This fear overcame me when I was in a massage job, down a poorly lit street, when a car slowed as a man passed me twice, or on a dodgy dance floor that I should’ve left wayyyy earlier. But, I have never experienced anything like being totally overcome by another’s violent, lust-fuelled, sexual abuse.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll get this question on the daily:
Since 2008-ish, my eyes have been opened to sex-trafficking.
In 2012 I moved to Thailand; I had 22 teen Thai (and Burmese-Chinese) girls under my care. I worked for Destiny Rescue, an international Christian NGO that aim to rescue children from trafficking and provide aftercare for those they bring in.
My role? Start a Thai-Western cafe with these girls after training them in cooking, mean barista skills + confident customer service. Hardly breezy, no matter what ‘experience’ I thought I could offer. I met with the psychologist in my first months so that I could find out some basic details about each girl. I presumed a little background would help me lead and love these girls. Maybe it did. But hearing 22 horrific stories of tiny innocent females was enough to wonder if there was good in the world at all.
Rape, violence, drugs, suicide, family death, slavery, poverty were all common themes that I heard, that almost waited for the “trafficking” part or the “raped by family member” part in each story. Needless to say, I was thankful for how cheaply one can drown sorrows in liquor in Siam.
One of my heartbreaks during my time? A 14-year girl who couldn’t grasp the opportunity she was offered. Her heart and mind were chained. She left for heavy drugs + an older guy. They won her battle. She now has 2 children, is a mistress to a much older married Thai man, lives in a poor village, and is not yet 18.
And one joy? One cafe girl almost left because her parents wanted to hand her over to a 60-year Japanese man to pay off her family debts. She was 15. Her younger sister would have had to take the role if she refused. She would be prey once more. We had trained Thai staff to go up to her village to bargain for her freedom. They told the family about how she would earn a wage at the cafe + we showed the family how this could aid the debt. The girl’s smile was unbridled when she was allowed the job, and it couldn’t be wiped off for months following.
Sex trafficking is a disgusting blight on our modern world. It goes against the very principles of human rights. It devalues a human with a soul + creates a commodity. We think it’s small, it’s not. (20+ million sold into slavery EACH year). We think it’s underground (porn does not merely film highly paid consenting western adults). Those ‘prostitutes’ on gaudy bright-lit tourist hot spots in Asia, and are not all happy and over age. (They are told to say they are over 18, and the ones that actually are- you can bet many were sold to a bar/brothel around 12yrs). Oh, and it’s boys too.
I was in Thailand + also Cambodia: both well-known for sexual exploitation, but Sri Lanka, Uganda, Haiti, India, Pakistan, Brazil + Bangladesh rank even higher for sex trafficking of children.
Here’s the deal. There is demand. SEX SELLS. Our highly sexualised western world is dripping with unquenched lust. There is supply. Rampant poverty + desperation in poorer countries; SEX SELLS.
The evil is not merely in foreigners. Many local men and women are traffickers, abusers, rapists + paedophiles. And wealth is a dirty king – it’s what you get for selling your daughter so you can buy your drugs and alcohol. Poverty is a driving force for the sale of your body or your child. We look with disbelief, yet we have savings accounts, 2+ cars in the driveway + superannuation plans. I’m not excusing it. I’m figuring it out. I’ve had to choose between the $25 meal or the $15 meal out with friends. Not, should I sell my daughter so I can buy more rice.
What can you do? Well, you could start by buying some vodka. But that’ll only acutely aid YOU + the hangover isn’t worth it ladies and gents.
Empathy, outrage and compassion can fuel action. So stoke them. Don’t freak out. You will not likely solve sex trafficking single-handedly in your lifetime. I felt like I didn’t even cause a ripple in a deep sea of broken girls. I dare say that you are educated, wealthy (by the world’s standards anyway), have freedom to wield.
You can aid those working to rescue + rehabilitate like Destiny Rescue, you can go to work there yourself perhaps. I believe prevention and education in high-risk countries are key to true long-term change. Celebrating and teaching parents to value the very humanity of their child and know also how to use money wisely (drugs and alcohol are a higher priority in many cases).