It has been fairly easy up until the past few months to a year to believe the false assumption that slavery in the United States died with the thirteenth amendment. I mean, we all learn about the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the abolition of slavery.
If you're like me, whenever you heard the word "slavery" you immediately conjured up mental images of ships full of African natives, reminiscent of scenes from Amistad. And yes, those scenes did happen. There were hundreds of thousands of innocent people ripped away from their homes and families and sold to the highest bidders, only to find themselves in a strange land with strange people, strange language and strange customs. Not to mention the horrible ways they were treated, being beaten, raped, and even killed for not pleasing their masters.
But slavery runs so much deeper than merely being an issue of black and white. And despite the best efforts of our forefathers, slavery is still very much alive today, in America and around the world.
I knew this, of course, in a vague, distant sort of way. The sort of way that doesn't really touch me if I don't look at it.
How many people have suffered because I turned away?
God sent me an eye-opener this week in the form of a film called Trade of Innocents. The university I attended for my freshman and sophomore years hosted an event on Monday night in which they held an exclusive screening of the film as well as a question & answer time with the screenwriter/director Christopher Bessette afterward. Not to mention the fact that they had tables set up in the lobby for their social justice department and several organizations that fight human trafficking here in Tennessee, including End Slavery Tennessee and Abolition International. I scooped up several pamphlets, information sheets, and even purchased a bracelet from To Be Free, an extension of Abolition International that sets up and supports after-care for women and girls who have been rescued from sex slavery.
And this was all before I saw the film.
I found my movie buddy and we sat down on the bleachers in the campus church's gym. After some brief introductions of students who worked on marketing the film, the movie started.
Aesthetically the film was beautifully made. The scenery is lush, the music is lovely, the actors are phenomenal.
But beyond that, it tells the heart-wrenching story of girls - some as young as five - who are stolen from their homes and off the streets of Cambodia and sold as sex slaves to "sex tourists." I cried for probably half of the movie.
At the end of the credits, the director of the university's social justice department introduced Christopher Bessette, the film's screenwriter and executive director. He answered questions as to his motives behind the film, why he did certain things creatively, and resources for more information on human trafficking today.
One of the things that struck me most was his description of the moment he knew he had to make this film. He said he had gone to Cambodia and visited a former-brothel-now-safe-house and stood in what used to be called "The Virgin Room," looking down through a barred window at children playing in the street below. He thought, "Sometime, not too long ago, a little girl might have stood at this very window, looking down at children playing, and thinking to herself, 'Why can't I be down there too?'" And he said he got chills and breathed the prayer, "Oh, God, help me tell her story."
That is what he did with this film.
And the only way we can hope to abolish human trafficking - slavery of any kind - whether it is sex trafficking, labor trafficking, or something else, is by telling the victims' stories. There are so many people in the world right now who are like I was a year ago - untouched by this issue because they fear to get a good enough glimpse at it.
But we can't afford to turn away any longer.
According to End Slavery Tennessee:
*Every minute, two children are trafficked (worldwide).
*There are currently around 27 million slaves in the world. Of those, half are minors and 80% are female.
*The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between 12 and 14 years old.
*One-third of runaways will be sexually exploited within 48 hours of leaving home; 90% will end up in commercial sex trade.
These children are in our neighborhoods, on our doorstep, in our back yards. You don't have to go to Cambodia to find human trafficking. It's happening right here, right now. When will we stop looking away and finally do something?
God lit the fire under me this week, and the wheels have been turning as I've been trying to discover how I can best use the gifts and talents God has given me to help put a stop to this horrific monster we call slavery and human trafficking. I have some ideas.
What about you? What will you do? Will you look into the eyes of the Innocents and reach out your hand to help?
Or will you turn away?