Sierra Leone by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

For Far Too Many Children, Poverty and Sexual Abuse Go Hand in Hand

When a 9-year-old girl offered me sex in return for flip flops, I knew life would never be the same.

Yes, sadly, you read that right. She made the offer when I innocently bought her some flip flops – and that was the moment my life changed.

Dreaming of becoming a lawyer and researching universities, I set out on a church mission trip to war-torn Sierra Leone. The poverty was horrific and the brutalities were extreme. This country had been ripped apart through a civil war.

I’d previously travelled across Africa and also spent a month in Colombia, but nothing could prepare me for this.

Tall for her age, though desperately thin, Felicity was just 9. She’d noticed me talking to 6-year-old Solomon, another street kid in the city of Bo, and she’d come over to help.

I didn’t know it just then, but my life was about to be turned upside down.

Solomon spoke no English but, with Felicity’s help, I got to understand how both of them were on the streets. They were begging. They were well known in this dusty square, with its wooden bench stalls and its piles of second-hand clothes for sale. Solomon was begging on behalf of his grandparents, because he could get more money than they could. Felicity seemed to be on her own, and never mentioned any family.

My friend Amanda and I helped them both. We bought some clothes from a market stall to replace the rags that Solomon was wearing. And for Felicity I bought some pink flip-flops.

I’d noticed straight away that Felicity was barefooted, and it seemed a small gesture to get her the shoes. She chose the pink ones which cost less than £1.

I invited the two of them to join us later that day when we were to drive out to an open-air church service. As I stepped out of the hotel in the early evening, the sun was going down and the dust from the streets was beginning to settle as the traffic lessened. I saw two children running towards me – Felicity and Solomon. They sprinted over and gave me the biggest of hugs. I was delighted they had remembered, and pointed them to the vehicle we were travelling in.

“But don’t you want me to go to your room?” Felicity asked. I didn’t understand.

“No. We’re going right now. There’s room in the vehicle – in you get!”

“Shouldn’t I wait in your hotel room?” Felicity repeated.

It was then that it hit me. I was a woman in my 20s at the time and, horrifyingly, the little girl for whom I’d bought these flip-flops thought that I was doing it in return for sexual favours.

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(c) The Christian Today, used with permission.