Some of you know that human trafficking has become a "cause" for me. I really don't know why, other than the more I learn, the more I feel ill. The FBI statistics show that humans, primarily young women, are being bought and sold--most often for $ex--around the world. This is happening in the US. This is rampant along the I-5 corridor, where I live. It is a quick way to move people out of state, undetected. This is happening in the run-down hotels off the I-5 exits that I pass EVERY DAY. This is happening at the truck stops where I get gas and run my kids in to use the restrooms. Hundreds of sad stories describe how these girls became victims--some were at risk, homeless or missing, others were drugged and taken from seemingly safe situations.
I have read articles and statistics, so I know this is happening within miles of my safe home, but I have never seen it with my own eyes. However, I'm quite certain there was a moment when I came face to face with a woman being prostituted against her will.
My heart is racing and tears are stinging my eyes at the memory. It was our last day in Bangkok, Thailand, where we had spent 2 weeks meeting our son to bring him home. Our flight was leaving around midnight, so we moved to a fancy hotel RIGHT next to the airport to kill time until we needed to check in at BKK. We were walking ALL around this hotel with a hyper toddler, exploring and letting him roam in hallways that were deserted...just because we had nowhere to be. In one especially quiet and vacant back hallway, a older, white, overweight man--I would guess he was in his 60's--came out of a hotel room holding the upper arm of a very young Thai girl. I would say he was gripping her arm, but that might be me adding drama. But they positively were NOT arm-in-arm. He was dressed nicely, she was not.
He caught my eye for 1 second, and I know my face was full of alarm. He then avoided eye-contact with us and looked straight ahead, walking quickly. The girl's face was expressionless. Her arms were to her sides and her eyes were on the floor. She had no purse or bag. She had to have been around 20.
Can I be 100% certain that this woman was being forced into $exual acts with this man? No. Can I be 100% certain that everything about it FELT WRONG and red flags were flying in every direction? Yes. As we walked away, I began to shake and feel nauseus. My mind started racing...who can I call? I don't have my phone, and I wouldn't know what to dial even if I did. How can I report this? We had no internet, we had a very traumatized child on our hands, and we were leaving the country in 2 hours. By the time I started thinking clearly and trying to form a plan, they were gone. I knew it would not be wise to try to become Sydney Bristow and track them down.
This encounter still sits in my gut like a cement block. Thailand is a beautiful country, full of kind and generous people. I adore this country, my son's birthland. It is also a land plagued by human trafficking. For so many of us, the numbers and the horror stories can blur together and become a little hypothetical. In the hallway of that hotel, the blur became crystal clear to me. The statistics had a face. [I want to add that it was not the inter-racial aspect of the couple that alarmed me. It was everything about the situation added into the moment, especially the countenance of the 2 people. Later at the airport we met a lovely couple--American man in his early 50's and Thai woman in her late 30's--and they were very much in love and had been married for 10 years. No red flags flying.]
I ask you to take a few moments today to do a little research, read an article or two. Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. I believe that this ugly secret does need to be brought into the light. Most of us cannot become covert spies and infiltrate brothels. But we can support anti-trafficking efforts with our time, our money and our prayers. Here are just a few organizations that are working to end human trafficking, and/or support the rescue and rehabilitation of victims:
International Justice Mission
House of Engedi
Not For Sale
"Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern-day slavery. But nothing will ever happen until we are." Gary Haugen