This is the third post in Heidi Metcalf's 5 part series about Human Trafficking.
I heard once that there were schools that would take field trips to the morgue. The thought was that children would see the consequences of violence, drugs and risky behavior and that they would be "scared straight". It turned out, however, that after the initial shock of seeing a dead body for the first time had passed, the impact of the visual failed to change behavior. In some cases, children became inured to it.
The danger in writing about such hard things like the evil in sex trafficking or child labor is that it becomes like a trip to the morgue for the reader. At first you are shocked, and then the stories become familiar. Distant, but familiar, and you have to be shocked a bit more to be moved to action.
The other danger, of course, is that you read these stories and their impact is just too much that you can't read anymore--you tune out because it is too graphic, you have too much pain of your own to endure pain from a world away, or it's just too overwhelming and you quit because you don't know what to do about the problem.
Hold on for a few more paragraphs--get comfortable in the tension between sympathy, action, and giving up. You will be encouraged, because one of the places where we see God in the midst of human trafficking is in the indigenous heroes who respond to the needs of some of the most vulnerable and voiceless people enslaved today.
Take the Women's Safe House (WSH) in Montenegro for example. WSH has taken in abused women since 1999. It expanded from a telephone help line to two operating shelters that have rescued about 900 women and children from the trafficking industry. WSH provides safe living quarters, counseling and medical care, legal assistance and job skills training to victims. WSH also trains the police and is a powerful advocate for change within the political arena.
In Ecuador where trafficking is on the rise and unchecked by authorities, migration and poverty increase the vulnerability of women and children. The Ecuadorian Center for the Promotion of Women’s Rights (CEPAM), created in the 1980’s to combat domestic violence, provides holistic intervention to create alternatives for people who might be tempted to migrate for work.
Children from Togo who cannot afford to be in school are vulnerable to kidnapping. Action Save the Children of the World (ASLEM), will rescue at least 1000 children from traffickers and cover educational costs so that children may return to school. In a creative effort to shore up the vulnerability of children, ASLEM will build wells in ten villages and facilitate 1000 parents to join farming cooperatives. Cooperatives and water will increase crop yields and enable parents to better provide for their families as well as cover school fees.
The founder of another organization in Malawi recounted the story that motivated his response to provide education and clean water to villages in his country. Driving down the road he noticed a young teenage boy trip, fall, and never get up. He turned his car around to pick up the boy and realized he was unconscious. As the boy recovered in the hospital, the driver learned that the boy had been walking for five days—without food—after three months of intense slave labor on a tobacco estate. At the end of the season, the children were not paid for their work and then chased away by the owner of the estate.
Finally, the International Justice Mission (IJM), a US based NGO with international operations, works to rescue victims of injustice including sex trafficking and bonded labor and provides aftercare support to victims. Through IJM I met a man who by inheriting his father’s and his grandfather’s debt, was in the third generation of bonded labor. Through IJM’s help, he was freed and then purchased a flock of sheep which will restore his livelihood.
God is at work in the midst of this issue, and has been at work all the way back to Genesis where Joseph’s story records the first victim of trafficking. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and at the end of the story, Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
Each of these organizations, and hundreds more, is led by individuals who were victims themselves or learned of problems and responded to the issues around them. Some of these individuals and organizations are faith-based, and all have the imprint of God’s passion for justice on their work.
© 2005, Heidi Metcalf.