A Special Series on Modern Slavery

Most of you who read my blog know that I work with an organization in northern Thailand that attempts to prevent the trafficking of children into sexual servitude. That’s a lot of big 25-cent words to basically say: people kidnap kids and force them to have sex with {insert your adjectives of choice here} adults for money. A filthy, stinking lot of money. (Globally, human trafficking constitutes a $32 billion industry, annually, second only to guns and drugs.) Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s truth.

I don’t talk too much about my work here on my blog for a variety of reasons: the kids’ privacy, and the sensitive nature of the topic, first and foremost. But also I shy away from turning my blog into a soapbox for the issue because I know it’s not polite. It’s not a nice thing to talk about. It’s violent, and it’s hard for people to hear. And if I blather on about it too much, I fear it’ll make people care less, not more.

But in the year that I have been working here on the ground, I’ve learned a lot: about the issue, about the people involved, about myself. And I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of the harder lessons I’ve learned and some of the more transformative experiences. So each day this week, I’ll share a post, and I hope you’ll join me. I won’t be cramming your head with facts and figures or tearing at your heart with tear-jerking anecdotes about the horrible things inflicted upon the innocent. My aim isn’t to motivate you to send dollars or anything like that. I think the real reason I feel compelled to speak up is two-fold. 1) I want you to be able to protect yourself or your children, because trafficking isn’t something that just happens over there to those people. Sure, it happens predominantly in under-developed or developing countries, but it also happens at home, in the U.S., in Europe. The tactics might be different, savvier…but the end result is the same. And, 2) Should you wish to become involved, I hope to encourage you to do so in an informed way, because the solutions that are easiest and most glorious are often the ones with unintended consequences: at best, benign, at worst, detrimental to the very people you wish to help.

So over the course of this week, I’ll be talking a bit about things like:
* how it happens
* on intervention: why rescues are sexy, but we don’t do them
* on the legal side: some surprising news about what laws can really work
* and prevention work: overcoming my own hubris and learning to get out of my own way when reaching out to the kids

A quick note: it’s not just little girls this happens to. Boys are prey to this too. I focus on sex trafficking, but people are trafficked (deceived, abducted, bought and sold) for all kinds of forced labor – it’s even done for the acquisition and sale of their organs. There really are no limits to the depravity.

At any point, please feel free to ask any questions you’d like about the issue or my experiences. If there are any questions, I’ll end the series with a Q & A post with my responses.

In the meantime, if you’re new to the topic or want to know more about what trafficking is, or how and why it happens, please take some time to watch this MTV Exit video hosted by Angelina Jolie. It’s about 20 minutes long, but if you don’t have 20 minutes now, please keep it open in a tab in your browser to remind you to watch it when you do have 20 minutes.

{{Click this link to go to the video.}}

When I was little, my parents and teachers at school used to warn me about not going off with strangers. So when I thought about kidnapping, I used to have this image in my head of big, burly guys in masks stealing kids off the street or from their schools. It rarely happens like that. Here, it often happens that kids are lured away from their families by people they know and trust, by aunts or uncles or friends with promises of a good job and money for their impoverished families. In the West or in Latin America, the lures often involve a really sweet boyfriend, who fills an unsuspecting girl with tales of love and romance, investing even as much as 6 months or a year in building a relationship with her, until he can get her away from her family.

I don’t wish to make you afraid of your fellow man or terrified and untrusting in this world. But I do wish to put you on your guard and encourage you to put your children on their guard when they hear offers of a job far away from family, or a chance to go abroad. Be sure to investigate it before you go. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Be wary of anyone who tries to isolate you, emotionally or physically, from the ones who love you. Be on your guard with anyone who tries to take you away from or cut your ties with your friends and family. That goes, not just for trafficking, but for avoiding abusive relationships in general. Terrorism happens most effectively when you think you are all alone.

I know this isn’t the happiest of topics to talk about, but I do hope at the end of this series, I’ll not only have drawn back the veil on what we’re dealing with here, but also dispel some myths as well as share some things that give me joy and hope and a sense of meaning.

Every child we work with has a face and a story, their own burgeoning personality, hopes and fears. It may be hard to picture them from so far away, but they are real, and just like any other child, they revel in simple joys.

*Disclaimer: The stories and information presented in this series of posts are all things I’ve learned or heard about through research or my experiences working here. The views expressed here are my own and do not represent any organization I work with or the sources I cite. Getting accurate information on this topic is not always easy, but anything discussed here is to the best of my current knowledge, and I will gladly consider any evidence to the contrary. Any errors or inaccuracies are mine.

Click here to go to Part Two. Click here for Part Three. Part Four is here. And finally, the conclusion.

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12 thoughts on “A Special Series on Modern Slavery

  1. I'm so glad you're writing this series, Jade. I know it's a difficult, disturbing topic, but it's such an important conversation.

    I remember hearing a story a few years ago about a high school girl in FL who befriended a new student, went to her house for a slumber party, found out that the new girl had been planted at the school by a man who'd been posing as her dad, and that she herself had been sold to another man in TX. (I think I got those details right, but I'm not 100% certain.) Anyway, I think it worked out all right for her. I think her brother found her (or something; maybe it was her uncle) before they'd even left the state, but the story stuck with me. I just — I DIDN'T KNOW THAT COULD HAPPEN. This was a friendship! A new girl in school! A slumber party! I had no idea danger could come from that direction.

    So thank you for shedding light on a difficult subject. I'll be here for every post because I think what you're doing (and what you're writing) is really important. I truly believe in the power of education.

    • God, how scary! The depths of the depravity still never cease to amaze me. When I was a kid, my parents almost never let me go sleep over at a friend's house. They could sleep over at my place, but I couldn't go over to theirs. It made no sense to me at the time, but now I understand their fears.

      Thank you so much for the support and encouragement. I really appreciate it!

  2. I'm glad you are doing this, too. What you are doing (living in a strange land on the other side of the world away from family and friends) is adventure enough. Doing it to help kids is amazing. I look forward to reading all about it!

  3. My parents rarely let me go to slumber parties, they never let me go away with other people, I could have anyone I wanted at my house but I wasn't allowed to go to anyone's house that my parents didn't know directly and well. I thought they were insanely over-protective and I hated it. Now I'm glad they behaved the way they did, because they kept me safe. Thank you so much for doing this series, it's important to spread the word, but it's also very useful, I think, and practical for us to be informed so we can keep our own children and ourselves safe. There's a lot of information out there about rape and violence, but very little about human trafficking. So, thanks Jade!

    • It was the exact same thing with my parents! I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one! It seemed like such a funny double-standard to me at the time. I couldn't understand it. But now I do. I'm so glad that others find this information helpful. Thanks for the support!

  4. Phew. I'm here, Jade. And, while I can't say I'm excited to read the week's offerings, I'm ready and willing and anxious. I don't want to know, but I DO, you know? I know how important this message is and I'll be spreading the word.

    • Thank you, Sarah. I know exactly what you mean. There are definitely some things I wish I could unknow. I'm really grateful that you are here and truly appreciate the support. Because this topic is so hard, I appreciate all the more that you and others are all here with me. Thanks so much!

  5. So appreciate what you're doing here to highlight the issue and dispel some of the myths. It's definitely a hard thing to write about–you have my utmost respect. I'll be linking to your series over at Run for their Lives as well–this conversation about the issue is so needed….

    • Thanks so much for your continued support Jo! I really appreciate it. It's such a boost to know you and others like you are interested and involved!

  6. I'm glad that you are writing this series. Like you said, not a 'happy' topic, but definitely one that's important and ought to be read / shared. Thank you for doing this –not just writing a series about this, but also for your work with the children and their families.

  7. It is so depraved. During our years we heard many stories of parents even selling their kids because of being promised appliances. Truly unbelievable.