Human trafficking is not a third world problem.
It happens under our noses and our ignorance perpetuates the crime.
We know the crime under names like "prostitution" or "sex trade." What we don't realize is the hidden blame embedded in those concepts.
Somewhere in our understanding of prostitution, we see a woman voluntarily giving herself over for a payment. We believe she has made a choice to be with a different man every thirty minutes. We believe she can "just decide" to stop. We also believe that the "prostitute" is, in fact, an adult woman capable of assessing choices. Darned if she just didn't make the right ones.
If we blame the victim, it's easy to dismiss the crime.
I'm embarrassed to admit I held these assumptions. I didn't realize how I perceived the crime helped to perpetuate it. Being unaware made me blind. I couldn't see the dynamics that support it.
My eyes were opened in a way you wouldn't expect. I volunteer at a therapeutic riding center. My "This-Horse-Can't-Do-Anything-To-Rattle-Me" attitude made me a perfect choice to be invited to become a horse handler for a unique group of women. I could handle the horses, but was surprised when I needed to be trained to handle the women.
The training centered on a core concept: Acknowledge the woman's power over her own choices. Does she want to pet the horse's neck? Yes? Great. Wait to see if she tries on her own, if not, demonstrate. Then step back to allow her space to try.
If she says no, accept her answer. Period. My natural inclination would be to encourage her to try. "Oh, come on. Really. It's okay. Trust me. Just once."
I had no idea in what context she may have heard those words before.
Human trafficking is a crime of powerlessness. Girls, some as young as eleven, are broken down by circumstance and presented a choice which is really no choice at all. In a process that is all too simple and common, a girl leaves one indescribable hell for another that comes wrapped in a meal, a warm place to sleep, a new outfit, or simply the promise of escape.
I began to see how broken social and familial structures contribute to creating hopelessness and fear.
I began to see how the cloud of desperation combined with the will to survive created the perfect storm for trafficking.
I've been fortunate to hear the stories of these women and have seen how the power they thought they had lost come flowing back to them in a series of small victories. I no longer harbor blame for them in making a choice to survive.
I have seen the strength of a woman in the eyes of a young girl when she strokes a horse's neck.