It is difficult to admit, but I initially found the topic uncomfortable to the point of avoidance: human trafficking, sexual servitude, modern-day slavery. It made me feel queasy and strangely shameful. Like I had discovered this dark underbelly of humanity that should not be seen in the light or discussed in conversation
At this time, I was a recent college graduate, a midwestern Michigan girl living in Los Angeles. I remember watching Trade, the movie starring Kevin Kline, and wanting to crawl out of my skin. The film is based on a January 2004 cover story for The New York Times Magazine written by Peter Landesman about the reality of human trafficking in this country. The events were nightmare-inducing, the brutality grotesque. I could not un-see it, but part of me wished I could.
I think this is where many well-meaning people lie with this issue. They find it difficult to acknowledge. Because to face human trafficking head-on is daunting. It is a rapidly growing criminal industry second only to drug dealing. Human trafficking is estimated to claim up to 20 million victims worldwide, with more than 50% of those victims under the age of 18. The U.S. Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked annually in this country alone.
The reality IS uncomfortable. And the brutality IS dark. Conversations about it ARE awkward, when one side would prefer the topic simply did not exist. And in the face of such staggering need, skepticism can breed inertia. What could one solitary voice possibly achieve?
It took time, but through education, I pushed through my discomfort. I read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the plight of international victims and Rachel Lloyd’s Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, a powerful memoir of the prevalence, complexities and challenges in combating domestic trafficking. These obstacles hit close to home as I’ve stood by a close friend fight for her children in a court battle that seems to reward perpetrators and not bolster victims. I researched nonprofits battling human trafficking and was so inspired by the work of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking that I joined them.
Through the course of this education, something remarkable happened. I realized my discomfort had been a compass, leading me all along to this cause greater than myself. What previously caused unease now gave me purpose. I discovered that something that had unsettled me caused movement. It led to change, to action. Unbalance can lead to a stronger stance. Silence can be broken by a single voice.
A voice that says without trepidation, “I see.”
A voice, open and resolved, saying “I hear.”
And that voice can join with another. And another. And another. And another. Into a mounting crescendo, a force impossible to ignore, a movement that turns on the light.
Wherever you are in this journey, we welcome you and your voice.
All contributors to The New Abolitionists are members of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
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