Now that I’ve completed my challenge, I’m going to write on something I actually care about – social justice, specifically human trafficking. Keep in mind, the fact that I want to write about this will not necessarily make it any better or worse of a posting. It simply means I have multitudes to say with little room to write. I am not a radical activist. I am not a hippie liberal. I am not going to talk about “freeing the people” or “making wrong right.” I’m going to give my personal (albeit limited) experience in the realm of social justice, explain why I firmly hold that each and every capable human should participate in such efforts, and offer outlets through which to do so.
Back in October of 2009, some of my family, along with myself, travelled across the pond to a tiny town in East Germany, so that Mom could meet her biological family for the first time. (Long story short: she was adopted at birth in Germany and brought over to the States.) One of the days we were there, several in our party decided to drive over into the Czech Republic to visit some outlet shops. Fun Fact: the outlets were run by the Vietnamese mafia. The who? Yep – Vietnamese mafia – can’t make this stuff up. By the end of the day we had purchased (stolen) American goods from Vietnamese in the Czech Republic with a group of Germans. I digress. Afterwards we went searching for somewhere to eat. But, of course, men are not very keen on asking for directions when driving. Apparently, this is an international phenomenon. Lo and behold, we got lost. Eventually we found an Italian restaurant, but that’s too much culture for one article. At the beginning of the car ride, we passed two scantily-clad women waiting at separate bus stops. It was -2°C. However, being the idiot (and sleepy) American that I was (and debatably still am), at the moment I thought what I was seeing was reflective of the fashion standards of this part of the world. A few minutes later I fell asleep for a short while, until the men finally admitted they had no idea where they were and pulled into a store parking lot to turn around. Standing there in the window were scantily-clad mannequins. A lingerie shop in the middle of downtown? Europeans are weird, dude. And then the mannequins moved.
It took me a solid two years to comprehend what I had seen in my semi-conscious state, and it wasn’t for another two years, during a conversation with Andrew, that the full effects of that montage hit me. Women – daughters – friends – schoolmates – girlfriends, selling themselves. Not biding their time for the best catch, but selling their bodies like a gas station condom to anyone willing to pay, from the alcoholic launderer to the middle class husband to the executive with the little black book. What type of psychosocial, cultural, economic, and developmental tides have to come together to create such a dynamic throughout the world? Truthfully, like many of you, I could rant for days on the subject, but I’ll spare you that thesis. Rather than giving a dissertation on pornography, trafficking, and the world’s ability to push it under the rug, I’ll leave you with this link on the root of the problem.
Since that experience overseas I’ve been involved, to some degree or another, with various social justice organizations. I began by joining the International Justice Mission chapter on my college’s campus. I went on to lead that group, at least in part, for a couple of years. During my time with the group, we partnered with Invisible Children, Global Exchange, Threads of Hope, Alta Gracia, and World Harvest Mission. Each of these particular groups has a specific focus within the realm of social justice, not necessarily human trafficking. Each of these, and many more, I have found to be very credible and beneficial outlets for those seeking to help, as well as for those who are trying to find relief from social injustice for themselves.
To strictly apply this to every case of human trafficking would be to overgeneralize quite a bit, but think of these words every time you hear the term “human trafficking.” This is the reality for a large percentage of those involved. Personally, I become so overwhelmed by the distraught minds of women involved that I begin to think of my own girlfriend or sister in the same situation, and I physically cannot handle the imagery. If that was your mother, daughter, girlfriend, wife, or friend selling herself to any and every paying customer, would you really want them to constantly suffer from the belittlement, shame, feelings of being damaged goods, and total loss of hope that come with the title “prostitute”?
Organizations like those given above can be a starting point for many who’ve wanted to do something, but haven’t understood how they could play a part. I’m not going to get into a missionary or “when helping hurts” discussion of the topic, though feel free to start one in the Comments feed, and I haven’t even touched on sweatshops, child slavery, or corrupt justice systems. What I want the reader to take away from this is that “social justice” and “human trafficking” are NOT fad topics. They’re NOT clichéd story lines. It’s a pandemic – not just some drama going down in “third world” countries. Last I checked, the largest trade in the world is actually from Atlanta to D.C. NYC also has one of the largest trafficking rings on record (mostly males – another side of the story entirely). Very small acts such as giving a few dollars, or, like, 0.5% of your income can make an immense difference in the lives of real people. Those involved are not just statistics! Maybe you’re finishing reading this thinking it’s all a bunch of unstructured rambling, and with how emotional I become when this topic is brought up, it wouldn’t surprise me if I’m too blinded to write clearly. But please consider researching – take 30 minutes for a few days – where you can give a small amount of your time, or a small amount of finances, or both, to make a difference in families’ lives. If you have questions, ask! If you already give, wonderful! What else are you able to do? We each have a chance to make a difference. Don’t you want to “be the change you wish to see in the world”? Don’t you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself? Shoot, don’t you want charitable giving tax credit? If you don’t care about others, at least do it to help yourself. That’s the American way, after all. Make an effort. It certainly won’t hurt you.
Kenneth D. Burke