Imagine you are thirteen years old again. Do you remember what that was like? Do you remember how you dressed, who your friends were, what boys you liked? Do you remember what your biggest hope was? Your biggest fear?
Now imagine you’re a thirteen-year-old girl and you live someplace where girls don’t dream about John Cusack or Zack from Saved by the Bell. You don’t dream about becoming Prom Queen or Valedictorian. You might hope that boy you like will notice you – that is, if you hope at all – but mostly, you’re worried about your father who has no stable income, your mother who is sick and can’t afford a doctor, your belly that is undernourished, or the fact that you are thirteen and simply cannot afford to go to school anymore. If you can’t go to school, you have to work to support the family.
So you try to find a job, but you are too young to work anywhere highly visible or even remotely respectable. You have no experience, and only a minimum of education.
So a neighbor, your uncle, a friend of your aunt, an old teacher tells you about a job in the big city. Or overseas. You could be a waitress in a hotel, a bar, a nice restaurant. It’s far from home, but they assure you that you will make more money than you can plausibly imagine. You can feed your family. You can get your mother to a doctor. You can get your entire family out of poverty. You can afford to finish school – hell, even go to college if you want. They tell you this.
It sounds too good to be true. You don’t believe them.
“It’s true,” they insist. “My niece did it. My cousin is there right now. Look, they sent me all these fine things: the beautiful necklace, the nice stereo system, the pretty shoes I always wear. My cousin, she wears nothing but Prada. The real thing. I tell you, you can get out of here and make so much money.”
“Is it safe?” you wonder.
“Of course, it is safe! Do you think I would tell you to go if it weren’t? My cousin, she’ll watch after you. She’ll make sure you’re okay and let us know if you have any trouble. You can always come back if you don’t like it. What’s to lose?”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course! Don’t you trust me?”
And because it is your uncle, your aunt, your neighbor, your friend, ultimately you do trust. Because you are thirteen and you’ve known them all your life.
They introduce you to someone else. You get in a van, still telling yourself you can leave at any time. Other girls are there. They seem friendly and happy too. You drive away from your family, full of hope and only a little afraid. When you arrive in the big city, you are amazed by what you see, they treat you to a makeover, and you feel so very grown up.
They take you to where you will work. You think you’ll have some time to rest, but you find out you start right away. But it’s only when they ask if you’ve ever had sex before that you begin to have an inkling that something is wrong.
Then it is too late to scream, though you try. You’ve already been sold.
Trafficked. Modern-day slavery: this is how it happens.This free write happened because sometimes I just can’t keep silent about what I work with, and the things that are done to children.