My husband and I were walking down the street of our Southeast Asia city last night. Our bellies were full from a nice dinner out and our spirits were also filled from an hour of engaging conversation.
As we made our way down the busy street, maneuvering through crowded sidewalks and dodging endless motorbikes, I noticed my husband trying to catch my eye.
When I looked up, he led my attention to a side street, where a man was walking up to a huddle of ladies barely emerging into the light of the alley.
I don’t have to describe them to you; you know the M.O.
High heels. Short skirts. Heavy makeup.
There was no questioning the hunger in the man’s eyes or the desperation on the girls’ faces. It was quite obvious how the events of the evening would unfold.
The justice seeker in me wanted to march into that alley and break up the party.
The woman in me wanted to give that man a swift punch in the face.
The sister in me wanted to grab the hands of those girls and take them out for coffee.
My mind floated back to the videos I’ve watched, the blog posts I’ve read, and the pictures I’ve seen. Thanks to the Internet, there’s a swarm of anti-slavery initiatives and human trafficking propaganda readily available at our fingertips.
Non-profit organizations and rescue ministries cut you deep with dirty details of a woman’s life of work on the streets. The images used to convict you will be much the same as what I saw last night.
High heels. Short skirts. Heavy makeup.
But what do human trafficking victims really look like? Most often they look like you and me.
They look like teenage girls on their way to school.
They look like lay farmers in gloves and work boots.
They look like waitresses trying to catch a break with a decent tip.
Many times victims of forced labor and forced sex are interacting with us in our everyday lives, but all we see is poverty and poor circumstances.
If we want to fight human trafficking, we’re going to have to quit expecting victims to knock on our doors wearing handcuffs.
We’re going to have to actually get to know the people in our communities.
For me in Southeast Asia, this looks like volunteering at the safe house for girls who have walked out of prostitution and sex slavery. It means getting to know their stories and learning about where their friends are still working. It means understanding the cultural undertones of this modern-day justice battle.
For me in the United States, it meant opening my eyes to the dark parts of my city. It meant driving through project housing developments, mentoring recovering addicts, and picking up the stranded on the side of the street. It meant exposing myself to an entirely different culture within my own passport nation.
I don’t write this article to sound righteous. I don’t write this article to push an agenda.
What I would like to do with this article is share my experience with you.
Because if you’re like me, maybe you feel like the most exploited people across the globe are the most difficult to really get to know.
And I want to tell you, We don’t have to make it so hard.
We can see the people in front of us. We can ask them to tell us their story. And we can follow up with the social support that bridges the gap between difficult circumstances the road to healing.
Not as ministry leaders. Not as personal saviors.
We can break through into the lives of trafficking victims by simply being human.
And in hearing their stories and walking through life with them, we may even find our own humanity in the process.
From the day she flipped through her first National Geographic magazine as a five-year-old, Lauren Pinkston knew she had to see the world. Since then, she's traveled to five continents, read a lot of anthropology, and tried to figure out her place in a global community. Lauren cur_rently works in SE Asia as a community development consultant while juggling language learning, cultural acquisition, and her own research in expat mental health. She's a husband lover, diaper changer, envelope pusher, justice seeker, and adoption advocate. You can visit her blog, Upwardly Dependent, and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.
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