and I have been sold.
I make the cell phones we use…
I clean the neighbor’s house…
I pick the tomatoes we eat…
I’m on the Internet…in the local motel…on the street corner…
But no one really sees me.
People often say this is my “choice”
I am called “illegal” …“prostitute” …“alien”… and worse.
So few know or care to know my story…
They don’t know…
that I came to America with the same hopes as their ancestors
to provide my family with a better life, to receive an education, to pay my child’s medical bills.
They don’t know…
…that I’m just a teenager that goes to school with their kids
…who ran away from home because of abuse
…who met someone who listened to me and told me that he loved me
I have been deceived.” 1
This reflection was shared recently at a gala to raise funds for ministries that support persons who are homeless or are vulnerable to becoming so—the poor elderly, youth aging out of foster care, single women with children in need of transitional housing, returning veterans, and those who are being trafficked.
The words capture some of the reality of human trafficking—the second largest criminal enterprise and the fastest-growing crime in the world. This complex, hidden reality affects women, children and men, foreign-born and US citizens, and includes commercial sex and labor trafficking in epidemic proportions in virtually every nation and, as a friend and survivor says, “in every zip code” in the US.
The crime of human trafficking thrives in a culture that has become desensitized to sexuality and is always in search of the next bargain. In most areas, the criminal aspect of human trafficking often goes unchallenged and the trauma suffered by victims goes unnoticed. Literally, countless individuals are held in bondage through force, fraud or coercion, treated as property, as objects to be used and tossed aside for someone else’s economic gain or pleasure, and made to “work” as slaves.
Victims are often labeled as “illegal,” as a “prostitute,” as “just a drug addict,” who are deemed unworthy by many because they “asked for it.” Their abuse is hardly noticed, even by those in helping professions. These victims rarely self-report. They may not know that what has happened to them is a crime, may think that they are getting what they deserve, might be too frightened, or might even think that the trafficker is really their friend.
How do we as society, as church, as members of the human family respond to such an evil reality in a manner that upholds the dignity of each person, the dignity of work and the common good? What can we do? Surely we can all become more aware. We can see with new eyes those we encounter each day and ask more questions about their reality. We can engage others in learning about the crime of today’s slavery. We can use our energy and resources to partner with those who serve the survivors and treat their trauma. We can petition our government officials to enforce and strengthen human trafficking statutes on the federal and state levels, as well as in almost every country in the world. We can deepen our awareness of how we are all touched by human trafficking through the myriad of products we purchase, the food we enjoy, the services we receive on a daily basis, not thinking about the source or conditions under which those supplying our needs may be forced to work.
We can hold all of these “least ones,” these most marginalized, in prayer each day, sending the energy of the Spirit in us to connect with the Spirit within each of them to support and comfort and heal and free them. In these ways we can hope to convey a message of hope as reflected in the lyrics of a song entitled “Walk Each Other Home” by Billy Walsh:
“Don’t be afraid,
no need to hide.
I know your pain,
the tears you’ve cried.
Come take my hand,
you’re not alone.
We’re all here to walk each other home.” 2
1. Reflection by Jackie Komos, Research and Communication Specialist, Collaborative to End Human Trafficking
2. Words by Billy Walsh, musician
Anne Victory, HM