Last night, I had the opportunity to go on a ride along with a group of volunteers for a nonprofit organization who advocates for human trafficking/domestic violence victims. I started volunteering in early March because I had this strong desire to learn more about sex trafficking in my area. I’ve always known that modern day slavery (because that’s really what it is) was happening, but I was more informed about it happening overseas.
I became familiar with the Lord’s Resistance Army in college. The organization, Invisible Children, visited my campus my junior year…and from then on…I’ve had a burning passion for the children who have been abducted. Here is a short summary from HumanTrafficking.Org describing the LRA:
“The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – a rebel group fighting the government of Uganda – is estimated to have abducted over 60,000 Ugandan children and youth. Within the war-affected region of northern Uganda, the LRA has abducted one in three male adolescents and one in six female adolescents. While in captivity, thousands of abducted women and girls – most of whom are from the Acholi and Langi peoples - fought, cooked, carried supplies, fetched water, and cleaned for LRA fighters and commanders, including those who organized and carried out their abductions. Many of those abducted also served as forced wives to male members of the group, with half of them bearing children to their captor husbands.”
Ok….well all of this is happening in other third world countries…right? The answer is NO. It’s happening in my own city (children as young as 12). It’s happening right under our noses, but why can’t we see it? Human trafficking could possibly be one of the least understood crimes in our nation. It is a hidden and secretive crime. I am incredibly blessed to work with an agency that provides me with so much training on these issues, but is everyone receiving these trainings? Again, the answer is no. Not all law enforcement units are as trained to recognize trafficking. Often, they see a woman on the street and immediately view the victims as a criminal. There are so many challenges our government, child agencies, school and justice system are facing. I could go on and on about all the aspects of human trafficking, but you’d be here for days. I honestly just want to share my experience with you today because it was one that opened my eyes beyond what I thought I already knew.
A private investigator for the organization led our tour. She took us around some tracks, the streets the women and men walk, and we parked the van in a parking lot. She took us in the evening when there was still some light outside so we could get a clear view of the areas. At one point, we noticed a very large male on the phone walking alongside a woman. They stopped at a rundown gas station and I noticed the woman had her head down the entire time. The PI explained that this pimp was probably “starting”his first client for the night. We learned that a taco restaurant in parts of this town really isn’t a taco shop (law enforcement refers to these as “breastaurants”). Women are being sold in restaurants and convenient stores. I even saw a kid with a woman outside the door of a small dance bar. He was about 5.
We drove around more tracks and ended up at two very disgusting motels. That’s probably the best word I can use. There were a few cars in the parking lot and we were informed that illegal sex acts were probably going down in these rooms. We even saw a man walking up to a car who appeared to be making some sort of exchange. The PI told us it was probably a drug deal. I’m not going to lie….I was terrified beyond believe knowing I was in this part of town. Imagine the women who walk the streets…alone. Many questions were raised, but in the end we concluded that everyone can play a role in all of this, but it has to be done together. Parliamentarians passing laws to stop this crime, private companies need to make sure that this supply chain is not tainted by the blood of the modern slaves, every day people like you and I to raise awareness and protect these victims, and government officials to ratify the anti-trafficking protocol and implement it.
We passed through the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender area of the city. This was around 10PM. Many men stood in the streets. We even drove through the wealthy parts of the city. Yes, this happens in affluent cities as well. Here, we learned that a lot of labor trafficking occurs. Nannies and housekeepers are treated like property. The PI showed us parks where rich business men meet women in the bathrooms. Later, we passed through a very hidden street in the city. The street was filled with small buildings with large neon signs. The lights illuminated our path as we slowly drove through. We learned that the buildings were spas and massage parlors. We parked at the end of the street as we watched a man walk out the back door and proceeded to get into his BMW. I WAS WATCHING THIS HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE. It was all so surreal. Our tour ended at a common strip club in the area. We watched men walk in and out of the club, but we never knew what was really going on inside.
We had long discussions about the night towards the end. I think the best part about my experience was knowing how passionate the other volunteers were about this issue. Networking is something I have learned to do while in this field. Every bit of knowledge I learn is absorbed in one way or another. The last thing I want to do is sound super cheesy in this post, but under a common banner, we have a large chance of controlling this crime and reaching out to those who are suffering.
As soon as I got home, I opened up the book I’m reading (The Hole in Our Gospel) and read these selections over and over again:
“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.” “Well, why didn’t you ask Him?” “Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same questions.”
“We must face the brutal facts about poverty and injustice-only then can we take the first steps to respond.”
“We must never see poverty or justice as “issues” that need solutions; rather we must see the human beings as the heart of those issues as people who need and deserve our love and respect…and when enough people choose to do this, even a crisis on a global scale can change.”
The Holy Spirit communicated with me last night….and I look forward to seeing what plans He has in store for me.