Sex Trafficking Is Everywhere
As part of Dressember and in line with one of the major issues I raise in my Divided series, I'll be posting about the various tentacles of human trafficking. Each of the next 3 posts will focus on one area - sex trafficking, forced labor, and child labor, with the final post on December 31st detailing prevention and efforts to help survivors. As you take this journey with me, can we agree on a few things?
If you're over the age of 18 years, please don't turn your eyes away from the reality I'll share. This is everyday reality for millions of men, women and children all around the world. If you're under 18 years, please involve your parent or guardian in these posts and discuss how you're processing this information with them. Some of the content will be unsettling, to say the least, and I don't want to birth fear in young people's hearts. I want to create healthy respect for real-world and grow wisdom about online interactions, though.
Open up your eyes to the world around you. Are there victims of human trafficking in your neighborhood or community? What is being done to help them? How can you be involved?
Share the blog or my social posts if something impacts you. If it hits you, then someone else needs to read it, too. By educating ourselves, we can chip away at this massive problem, impacting one life at a time. There are some things you can't "un-see" and the reality of human trafficking is one of those.
Diving into the issue of sex trafficking, on my socials today and over the weekend, I've shared a carousel post with lots of facts and figures and added them to my stories. But let's talk about the reality of sex trafficking.
Who is affected most?
That depends on where we're looking around the world
Children who grow up in the foster care system represent 80% of trafficking victims in LA, while runaways represent significant proportions elsewhere in the US, essentially using their bodies to barter for basic needs.
Abroad, teenaged girls are often "sold" in sex slavery by their families or a prominent community member. In Uganda alone, an estimated 7-12k girls are currently trapped in the prostitution industry, while Thailand boasts an estimated 60k children in the sex industry, some as young as five years old. Women and children are trafficked in every nation in the world. There isn't a place on the globe free of this scourge.
Women and girls comprise an estimated 71% of all those in the sex trafficking industry worldwide.
What does this look like?
Let's look at the life of a woman whose oldest son (I've changed names to protect them and the outreach program) I met in Mumbai. In 2012, the issue of human trafficking looked me in the eye in our impromptu medical clinic for children of trafficked women. "Hiranjan" was 8 years old, the child of a trafficked teenager from Nepal. He had such a bad case of head lice we had to treat him twice. I could wrap my fingers around his thigh and he was losing his hair from malnutrition, despite eating once a day at the outreach. But he had the brightest smile I've ever seen and a contagious laugh. He'd never known anything different. Sometimes I worry about him. He would be twenty-one years old now. Has he been trafficked too or did he get out? One day, maybe I'll know the answer to that.
But let's meet Palisha.
Your name is "Palisha" and you're from a small village in the Nepali foothills of the Himalayas, somewhere near Pokhara, the big tourist destination. Your village isn't on any of the treks or tourist jaunts. Everyone was poor growing up, but you didn't care.
Then famine struck nine years ago. Your family sold you so they could eat. There was a friendly woman in a nice dress who came and said they were hiring cleaning staff for homes in Kathmandu, the prosperous capital. You've never been there, but everyone was so excited you get to go. You get a job and you'll save your family from starvation.
But things didn't work out quite like that. On the road to Kathmandu, you and the other girls were raped by the security for the group. Then they took your identification and all your money. You cried all night. But they laughed and got drunk. And you never made it to Kathmandu. Never saw the inside of a big house to clean.
Your Nepali captors brought you illegally into India, crossing the border one night. They tell you plans changed. Now you'll be working in India, making more money for your family.
You realized long ago it wasn't true, but you can't change it now.
Now the Nepali brothel madame in the slums of Mumbai, India tells you what to do everyday and if you don't obey, she beats you. You're twenty years old and you have three children, ages eight, six and four. After the third one, you bled so long and hard that you couldn't work for six months, the sight of blood disgusted your best clients and they found other girls. You ended up on the street, wandering for weeks, trading sex for necessities and stealing from small groceries when you could.
One night, weak from hunger and tired of fighting, you ended up on the brothel steps, begging to be let back in. Madame helped you recover after you promised to pay back the debt. Now you stay because she feeds your children and sends them to the local school. She shows you numbers on a sheet that represent your debt to her, but you never went to school. How are you supposed to know what they mean?
You're addicted to nicotine, marijuana, and whatever madame will give you so you can escape the cruelty of your life. You eat sometimes. When she feeds you. Though mostly you make sure the kids have food. Maybe one day they can escape. You drink when Madame gives you a bottle or a glass.
You don't ask too many questions.
You try to survive. You tried to kill yourself when you were pregnant with Hiranjan, but Madame caught you. You haven't tried since - who would take care of the kids? Right now, they do their schoolwork, eat and sleep under your bed while you work over their heads.
You saw another girl from your village the other day as she entered the brothel down the street. Your heart fell. Does this mean famine has struck again? You wonder if your family back home is happy. If they have enough to eat.
You wonder if your younger sister is somewhere in this city, too.
Will they sell your brother next or will they let him go to the ramshackle school in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Life was hard in Nepal, but it's hell in Mumbai.
Being sex trafficked in the US may look a little different, but there are some common threads: captors confiscate identification and money; victims aren't able to make their own decisions, including whether they will use birth control or get an abortion; often there's an unsurmountable debt captors assess on their victims, trapping them; criminal activity; drug use as a means of control; and lack of access to medical care, proper nutrition.
Later this month, we will examine the over-representation of kids who grew up in foster care among trafficked victims in the US. That's a real stat that should motivate all of us to help keep kids out of foster care - or help support those who become foster parents out of love for kids and not solely for the money.
Despite the harsh reality and the seemingly unending supply of victims, I cling to the hope that we can see women and girls rescued from this life. The fight is difficult, but there is a veritable army on our side. Lawyers, police, former military, social workers, and everyday people like you and me, all working together to change life for one woman at a time.
Won't you join us?
Our fundraising goal as a team is $12,600. This is enough to fund two full rescue operations, from initial investigation of a brothel site to the aftercare of victims.