The Illusion of Freedom: The Truth About Human Trafficking
The clang of metal echoes in the dingy basement. The bitter cold of the cement crawls painfully through every inch of Sadisha's half-naked body. She trembles with hunger. Deep crimson blood pools at her feet—evidence of the night's abuses. The metal of the cage that imprisons her body as well as her soul leaves its mark against her skin. She squeezes her eyes tightly in an attempt to shut out the harsh realities of this earthly hell. The question that has haunted her since her arrival rears its repulsive head . . .
"How did I get here?"
This is a much different reality than the one that had been told to her parents just a few months earlier. A man had approached them depicting every family's dream. Sadisha would receive an education and be offered a lucrative job, both of which would enable her to help her impoverished family. Her family agreed that the opportunity was the provisions of the gods in response to their plight.
Sadisha was stripped of everything that was familiar and normal and thrust into an environment that left her mind reeling. Much of her journey to this new land was nothing but intermittent snap shots. All she remembered was ice cream—a luxury that was new and exciting. (Sadly, it had traces of opiates—drugging her into a semi-conscious state—making it impossible for her to be lucid enough to remember the route they were taking.) Sadisha was greeted by an indistinguishable language, unfamiliar clothes, and alien surroundings—compounding her growing confusion.
As they reached their final destination, Sadisha's hopes began to crumble. Her "apartment" was replaced with a metal cage. Her "education" was immediate. She owed her trafficker (protector) for bringing her to this great new home, buying her clothes, giving her food, and providing her a place to sleep. Her "lucrative job" would be to repay him by soliciting sex on the street. If she refused to comply, she would be drugged and brutally raped into submission. If she did not fulfill her quota of 20 men per day, she would not eat. If she tried to escape she would be hunted down, brought back, and be subjected to unspeakable torture. If she told anyone why she was there or what she was doing, her family and childhood friends would pay the price for her insubordination.
Sadisha is only eight years old.
"This is impossible!"
"You're exaggerating . . . this has to be made up!"
If this is your response, I understand. This story seems too nonsensical, unlikely, and even doubtful; however, the dark reality is that this story is true. In fact, in many parts of the world it is unremarkable. The truly impossible task is to paint a thoroughly realistic picture of the lives that are sexually enslaved. No amount of words could capture the barbaric existence that holds them captive.
Slavery is not a novelty. From the dawn of time, kingdoms and empires have been acquired at the expense of others and built on the backs of slaves. Kings and emperors wielded their power, and took great pride in their "strength" to enslave thousands of innocent lives. As time progressed, castles were exchanged for plantation homes and empires for fields. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the mass movements of people were accepted as oppressors exercised their "right" to expand their earnings and increase their social status by procuring individuals for debt bondage and forced labor.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it brought with it a shift in culture that was not anticipated. Countries that were not established on capitalism and a "free flowing" economy were now being pressured to respond to its demands. Governments crumbled under the weight. Unemployment rates skyrocketed. The value of currencies bottomed out. The prices of everyday commodities reached unprecedented heights. In the rubble of the collapse, millions of lives were left vulnerable and became the targets of predators.
Civil unrest escalated as indigenous groups began to violently procure positions of leadership and power. As countries went to war—some against themselves—millions ran for their lives. Displaced and with no opportunities to provide for themselves, refugee camps instantly became a marketplace for exploitation.1
Today, over 27 million lives are tyrannized by forced labor, debt bondage, organ harvesting, and sexual slavery.
Yes. You read correctly.
Over 27 million.
And the number grows daily.
The accepted and circulated term for slavery today is human trafficking. It depicts the extortion, coercion, and selling of human beings. Many are then moved and forced to work in a variety of venues.
There is a common misconception in relation to human trafficking. It is, in fact, an industry; an industry that has grown exponentially on the basis of a foundational business principle: supply and demand. Human trafficking is a response to the insatiable lust for power, prestige, and the fulfillment of unbridled desires that runs rampant in our world.
Several sources have stated that the profits of human trafficking exceed $32 billion annually. Although drug trafficking currently generates more revenue, humans are far more lucrative. There is not a product to plant, cultivate, harvest, distill, and package. Once a drug is sold and consumed, it can never be so again. A girl, like Sadisha, can be sold and used innumerably. When one trafficker believes her worth to diminish, she is simply sold to another and the horror is repeated. Due to the barbaric tortures, diseases, neglect, and even needless murders the life expectancy of a sex slave is seven years. If Sadisha does survive and escape the sex trade, she is not expected to live past her 30s. A life cut woefully short by the vicious atrocities of this world.
So, what about the United States? Is it true that this is just occurring in the poor and impoverished areas of the world? We did have an abolitionist movement, so does that grant us immunity to these horrors? After all, we are the land of the free.
Sadly, no. . . we are not.
Our culture has romanticized the reality of human trafficking. We are a people that want what we want when we want. Our lives are plagued with materialism. We are bombarded with messages that encourage us to elevate ourselves by acquiring the latest technologies, making a statement with our wardrobes, owning that perfect house or car, and having the bank account that will secure our futures. The life of the pimp is celebrated and emulated on our television shows, through our music, and in our books. The voracious appetite for sexual satisfaction and fulfillment, despite the cost to ourselves and others, has been the driving force behind the pornography industry. We have grown desensitized to the magnitude of the consequences of our choices.
Between 250,000-300,000 individuals are trafficked within the United States annually. The US is the leading nation in pornographic material production. One third of Craigslist's profits in 2009 were a direct result of buying and selling girls for sex.
More attention is being given presently to the reality of this crime among us. However, many states are still very unaware of the activity within their own jurisdictions due to a lack of understanding about what human trafficking is, infrequency of reporting, and the absence of clear laws and consequences for offenders. However, several groups are front-running efforts to shed light and bring clarity to what is happening here and now.
In light of the vastness of this issue, many are tempted to resign before they begin. It seems too great and too impossible, so how can one person possibly make a difference? If we adopt this position, then the cries of millions forcibly silenced by this atrocity will continue to be unheard. I would implore you, if you are willing, to be an agent of change.
1. Get educated: There are books and articles that speak intelligently into the crime of human trafficking. Musicians and filmmakers are using their talents to produce songs and documentaries. Several nonprofit organizations offer materials and conferences in order to equip people with a well-developed perspective. Here are several websites that can help you stay informed:
- The Aegis Element (aegiselement.org)
- International Justice Mission (ijm.org)
- Focus on the Family (http://bit.ly/HiCmq1)
- Compassion International (http://bit.ly/HiCJB3)
2. Financial support: There are many anti-trafficking nonprofits that need help. Small donations make large differences. Even if human trafficking ended today, there would still be millions of people in need of shelter, counseling, and the basics for survival. Your investment helps make this care a reality.
3. Raise Awareness: It is happening near you. Find out what is happening in your state and local community, and the actions being taken to combat the issue. Be a smart consumer, aware of how the things you buy are produced and what fair trade options exist. As you learn and grow, share what you've learned with others.
The beginning of the end of human trafficking is in our hands. The only question that remains is . . .
"How will we respond?"
Sarah Hodges is an ordinary person on a journey. This journey led her to co-found a nonprofit organization intentionally focused on the global crime of human trafficking, The Aegis Element. You can learn more about the organization by visiting www.aegiselement.org.
1Siddharth, Kara, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010)