Today there are legions more slaves in the world than during the era of the civil war.
Estimated totals put the number of modern day slaves at 27 million; but the nature of the beast makes it impossible to get a real estimate, whereas 27 million is an overwhelming number, there are most likely millions more that have gone without a voice and are unaccounted for.
Hearing that makes my chest physically ache. That is millions of men, women, and children who have had their lives stolen from them in favor of a sick and dehumanizing trade. Human beings are sold as cattle, marketed for the sadistic pleasures of others, manipulated into believing they will achieve a better life only to have their own taken from them early.
The first time I learned that slavery still existed I was a sophomore in high school. I was in Ecuador on a mission trip with my family and was confronted with the reality of trafficking when I was introduced to a representative of a rehabilitation home in Quito. As a girl who had grown up on the outskirts of LA and a rural town in Northern Arizona it shattered my entire world. The representative came to present the organization to us and sell us products that the rescued women had made and I sat there, paper bracelets in hand, staring at the small object and wondering at the fact that I had been so unaware of the evil.
How had I gone so long without knowing? How had I missed all the signs? How had I been so ignorant to believe that it was impossible?
In that moment, with the tiny bracelet slipping through my fingers, I had the distinct sense that this was it: this was the thing that I would die for.
I was surprised when I returned to the states that my friends and family weren’t also up-in-arms. I had found it – the one thing, and it seemed I was alone in my passion.
Trafficking is a huge industry. With millions enslaved, and billions of dollars pouring in, it can feel that anything you do to end the injustice will be an infinitesimal feat at best. It is overwhelming to know that so many are captive, horrifying to think that somewhere in the world – in our own backyard – humans are being caged like animals.
My return to the states intersected with a series that my youth pastor was doing on global injustices, and one week he highlighted the global human trafficking industry with a spotlight on sex trafficking, relating the story to our group by telling us the story of a girl, our age, just a few hours away in Phoenix who had been abducted, threatened, gang raped, and then held in a dog cage and hollowed out bed frames for week and sold over and over again to be raped by people who found her on the internet (News coverage: Couple accused of turning teen into sex slave). I cried the entire service and left with a fire burning in my heart and no idea what to do about it. Soon after I met Annie Lobert, survivor of sex trafficking and founder of Hookers for Jesus, who shared her own testimony with my youth group and stood as the keynote speaker for our young women’s banquet. And throughout the years that followed my path seemed to be distinctly intertwined with the fight. This past summer, alone, I met the founders of the Run Against Trafficking, a mother and daughter pair – Brenda and Nola, while I was living in Myanmar.
I am not blind to the distinct intersection of the opportunities I’ve been given and their link to Human Trafficking, but until recently I struggled to understand it.
I believed there was nothing unique about this passion of mine. I was under the impression that everyone squealed out of joy and cried tears of unadulterated happiness when they saw a small child and that something as massive as human trafficking was something that everyone felt deeply about.
I was surprised to find that not only were people indifferent, but many have also been entirely unaware that the evil exists in our society today.
Which is the exact reason that Shine a Light on Slavery Day was created by the End It Movement. Yesterday, February 25, 2016, was the annual event.
Shine a Light on Slavery Day is a global movement of people who, for one day, mark the backs of their hands with a red x. It is the one day, each year, intentionally set aside to raise a voice for the 27 million who have lost theirs and let the world know that slavery still exists. Through launching a global media campaign – snapping a selfie with your own red x and posting it with the hashtag #enditmovement – we are able to raise a collective voice that says: we see you, we hear you, and we are not okay with what is happening. Obviously, awareness can’t end the injustice, but is a step in the right direction.
That day was yesterday. As the Vice President of WSU’s chapter of In It To End It (part of the global End It Movement), Shine a Light on Slavery Day is a big deal. It is our chance to let the campus know that we are here and we are actively working to end this injustice; it is also a day when we get to invite people, on a large scale, to be a part of a bigger movement. For one day we have the authority to spread the word, educate the public, and initiate a call to arms. With that being said, a couple observations from yesterday…
While I was passing out fliers and tagging the backs of hands, a girl spoke the following words to me: “What do you do if you are afraid that your friend is being trafficked?” The conversation that ensued revealed that her friend had begun dating a guy who cut off all of her communication and spoiled her with expensive things. She told her friends that she loved him and they haven’t heard from her in weeks.
While this might be a simple case of bad communication, we can not be so ignorant as to discount trafficking as a viable option. The girl and I discussed the issue for some time, deciding the best route to take next and I walked away in shock, horrified that something could be happening so close to home.
I also met countless people who were unwilling to post anything. Something about the lack of action turns my stomach. We cannot, CANNOT, be a people so privileged to believe that we have a right to do nothing. In some cases, people refused to post because they felt like a hypocrite – they didn’t want to post without knowing what they were talking about, and I understand that, completely. What irritates me is the startling lack of desire to learn. We have a responsibility to see these people, to help these people, and to stand beside these brothers and sisters?