It is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. And if any crime deserves its own month of awareness, it is trafficking. Owning and using another person for your own financial benefit and sense of power is horrific. It doesn't just steal the person. It steals their soul. It should receive the ultimate punishment in our society.
There have been many who have rallied to fight against it. Some get involved in the name of God. Some get involved with the hopes of ending slavery once and for all. Some get involved to save the victims. And some want all three. But while most people want to stop it, they don't own it. They don't see it as their problem. It is happening in that other country. It is happening to those other people. It doesn't happen in my country, in my community, to my neighbors. But there's a problem with that thought process. It's not true.
And I have noticed that this is a common coping mechanism. We are always looking for ways to control the uncontrollable (some of us more than others). Our greatest fears have a way of consuming our minds with plans to avoid them. We work hard, save our money, work hard, stay safe, work hard, avoid risks, work hard. But our fears are still there. We are never sure if we are doing enough. So when we hear about natural disasters, murder, rapes, trafficking and other horrors in the world, we must separate ourselves from the victims. How am I different from them? How can I guarantee this won't happen to me?
And this is how victim-blaming is born. Pat Robertson illustrated this perfectly with his response to the horrific earthquake that rocked Haiti five years ago. He stated that the earthquake was caused by the Haitians' "pact to the devil." But the same tactics are used in less obvious ways by less controversial people every day. In the case of murder, people focus on victim's lack of precautions. In the case of rape, people focus on what the victim was wearing. In the case of trafficking, people focus on why the victim trusted that pimp.
As a survivor of human trafficking, my story is hard to hear. Why? It is hard to separate me from you. You see, I come from your neighborhood. My parents weren't divorced or low-income or an ethnic minority. I lived in a four bedroom house down the street from you. I went to your schools. I saw your doctors. I was being trafficking right under your nose. And you didn't even know it. Not to mention, it happened 30 years ago, when the word "trafficking" didn't even exist. And that can only mean this isn't a new problem.
And my traffickers didn't look like traffickers or pedophiles. They didn't hide behind bushes or in white unmarked vans. They didn't wear certain clothing, belong to gangs, use key words or give any reason for anyone to suspect they weren't perfectly harmless. They were bankers, librarians, painters and social service employees who looked just like model citizens. And they looked that way on purpose.
So how was I trafficked? I was born in to the wrong family. I was born in to a family of traffickers, generations of traffickers. I was abused and sold by my own parents and grandparents. I was sold to the neighbors, bachelor parties and gangs. I was traded to pimps in return for services. I was 8 years old. And I looked just like your child, like your neighbor's child.
And while the fight against trafficking wages on, I know there is one way to stop it. We have to open our eyes. We have to take off the blinders that tell us this only happens to those people. This only happens to people who meet the criteria in the stereotypes and on the news coverage. We have to look for it in our communities too. I guarantee it is there, right under our noses. And our awareness, our understanding will stop it. It is the only thing that will.