Frau M, busybody that she is, was the first to spot her through the window at the McDonalds playland- a 16-20 year old girl with heavy make-up smeared by tears. Our mom radar went into the red as we surveyed the gold-chained, heavily tattooed man seated across from her, easily twice her age decked out in all the latest finery. We, three moms with eleven kids between us, tried to read the signs. Was he allowing her to move about freely? Did she seem anxious or fearful? Was she in poor health? Was this young woman being groomed or used by this man and if she was, most importantly, what could we do?
Children overseas are sold or kidnapped from their homes. They are taken to a neighboring island or across the ocean so that can “service” (read: a sanitized word for – be raped by) 8-12 rapists, um “clients,” each day. Adults are promised a job in the US, but once they arrive they are saddled with exorbitant debt and their passports confiscated. Children from your local middle or high school are being lured away by “bottom girls” – here you go if you cannot infer her job description: — or the pimp himself and then coerced into a life of prostitution. A pimp also finds fertile ground at the mall seeking girls hungry for male attention. Over time, he convinces the girl that he is in love with her and then steals her away, hooks her on drugs, and moves her from city to city within his network.
Human trafficking is modern day slavery and it is rampant. You pass these slaves at Costco, walking with their heads down as their handler speaks for them. They do your nails, but cannot speak English and are never in a room without the “manager.” They sit across from their future pimp at McDonalds, watching the kids in the playland run and laugh around their mothers.
There are 27 million slaves in the world today. It is the second-largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world and it’s not just a “third world” problem. Nita Belles writes in her book In Our Backyard of where, how, and how many slaves are living out lives of forced servitude in the US today:
- About 80% of all US trafficked victims are female, about 50% are children.
- 70% of those female victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation (and many boys as well.)
- In addition to the 100,000 children trafficked annually, 244,000-325,000 American children and youth are at risk for sexual exploitation and sex trafficking every year.
If you are not aware of this insidious and thriving industry, you need to be. Please. Familiarize yourself with the signs that someone may be a victim of trafficking. Read In Our Backyard so you can understand the magnitude and urgency of the problem. Support organizations like Enditmovement.com and Traffickjam.org. Memorize, oh dang I reveal my age, program the National Trafficking Hotline: 888.3737.888 into your phone.
Act. Take action. Be wise and fearless at once. With the prayers of my fellow moms by my side, I cornered her at the soda fountain.
Hi. Are you ok? My friends and I see you, a beautiful young girl, sitting across a guy who looks like trouble. (I notice her pock-marked face, evidence of meth use, that she tries to hide under layers of foundation.)
Her: Um, yeah. I’m just having some problems with my family. That guy is actually trying to help me get some money for a place to stay.
Me: Ok. Well, I hope he is not expecting anything from you in return. You are too valuable to let a guy like that make a decision for you.
Her: No, it’s ok. I’m just trying to get some stuff figured out.
Me: Well, if you think that this guy’s is going to hurt you or use you, come home with me instead. I’ll make some soup and we talk for a while and figure out a way to help if you need some.
Her: Oh that’s really nice. But I think I’ll be okay. But really, thanks for talking to me.
Me: I’ll be in the playland for a while longer. If you change your mind, please come and find me. We can figure out what to do together.
She didn’t and I so desperately wish I had at least given her the number of the Genesis Project so that she knew that there were options. I wish I hadn’t been so vague. I wish I had just grabbed her arm and dragged her to my car (though my super fierce cop friend strongly advises against that). That fierce lady cop friend also said that even though “Sam” didn’t come with me, just speaking with her was a step in the right direction. Many of these girls think that no one sees them. That no one cares. Sometimes just reaching out and looking them in the eye can go a long way.
Beloved readers (and you cantankerous ones too), I write about homosexuality and gay marriage because I have a personal stake in the way the church handles this issue. According to polls and personal experience, it is the number one issue that outsiders have regarding Christianity and while it is at the forefront of the cultural push, it often the subject that Christians seem the least prepared to navigate. Thus the mission of my blog. That said- homosexuality and all that goes with it is NOT the place where the church should put the majority of its time, talents and treasures. There are so very many social issues in which Christians can make a critical difference- advocating for the unborn, ministering to the poor and sick, taking in the orphan, caring for the widow, and, certainly, fighting for those who are held in bondage by slavery’s chains.
The gospel is not just a spiritual matter, as you well know. So get your Harriet Tubman on, and help set the captives free.