Unless you’ve been under a rock, I’m sure you’ve noticed the current attention the heinous crime of human trafficking has garnered on social media. As a person who has been a supporter for years of ministries aimed to stop trafficking, one part of me is glad it’s getting its due spotlight. But on the other hand, I’m angered by the motivations for it taking center stage. I’ve seen people throw this very real issue around to match their political agenda, and the sad part is all the hype does little to help this problem if you’re not willing to personally do what it takes to make a difference. I mean, it’s easy to make a social media post about “saving the children,” but the real question is how do you save the ones who cross your path?
I’m going to share a personal story with you. Last year I was working at the hospital bedside, and I can remember this particular patient in stunning clarity. She was one of those patients you don’t want to take care of. She was rude, mean, and abusive to staff. She was one of those patients that staff may wonder why she’s even there, if she’s going to refuse care or ignore the advice of the people she came to to help her. Most staff did the understandable. They did the job they had to do, as quickly as possible, then left this woman’s room who seemed angry at the whole world.
For whatever reason, though I tend to believe it was the Holy Spirit, I decided to face the harsh music the day I took over her care. Instead of leaving her room as fast as I could, I sat down at the end of her bed. Instead of meeting her anger with indifference, I chose to meet it with compassion. Refusing her insults, refusing her silence, and refusing her attempts to push people away, I decided to try and meet her wherever she was. It seemed obvious to me that she was hurting, and I took it as a personal quest to let her know that 1) I saw her, and 2) I cared. She assumed the staff saw a worthless young woman with HIV, but I instead chose to see her as Jesus did.
I persisted in my kindness, and I drew her out slowly. I invested the time (that I didn’t actually have) to develop a relationship of trust. Her medical file stated she lived at home with her mother, but our conversation revealed the truth that she was homeless. It ended up revealing much more than that.
As I sat at the nurse’s station that afternoon I was in shock to discover that my patient was a victim of human trafficking. She wasn’t bound and gagged, on a ship to some foreign country like Hollywood had shown me, but she was a victim nonetheless. The shackles around her wrists were psychological in nature, and her voice had been silenced by repeated emotional abuse. My heart broke because this woman believed herself to be worthless. This is what her captor had driven into her mind day after day. She felt that her current life of being sold and bought for sex was the best and only existence she could hope for. She felt useless for anything else. She saw herself as too far gone, incapable of earning a living outside the life her pimp had encased her with, and though he didn’t currently stand over her threatening her life, she had been conditioned to believe her only purpose in life was to be used up until there was nothing left.
It broke my heart. She couldn’t see herself as Christ saw her. She was in bondage to the lies she had been fed most of her life, having been given to multiple men by her mother as a young girl, and it only growing worse from there. Her captor refused to give her the money for condoms, and her diagnosis of HIV was a side effect of her job. It actually allowed him even more control over her, since a diagnosis like that made her tainted goods. He still sold her, but made sure she knew that she would never survive without him.
I’ll never forget trying to keep my face expressionless when she shared, “since I’m sick now I usually just give blowjobs for $10 a pop.”
Forgive the graphic nature, but can you imagine earning at least $100 from the above, just so your boss wouldn’t beat you at the end of the day?
I made a lot of phone calls that day. I reached out to every organization I knew, and I was introduced to programs I didn’t even know existed. Before my shift ended I had helped create a safe discharge plan for this patient, a way for her to escape the dismal existence she was stuck in. The hardest part of all that was convincing her it was possible to leave, convincing her she was worth leaving that life.
I learned a lot that day from experts in the field, people who understood the terrible nature of how most human trafficking manifests itself in society. It wasn’t at all what I thought it was. It wasn’t typically a ring of rich and famous pedophiles like Facebook would have me believe, and though those kind of things existed, it wasn’t the most common way victims were made. They weren’t usually kidnapped from the arms of their parents, but rather released freely by the people they should have been able to trust the most. Sex traffickers were not obvious villains, but rather the people you saw in your everyday, never taking the time to notice.
I think what I learned the most that day is that evil is all around us. Victims are sometimes right in our path. We’re just too busy, too distracted, or too self-involved to see it. We’ll take the time to watch conspiracy videos about evil among us, and we’ll take the time to share posts on social media about the nameless victims of human trafficking. Yet, nine times out of ten, we’ll be too preoccupied to take the time and learn the name of the victims God tries to place in our path. We’ll turn a blind eye to the abuser in our family, our congregation, or our community. I think if we really wanted to combat sex trafficking we’d understand it can start in our own home. It’s the videos your husband watches late at night that feed the problem. It’s the magazines under your child’s bed, the websites visited, and the refusal to see the pain of the hurting that really keeps trafficking alive. So many of us unknowingly support the very thing we abhor.
I once read an article from a former victim of human trafficking, and her story sounded so similar to my patient’s. She recalled how many times she had been physically apart from her abuser, yet still attached to him mentally, and she recounted the large number of people who should have saved her but didn’t. The strangers, the store clerks, the healthcare workers, the neighbors, and the school teachers. God had placed so many people in her path who could have saved her, if only they could have opened their eyes to see. It makes you wonder, if people put even half the energy into everyday encounters as they put into a Facebook rant, could we make a difference?
So, in conclusion, I’m grateful that so many are finally seeing that this problem exists. I am. I only wish they could also see it right in front of their eyes. How many people interacted with the patient I mentioned before the Lord was able to help me see the situation? How many had known something was amiss, but been too busy to give it more than a passing thought that they later blamed on imagination?
If we truly want to be the change for which we champion, then we have to understand that it starts now. It starts here. It starts with every day, every interaction. Not only can we help stop human trafficking, but we can combat a multitude of problems that find their entrance into a solution through personal relationship. In other words, when we can see others, love others, and intervene for others, we can finally set about the good work that God has intended. We can actually make a difference.