There are 27 million slaves in the world today, more than any other time in history. Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings, mainly for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. As the world's fastest growing criminal industry, it affects every nation across the globe. Every thirty seconds, someone is forced into this type of bondage - modern slavery.
The average age of trafficking victims is 12 years old. That is close to the age of my daughter. The thought of her being subjected to the horrors of abuse, repeated rape and starvation takes my breath away. And that's why I sat with tears running down my face as I read the following story from Christine Caine's book, "Undaunted"...
One by one that March afternoon, the girls around me shared stories like Nadia's. Most had been raised in impoverished, ex-communist Eastern European nations. Each had come to Greece expecting legitimate employment. All had brought with them dreams, hopes and aspirations to do something more with their lives than their own families had ever dreamed possible. All of those tender, youthful dreams had been shattered beyond anyone's worst fears.
What shook me the most was the realization that, for each of these young women I spoke to that day, there were hundreds of thousands of others still trapped in the sex slave trade with no way out - hundreds of thousands of women whose unspeakable pain remained shrouded in secrecy. Silent.
Then Mary from Nigeria told her story. She and 59 other young women had come to Greece in a shipping container.
"Wait," I interrupted. "do you mean you were contained in a ship?" I thought I'd misunderstood, or that something had been lost in translation.
Mary repeated: She and fifty-nine other young women were brought to Greece in a shipping container. Just like the one I had just had an estimate on from a moving company for shipping my household goods to our new home.
When she and the fifty-nine other girls arrived at the port the day of their departure, they thought they were traveling to good-paying jobs in a land of opportunity. Instead, they were greeted by hiring agents who said there were complications with the paperwork. Either travel by container, the girls were told, or lose your deposits and any future opportunity to work abroad. Either make the voyage in a shipping container or turn around and go home.
"Our families had given everything they owned to pay for our passage," Mary said. So, one by one, bewildered and frightened, the girls entered the container. When the last girl was inside, the door was slammed shut and they heard a lock snap into place. They sat frozen in the darkness.
"Then the bubble broke! The bubble broke!" Mary exclaimed.
The filter, she explained, that allowed oxygen to circulate in the container. It stopped working, and the inside of the cramped box suddenly became not only lightless but airless as well.
I gasped, imagining the oxygen being rapidly depleted, the heat building, the women gulping for air in complete darkness.
The journey in the sealed container was gruesome. Half the girls died from the lack of oxygen. The other half, the stronger ones, were near death themselves. They had nowhere to sit but in their own vomit and feces, since they were forced to relieve themselves on the container's floor. When the men at port opened the container, Mary said, they recoiled, appalled by the smell of death, decay and excrement.
One of the dead was Anna, Mary's best friend. Anna had died an excruciating death, suffocating as if buried alive. But Anna was real, Mary insisted to me that day. Anna had existed. And Anna must be remembered.
The hiring agents preferred to forget. More interested in quickly getting what they referred to as their "shipped goods" from the dockyard, they hustled the living to small apartments nearby, where, like Nadia, the girls were repeatedly raped and beaten.
Before sunrise one morning, the girls were loaded into small rubber boats and taken across the Mediterranean Sea to a Greek island. This was the first time they realized that the original voyage had not even taken them to Greece. They had been brutalized in Turkey. None of the agents' promises had been kept.
In the boat, Mary felt a surge of hope: the Greek Coast Guard was doing a routine check that morning. She hoped that, unlike the crew on the docks, the Coast guard could not be bribed to turn a blind eye. Mary's captors showed signs of panic. Though she was freezing, sleep and food deprived, broken and in shock, Mary's hope grew. Rescue! Justice! Once caught, the traffickers would face a lengthy imprisonment. And for that reason, these men would do anything to avoid being caught.
They began throwing the girls overboard.
Only five of the approximately thirty girls - those who had been strong enough to survive the deadly voyage in the shipping container - escaped drowning that day.
Those five were hidden among their captors when the Coast Guard came aboard. When they finally arrived in Athens, the girls were taken to a brothel, where the nightmare of the Turkish apartment was repeated. Daily, Mary and the others were forced to participate in unspeakable encounters with dozens of men. The horror continued for weeks or months - Mary couldn't tell. But one day, anti-trafficking authorities, responding to a tip, raided the brothel. Mary and the other girls were herded into the back of a police van. They were given rest, food and water and peace.
Though no longer in a physical prison, Mary remained silent, constantly tormented by recurring nightmares. The daily horror may have ceased, but the pain screamed non-stop.
As I read this, I literally felt ill. I kept thinking of the scene in the movie "Amistad" where they chain all the weak and the sick slaves together and push them off the ship to drown. That happened SO long ago. But this - this is happening NOW. And it's happening in a world that has the power to stop it. An estimated 40,000 people are living IN SLAVERY in the United States, with an estimated 14,000-17,000 being trafficked in each year. Both foreign nationals and U.S. Citizen victims have been identified in cities, suburbs and rural areas of ALL 50 states. This isn't someone else's problem - it's ours.
I love that of all the words Jesus could have read when he spoke from the temple for the first time, He read these:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.
From the very beginning, God's heart has been for the captives and those held prisoner. And as the hands and feet of God on the earth, our hearts had best be for them too. This issue of human trafficking - it's big. It's overwhelming. It's ridiculously complicated. But, please, just do SOMETHING. Christine Caine, who told the story above, had to look into the faces of the wide-eyed girls that had been rescued from trafficking and answer their question of "Why didn't you come sooner?" Can you even imagine? These young girls - just shells of who they once had been, wanting to know why their rescue didn't come sooner. It makes my heart pound furiously. We can't say it's because we didn't know. We do know, as much as we wish we didn't sometimes. What is stopping us from looking this giant beast in the face and saying "Enough. I will not sit idly by." Are we lazy? Are we too busy? Can you imagine looking into the eyes of those little girls and giving those pathetic excuses? We ALL have a part to play, as human beings who believe in dignity and freedom.
Below are several organizations that are involved in ending modern day slavery. Each one lists ways that you can be involved. You can use your voice, your financial resources, your gifts, whatever platform you have to bring this issue to light. I'd encourage you to also look into human trafficking task forces that might exist right in your home town. You would be shocked at how normal, every day people like you and I are helping to both prevent and spot human trafficking in their own cities.
This isn't a "cause", you guys. This is people's lives we are talking about. Little girls who should be playing with dolls are having their innocence ripped from them up to 40 times a day. Boys, who should be kicking a soccer ball around are doing extreme manual labor in hot fields all day long. Men and women, who never dreamed they'd end up in a forced labor situation deserve to go back to their families without fear. These are the stories of 27 MILLION people. Please don't just be moved. Be moved enough to act.