Once in awhile, life changing situations happen. Ten years ago, I received a phone call asking me to be part of a national effort to combat sex trafficking. At the time, I didn’t even know what sex trafficking meant; nor did most of the others who showed up for that first meeting. For several years my involvement was wholehearted and time-consuming, but impersonal those awful things were happening somewhere else and while the victims were real and I was deeply affected by the cruelty and abuse of innocent victims, I had not seen human slavery up close and personal.
All that changed last year when I sat at a dinner table in a Mexico City restaurant. Across from me was a beautiful blond young woman who, in contrast to the other nearby dinner companions, was completely at ease in that social situation. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about the only person at the table that I didn’t know. I innocently asked, “Ellen, what do you do?” For a moment, she looked stunned; then she stammered out, “I’m trying to be a good person.” Immediately, I knew that I was talking with a victim of sex trafficking. Later I learned that she had tried several times to leave prostitution, but had been unsuccessful. After the dinner, she hugged me tightly and whispered that she really wanted to be a “lady” like me and the other women there; she asked me to pray for her.
The next night between midnight and 4 a.m., I sat in the middle seat of a black SUV surrounded by security guards. We were accompanied by forward and rear escort vehicles filled with security guards. None of the vehicles had license tags on view. Our driver and the guard in the front passenger seat were both in constant contact with our escorts. We drove down a dozen streets that were lined by prostitutes with their pimps standing in the shadows behind them. I am haunted by all those faces at least 2 in 5 were underage girls. Our escorts, all former law enforcement officials and tough guys, were shocked; we could hear their comments to each other through the walkie-talkies. “That girl in the skirt; she is no older than my daughter.” “Look at that that girl is barely a teen.”
As the night wound down, everyone got quiet. The impact of seeing dozens and dozens of girls not women, girls! who are old before their time was sobering and maddening. My outrage overpowered my despair at seeing those girls’ plight. We saw police officers on every street doing nothing about the scene they were observing. Yet, we could drive no faster than 5 mph because the traffic was so thick; on some streets there were two lanes of cars creeping past the lines of girls. We could see inside some of the sleazy dives where even more girls were servicing the johns.
How tragic that most Americans are where I was 10 years ago; they don’t know about trafficking in persons. They don’t know about modern day slavery.
Yet, the number of children and women who are sex slaves today is greater than the number of 19th century slaves.
Sadly too, all our heroic efforts today cannot keep up with the demand for prostitutes, therefore, the evil of trafficking is escalating faster than we can stop it. But, the United States is leading the way in gaining the world-wide, cooperative teamwork among nations that is necessary in order to address this international embarrassment and stop the world-wide criminal networks that lure the victims into their control. By correctly identifying the practice as modern day slavery and by correctly pointing to the “demand” for prostitutes as the root cause for the escalating numbers of victims, we abolitionists have created a whole new climate that is hostile toward trafficking in persons.
I’m proud to be among those at the forefront to be a modern day abolitionist. Now, the fight is very personal for me. I see the face of one teenage girl in that long line of victims on a Mexico City street. The others turned away when they saw women in the car, but she looked right at me with hardened eyes that had lost all hope. I’m convinced that she didn’t see anything; she just blocked out everything around and in front of her. Her face haunts me; her face is, for me, the face of sex trafficking. That’s why I am so passionate about the evil of sex slavery; somebody has to rescue girls like her.
I also see Ellen’s face and her hope for being rescued and restored. I saw her on my most recent trip to Mexico; she is in counseling to heal the emotional trauma that she has experienced. Also, she is working at a jewelry kiosk in a mall. She is saving money so that she can own her own kiosk. She is happy to be free. I want all the victims to end up rescued like Ellen; I want the enslavement to stop.
There are over half a million new sex trafficking victims every year. Their faces are just as haunting as that girl on the street in Mexico City. That’s why I am an abolitionist!