I’ve been sharing stories from my trip to SE Asia, but my friends who went have also been sharing. Their posts echo my own experience and illuminate more of the work of the Exodus Road in their fight against trafficking . . . I hope you will check them out.
It is this organization’s attitude toward building alliances that I think will ultimately make it successful. They haven’t come into this part of the world with a Superman complex. The easy, ineffective fix would be to find a young girl who has been sold or is being forced against her will into the commercial sex trade, pay for her services and then bring her to a safe house. Their “rescue” numbers would be a significant multiple of what they are if they operated like this, but in turn they would be creating vacuums that would be filled immediately with another human body. The brothel owner would simply go out and buy another girl
But will she live? Will the girl smuggled across the boarder to be sold for sex daily live? I mean, like, will she really live? Will she live a beautiful life? Will she live a life marked by love? Will she know she’s valuable? Will she ever learn her real worth? I don’t know. But I know I have the power to send out the ones who can find her. I know I have the power to equip those who will do everything possible to make her free. I have the power to bid her “rescue is coming”, even from my place of comfort across the sea. So I will. I want to leverage my power for those with none, so, yes, I’ll do my best to tell her story. There are a million ways to say it all wrong, but I’m going to say it anyway, because this space, this audience, this readership, and these words are the most powerful thing I’ve been given.
[photo by Heather Armstrong]
I cried with a sex worker. I rode on the back of motorcycle taxis. I reviewed pedophile cases, and now I can’t get the images out of my head. I watched an undercover investigation happen from the back seat of an SUV and ducked every time I saw headlights. I questioned God. I met a baby elephant. I watched horrible things unfold but I sat on my hands and smiled – as instructed – so as not to cause suspicion. I met people who have devoted their lives to rescuing victims and prosecuting evil people. I laughed with my friends in the back of a pickup truck and rubbed at the pain under my sternum by myself in the shower. I danced on a rooftop. I visited a Buddhist temple. I sat and talked with girls identified by the number pinned to their bikini bottoms. I connected with them. I felt a deep love for them. I wanted to rescue them. I left them behind.
Earlier in the week I asked one of the investigators if he ever got into these situations and was tempted to take a girl home either to set her free or even temporarily relieve her from one night of barbarity. Did he ever let his professional guard down and experience that kind of response? He shook his head but not to say no. “Every single time, Heather,” he answered. “Every single case. It’s not about being professional. We’re always professional. But you don’t ever get used to this. It’s about being human. What kind of human would I be if I didn’t feel that way every single time?”
So instead of filling your head with a bunch of internet facts and figures that may or may not mean anything, find out what sex-trafficking actually looks like in your town. Call the police station and ask if they have an anti sex-trafficking unit and, if so, see if someone from the unit will talk to you about it. If sex-trafficking is a problem in your area, learn who’s at risk to be trafficked and who’s doing the trafficking, and learn about who is driving the demand. Research non-profits near you who are working in this field; pull their tax info, review their track record, compare their claims against what you’ve learned from the police, and if you like what you see, give them your time and money. Be informed about the place you live, and then get involved accordingly.
And then I, the atheist, offered to him, “I think that if the Jesus you read about in the Bible were on the earth today he’d be doing the work that your team is doing. His message is that agnostic undercover investigator who collects evidence in brothels, it’s that Buddhist man housing 40 abused children, it’s that Hindu counselor who offers psychotherapy to rescued girls. I can tell my readers I found God.”
The girl with the tall white boots may be here because she wants to, I recognize. Because the money’s good. Or maybe because her boyfriend knows he can remain jobless and carefree as long as she’s turning at least a few tricks a night. The bored-looking girl with the heavy bangs may be from a small village where a man promised her parents a good job working at a restaurant, making enough to support herself, her parents, her brothers and sister, but she ends up being enslaved. “Raped and beaten for a week to break her spirit,” Matt had told me. He mentioned the words “professional rapists” and I’ve still not wrapped my head around that concept. After the breaking week she may have been told that she’ll still get to send money to her family, but if she runs? Doesn’t cooperate? They’ll go after her little sister next. Another might have been taken across country borders at the age of 14, passport taken away, now in debt bondage to her pimp. Her virginity’s been auctioned off for $300. They call her a “fresh girl.” She can’t run for help. She can’t speak the language.
It’s why I send my husband out into brothels to look for children. It’s why we work long hours to raise funding for equipment that trusted police partners have asked for. It’s why we advocate and travel and write and have meetings, and quite frankly, bleed-out. Because a girl or boy in a brothel, and even millions of them, are begging for freedom, are desperate for it. And it’s not a half-hearted effort that will provide it for them.