It's impossible to tell Jennifer Kempton's story without mentioning God.
But give Reuters, um, credit for trying.
This week's otherwise riveting profile of Kempton — with the headline "Former sex slave helps women reclaim their branded bodies with new tattoos" — suffers from an obvious, God-sized hole:
This is one of those holy ghosts (click here if you're not familiar with that oft-used GetReligion term) that must be intentional. There's simply no other explanation (more on that in a moment).
But first, the lede from Reuters:
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After escaping years of sexual slavery, Jennifer Kempton could not look in the mirror without being taken back to her dark, traumatic past.
On her neck was tattooed the name of one of her traffickers along with his gang's crown insignia. Above her groin were the words "Property of Salem" - the name of the former boyfriend who forced her into prostitution nine years ago.
"Slaves have been branded for centuries and it's just evolved into being tattooed. It's happening all over the world," said Kempton who suffered horrific brutality during six years working on the streets of Columbus, Ohio.
Today the tattoo on her neck has been transformed into a large flower "blooming out of the darkness". Three other brandings have been masked with decorative, symbolic motifs.
Two years ago Kempton, now 34, set up a charity called Survivor's Ink to help others who have escaped enslavement get their brandings covered up or removed.
"It was very empowering for me so I wanted to pay forward that liberation to other girls in my area who had been branded like cattle, just like I was," Kempton told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
My friend Jordan emailed me after reading the story:
Don't know if this is something to chase down. This is a testimony of a former enslaved prostitute who is now helping to empower other former sex slaves. The article shares her story of being a slave then mentions that the woman heard a voice promising her a future and way out. Then the article breaks. Makes me think she had some kind of profound religious experience, and what she is doing now might be an extension of her religious experience, but the article doesn't seem to ask nor answer any of those questions.
This is the section of the story that raised Jordan's GetReligion antenna:
The turning point came in April 2013 after a brutal rape.
During a prolonged attack she was beaten beyond recognition and raped with a knife. As she fled the house bleeding she begged two men for help but they laughed and locked their door.
"The sound of the door locking just echoed in my mind. I was locked out of society, I was not seen as worthy of help," said Kempton. Afterwards she tried to hang herself, but the rope snapped.
In her despair, she heard a voice telling her she had a purpose in life "and it wasn't to die in the basement of a crackhouse".
Survivor's Ink has so far provided grants to help around 100 women cover up their slavery brandings.
Might that voice have a name? (Hint: God.)
In 2014, I wrote a Religion News Service feature on Christian ministries helping women escape the sex industry. That same year, I wrote a Christian Chronicle piece on Christians battling sex trafficking in the U.S.
So, like Jordan, I was struck by the vague nature of Kempton's quote, at least as reported by Reuters.
Hello, Google. A search turned up plenty of evidence that Kempton herself gives credit to God. Among that evidence: a CNN interview with Kempton last year:
In that interview, Kempton mentions God by name:
"God came to me and spoke to me and he said I have a purpose for you and it's not to die in the basement of a crack house," Kempton said.
I have no doubt that Kempton told Reuters the same thing. Why Reuters didn't want to identify God, I don't know.
Oh, there's more evidence. Click the CNN link, and you'll notice that the prominent, redone tattoo on Kempton's arm refers to "1 Cor 13 4:13." That would be 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 of the New Testament, which says:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Yes, there's a faith angle here. The wire service just chose to ignore it and write around it. But why?
Hey Reuters, are you really that afraid of religion!?