I often talk about sex trafficking from stage. Sometimes I’ll go months without coming back to the front lines either in Latin America or Southeast Asia. It’s not that the reality of what I’m talking about becomes less real, but the freshness of my broken heart wears off after time passes. It is so shocking and so horrifying to be in a conversation where a child is being sold for sex. It is disruptive to my emotions to be the person pretending to buy a 15 or 16 year old on the street or to be secretly capturing evidence of my friends undercover with The Exodus Road having similar conversations.
A little over a week ago I was talking to a woman with a girl that looked maybe 12 years old. The fear in the child’s eyes was obvious. But the complicated collision of circumstances that put her in this situation must be unraveled if we’re going to be able to help her. We can’t just run with her. We have to find a way to prove that someone is controlling her and profiting off her misery. This is hard to do. It requires strategy and best practices and the combined effort of a lot of compassionate people. We don’t want to just rescue her - we want to find out who is pulling the strings behind the scenes so that we can disrupt their operation.
So we spend time at tables like this one and in rooms like this one. Strategizing. Planning. Learning. Practicing with our technology so that we can bring our best combined efforts to the front line.
Last week on the street in Latin America I was talking with a girl that might have been sixteen years old. She leans in and whispers in my ear “¿Quieres que sea tu amigo por la noche? Yo me ocuparé de ti.” which means “Do you want me to be your friend for the night? I’ll take care of you.” She’s a child! Her makeup fails to cover up her adolescence. She should be in school but instead she’s offering sex to tourists. Her perfume is strong. The area is crowded and the wind is blowing through the palm trees. There’s armed police there for the purpose of keeping things safe for tourists. It’s really embarrassing to walk down the street with a young girl - it’s embarrassing for the girl too. She sees the way people look at us but this is her life. And she’ll never know I’m just pretending. I must do this work with compassion and we also must get evidence that is actionable. It’s a tight rope walk and it can erode my soul if I’m not careful. Even if I am careful I guess.
What would I want someone to do if that was my daughter? If political circumstances or extreme poverty prevented me giving her options I’d hope there was someone like my friends with The Exodus Road out looking for her. How do I love my neighbor as myself? How do I love my neighbor’s daughter as I would my own? This is how we show love. We continue to get better at it. We continue to get more strategic and effective. We fall short. We fail. Communication breaks down and we re-group. But we’re trying to do a little bit. Loving one girl at a time. I can’t afford to worry about the big picture. I can only do what I can do. I only have so much power. But I do have some power. I do have some privilege. What will I spend it on? If I have the ability to do something about this tragedy and I do nothing than what kind of person does that make me?
There’s plenty of reasons to do nothing. Fear is one reason. Fear of danger, of failure or of the obvious liability of this kind of work. Courage is moving forward in the face of fear. Another reason would be that ever present and gnawing voice that tells me what I’m doing doesn’t matter. “There’s millions of girls stuck in this - does it really matter? Another girl will just take her place”. I have a hard time drowning out that voice. I think it’s a more subtle way that the enemy of justice keeps good people from getting involved. I’m not naive enough to believe we’ll end trafficking in my lifetime. I hang out with some people that are and in some ways I envy them. But I do know that I can do something. I will take small and seemingly insignificant actions with all my strength, heart and mind.
Photos by @kristenprivett