Esther Holiday speaks to an audience at the Moscow Center at Sacred Heart Parish in Palos Hills on Monday night. She spoke about her years of being a victim of sex trafficking and how she turned her life around.
By Joe Boyle
Pastor Esther Holiday told an audience Monday night at Sacred Heart Parish in Palos Hills that no one should look away when the subject of sex trafficking is brought up.
Holiday reminded everyone who was present at the parish’s Moscow Center that she is an authority on the subject. She lived the life of a sex slave as a teenager.
“I came from a sexually and physically abusive home,” Holiday, 71, informed the crowd. “When I was at home, my mom was sick. She was mentally ill. My parents had 12 kids. When my mother became so sick my father showed us the person he really was. He sexually abused four of my sisters.”
Holiday said that her father was physically abusive to her but never sexually.
“He knew I would hit him back,” she said.
But the years of sexual abuse took its toll on her sisters. One of her sisters ran away from home and changed her name. Holiday said she has not seen her in 52 years. She added that through a network of friends and associates there has been contact with a woman who may be her sister’s daughter. Holiday hopes that she could talk to this woman and someday meet her sister again. Another sister, Holiday said, was so traumatized by years of abuse that it has affected her emotionally and mentally.
Holiday could no longer take the physical abuse and ran away from her home on Chicago’s West Side at the age of 17. Although Holiday could handle herself physically, she was vulnerable to the outside world. Soon after leaving home, she was approached by gang members who were trying to force her to have sex with various members. It was at this point a man intervened and took her away before they could assault her.
“I just wanted to be loved,” Holiday said. “I didn’t know what love was.”
Holiday became instantly attracted to the 25-year-old man because no one showed her that amount of affection previously. He initially took care of her and she responded positively. But one day he asked if he could do her a favor. She answered that she would do anything he wanted. That was beginning of a period of where she became involved in sex trafficking.
“Most predators try to groom you,” Holiday said. “They treat you nice in the beginning so that these girls will trust them. These girls have low self-esteem.”
Holiday was invited to speak about her past and redemption as part of Sacred Heart’s Domestic Violence Outreach Ministry. The organization has its beginnings dating back to September 2012 when information about domestic violence was placed in the parish bulletin. On the weekend of Oct. 12 and 13, 2013, Rev. Charles Dahm preached at all Masses and encouraged parishioners to establish a ministry. On March 13, 2014, the group officially met for the first time. The organization continues with the guidance of the Rev. Jacek Wrona, the current pastor.
During her presentation, Holiday said the road to get out of this abusive cycle was traumatic.
“I tried to commit suicide several times,” Holiday said during the presentation. “I was at the breaking point. I was able to get out but he later caught me. He locked me up for several days and raped me every day. But on the last day, for some reason, he forgot to lock the door and I escaped.”
This time, Holiday said, she kept running and never looked back. While finally free, Holiday admitted that emotionally and physically she was a wreck. It took years of encouragement through the guidance of volunteers who work with victims of sex trafficking for her life to turn around. She later went back to school and got her GED. She followed that up by earning an associate’s degree in divinity training. She has been the pastor of House of Glory for All Nations Church in Morris for 11 years. She has a son and daughter.
She told the audience about the warning signs of child sex trafficking, which for girls can mean signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises and cuts. Many of these girls also have unexplained absences from school. Sexualized behavior, an older boyfriend and gang involvement are just some of the warning signs of possible sex trafficking, according to Holiday.
Holiday speaks to students and small groups of people about sex trafficking. While poor kids are vulnerable to becoming victims, she has received reports of kids from middle class homes who fall prey to predators and end up in sex trafficking. Life has also changed over the years, Holiday said.
“Back in the day, neighbors knew each other,” Holiday said. “With all the evil going on, a lot of people just close their doors. For me, I push the doors open. In Morris, at first, they tried to ignore me. But now I talk to the mayor and the police. They work with me. We do the same thing in different towns. I don’t give up easily. We all need to work together.”
A variety of organizations were also on hand at Monday night’s presentation not to speak but provide advice and pass out flyers about assisting victims of sexual abuse. Some of the organizations on hand were Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), Exodus Cry and Illinois Women Religious Against Human Trafficking,
“I tell young people don’t be talking to strangers, and don’t be giving out information to people you don’t know,” Holiday said.
More information about the Domestic Violence Outreach Ministry can be obtained at http://sacredheartpalos.org/dvdir/. More information about Holiday’s Love Outreach Center can be obtained at firstname.lastname@example.org.