“Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” Proverbs 31:8 CEV
Kristy Childs believes in the power of a voice. She speaks on behalf of those who do not speak for themselves, giving a voice to those who are sexually trafficked in the Kansas City area. She founded Veronica’s Voice to empower victims of commercial sexual exploitation and provide community education and awareness about prostitution and sex trafficking. But Childs says she would not be where she is today – she would not be able to give a voice to the sexually exploited – without hearing a voice calling her out of her own prison.
Childs’ story begins before Veronica’s Voice. It begins before she helped anyone escape prostitution. Her story begins when she was sexually trafficked as a young child.
Childs stumbled into prostitution at the age of 12, and did not escape until 36 years old. “I ran away from an abusive home environment,” she explains. She hitchhiked to avoid the abuse, often finding rides with truck drivers. She needed to eat and escape, and began exchanging sex for food and transportation. “I had no idea it was prostitution,” she says. “They gave me rides and fed me, but made me feel obligated to perform sex acts.”
Childs has described prostitution as violence, and her experience reinforces this. Her time as a prostitute involved severe abuse, including being beaten, assaulted and forced to endure multiple abortions.
But it was the power of voice that finally led her out of the slavery and violence. “My story is one that is totally a God thing,” she says. Finding herself pregnant again, she tried to abort her son, but she could not follow through. When she began bleeding she almost felt relief, thinking she may have a miscarriage. Depressed and suicidal, she wanted to die, but instead checked into an ER.
In the ER, lying on the ultrasound table, she heard her son’s heartbeat. “It was in that moment my miracle happened,” says Childs. “God spoke into my spirit and said ‘Have this baby. I’m bringing you out of this.’” The sound of her son’s heartbeat and God’s voice replaced her depression with hope.
Childs worked on risk reduction. She stopped living on the streets, only worked one day a week, broke her dependency on a pimp and always worked with another girl to make the work safer. She also began attending classes to find another way to earn money. “This plan that seems so simple now, in retrospect was so difficult to find. And I think it was so difficult because I didn’t think I could do it,” she explains.
This is me all over again
It was during this time of transition that Childs met Veronica Neverdusky, a 14-year-old girl working as a prostitute. “This little girl who was also on the streets kept running after me and telling me all about herself,” she says. Childs’ initial reaction was to not get involved. “I had taken a beating in Alaska for helping a young girl escape her pimp,” she explains. She did not want to get into another situation that could put her in danger.
But then Neverdusky said some things that made Childs stop. “It made me realize ‘This is me all over again.’” They became close friends. Childs saw Neverdusky as a daughter or younger sister. She taught Neverdusky everything she knew about staying safe on the streets. “Unfortunately, that was all I knew at the time,” says Childs.
Ultimately, prostitution led to Veronica Neverdusky’s murder, and in August 1993 her body was found dumped in Penn Valley Park in Kansas City, Missouri. She had just turned 21. “I carry that in my heart,” says Childs. “I was in a place where I had hope and was moving forward and I knew she would follow right behind me, but that didn’t get to happen.”
A burden and a call
Childs made her way out of prostitution, but kept her former life hidden. “I utilized everything I qualified for and kept to myself, because I couldn’t let anyone know where I came from.” A program called Keyboards to Success taught her computer and typing skills and eventually gave her a job as a case manager.
She kept a burden for the girls still trapped in the sex industry, though, and wanted to give them a voice. This eventually caused her to admit where she had come from. “One day the manager and I had lunch, and I just said ‘I want you to know who I am, where I come from and what your program did for me.’” The program had given Childs the job skills needed to leave her former life and be able to support herself and her son. She laid out her heart and said, “I know there are other women out there who are suffering, and my life is good.”
A couple weeks later, Childs’ manager walked by Childs’ desk and told her she would receive a call about a job. “I’m thinking, ‘I work for you. What is really going on?’” says Childs. But Childs’ manager wouldn’t tell her.
“I ended up getting the phone call,” says Childs.“The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth said they would give me $25,000 to start an organization to help prostituted people.” From her living room, Childs started Veronica’s Voice, which she named in honor of her friend who had been murdered in Penn Valley Park in Kansas City. Out of Veronica’s tragedy and Kristy’s miracle has come a voice for the sexually exploited in Kansas City.
Veronica’s Voice is a Kansas City-based organization that empowers women to leave prostitution. It was started by Kristy Childs in July 2000.