Monday, May 3, 2010

the "s" word.

(Top 10 Facts About The "S" Word from Free the Slaves )

Certain words have haunted me for weeks now, words that came from a magazine article I read over a month ago. To be honest, I don’t subscribe to the magazine, and when I went back this morning to grab the link, the article had been removed for those who aren’t paying readers. But I’m not here to promote the original work; if you can get past both my voice and the authors and let the content speak, you will be better off.

“Imagine you live in a country riven by war or poverty or both. There is no work. There is not enough food to feed your family or money for medicine when someone gets sick or injured. Education is nothing but a pipe dream. If you are a woman, your value is even more tenuous; you have probably been beaten or abused in some other way by a father, a husband, or an employer. You’re smart enough to understand that this life promises to be the only one you will get. It will last for another thirty or forty years, with no improvement. And that will be it.

“Then one day someone says he can help you escape to the United States, where you can be free and make plenty of money for yourself while supporting your family back home. Well and good, but who has the money to get there? No problem – you can escape on the installment plan. All you (or your parents, if they are sealing the deal) have to do is sign a contract that promises to pay back the money you have borrowed by working for the agent’s connections in the U.S. at a restaurant or a factory. The going rate is about $30,000, which sounds like a lot of money, but in America everyone gets rich. And so you sign, ignoring a clause that says your family will be held responsible for your debt if you cannot pay it.

“You get on a gigantic airplane – most likely you’ve never flown before – and land in a brand-new country where you cannot read the signs. If you have any identification documents at all, they are phony ones that you paid a fortune for back home, most likely adding to the debt you are already trying not to worry about. Someone picks you up and drives you away, and leaving the airport, you catch a glimpse of your future: teeming freeways, skyscrapers so tall they block out the sun, shopping malls that would dwarf your entire village. Your new ‘boss’ buys you lunch, and you cannot believe the size of the portions put in front of you. All around you are people who want for nothing.

“While you are in this state – dizzy, disoriented – your boss takes you to a place that isn’t a restaurant or a factory and tells you to unpack your few belongings in a dingy back room. He tells you that this is where you will work to pay off your debt. You will be a prostitute, he explains, and by the way, you will be charged for room and board while you are paying off that $30,000. When you protest, he beats you, starves you, or keeps you awake for days on end. Then, just to make himself clear, he holds up a picture of your son or your parents or your sister and tears it in half. Or maybe he just says, ‘We hear your father has a bad heart.'

“At that point, your predicament becomes very clear. You do not speak or read the language. You do not have a cent to your name. You have no idea where you are in this vast country, and you have no way of finding out because no one lets you go anywhere alone. What do you do? Most likely, you do what you are told.” (Mimi Swartz, "The Lost Girls", Texas Monthly)

It's Monday; I would imagine it's an ordinary one. You wake up wrapped in clean sheets in an air-conditioned bedroom within a perfectly cooled house. You turn off an alarm clock, click on overhead lights, and hop into a hot shower (where, I imagine, you hang out a little bit longer because it IS another Monday). You most likely saunter down a carpeted hallway and eat breakfast with the talking heads from CNN; maybe you're listening, maybe not. It’s not like the world issues they analyze will actually affect you this morning. (Possibly they will, but probably not.) I imagine you jump in your car and speed through the drive thru at Starbucks (settling for the smallest size drink because we are in a recession, you know), fully conscious of the inconvenience that parking and walking-in creates (not to mention the horrific traffic experience that occurs on the freeway with a 10-minutes-late-departure). You probably make an appearance at class or work (in the cute new shoes you bought over the weekend) and mention how the days off passed by so quickly. At this point, you probably remember that you are working your way to a better life, so you close Solitaire on the computer and work a little harder. I imagine you end your day and head to the gym (possibly, but probably not) and drive home and cook dinner and call a friend and check Facebook (from your iPhone while you cook dinner and talk to a friend) and study a little longer and curl up in your cozy bed and wake up to face Tuesday morning.

This (for the most part) isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. (Geez, I just made myself feel guilty, and I know already that this post really does have a greater purpose!) I follow most of the above routine myself. I'm not even sure if I am capable of forming a coherent sentence without the smell of coffee (preferably Dunkin Donuts – yes, please) wafting into our study. Not to mention that my biggest complaint today has been a fever-driven headache: with a few steps and a few Tylenol, that pain will disappear. I’ve been able to sit at a desk surrounded by textbooks and type out essay after essay to the soundtrack of family members who want me to succeed. But back to that headache, if it was to get worse, I could always make a quick trip to see a doctor or visit a local emergency room with little effort. And then everything would be fine again, or so I’d imagine.

The American dream…

And we’re at ease. We’re safe. We’re free.

"All around you are people who want for nothing."

The article estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year. 25 percent of all trafficking victims in the U.S. end up in Texas. Many sources claim Houston, my hometown, as the leading trafficking site in the U.S. because of its international airports and its central location with highways between Los Angeles and Miami and between the U.S. and Latin America.

The land of the free…

And my neighbors are suffering. They’re held captive. They’re put up for sale.

At what point are we going to look past our pretty, “perfect” lives and take note of what is actually going on… 10 miles from our houses? 5 miles? 2 miles? I’m not against the suburban lifestyle; I’ve been out here all my life. But the apathy scares me. It’s insane to deny trafficking is happening or pretend there’s nothing we can do to stop it. If our brothers and sisters were the faces stamped with a price tag and sold online, would we sit still and hope for the best in their situations? Did you notice the average price in the video? $90. Can you believe it? We often spend more than that before noon. What if the kids we babysit, the ones whose lives are interwoven into ours, were kidnapped and traded for $90? Would we still do nothing?

“According to ECPAT (End Child Prositution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), as many as 100,000 U.S. Children are forcefully engaged in prostitution or pornography each year. Approximately 300,000 U.S. children are at-risk.” (

If anything has been learned from slavery in the past, it is that change does not appear overnight. Step 1 simply involves becoming aware. You have to know the problem in order to solve it.

Step 1 complete.

Before acting, before anything, we need to humble ourselves before our sovereign ruler and trust His will for our lives. He still reigns, and He still is the One we serve. (Isaiah 61)

"Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down" (from Psalm 146)

I’m hoping to slowly post what I learn as I work through stacks of research and wrap my mind around this problem. It’s an enormous issue. However, it can be solved. Did you catch what the video said? Twenty-five years.

Let freedom ring . . . .


Katelyn said...

Thank you...beautiful post. I'm looking forward to hearing more from your heart on this desperate situation.

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