From darkness to light: Joining the fight against child trafficking
by Felicia Cameron Leger
12 Years a Slave is opening nationwide today. But I’m not going to talk about the movie. I submit my posts a week before their scheduled print dates, so I won’t have an opportunity to see 12 Years until after this article is out of my hands. Even so, I’ve heard enough buzz about the film to know that it looks at the heartbreak of slavery through a unique lens. The idea of being born a slave is heinous enough, but the thought of being dragged into it from a life of freedom seems to cut at a much deeper level.
When we see movies about pre-Civil War slavery, we thank God that these atrocities of the past are no longer a part of our culture. Nowadays we tend to use the word ‘slave’ more as a metaphor. We are slaves to addiction, depression, poor choices, regret. Our masters are cruel, but figurative. The idea of one person actually owning another person in the twenty-first century is ludicrous… right? Wrong. There are more slaves in the world today than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade.
Last weekend my husband and I were invited to a fundraiser for She Dances, an organization dedicated to fighting the sexual trafficking of little girls. I learned that an estimated 800,000 young girls are bought and sold across international borders every year. Their average age is twelve, many as young as six. Precious little girls, sold into unspeakable abuse. They live in unlit rooms, tied to filthy cots, eating their food off the same floor they use as a toilet. Multiple men visit them each night, men who rend their bodies and toss them aside, over and over again. Oh, yes. Modern-day slavery is alive and well.
Sophia, a little girl who was sold to a Honduran brothel at the age of eight, shared her experience with us. I could try to describe the nightmare that was her life, but the only honest way to tell her story is in her own words:
“There were times when I used to think I would never know what it felt like to be happy. I’d heard about people who were happy. Little girls, just like me, who were happy. But that wasn’t my life. I was born into a home where I was nothing but a burden. My mother didn’t know how to love me, and I was always afraid of my father. Then, one day, my parents just gave me away to a total stranger. He took me to a terrible place where terrible things happened. He made money by selling me. I would lie awake at night hoping that the door to my room wouldn’t open. It was there, lying in my bed, that I thought I could never be happy. Not even for just one day.”
You may be squirming in your chair right now, wishing you hadn’t clicked into this post. Maybe you already have your hand on the mouse, ready to move on to something more palatable. But I hope you don’t. I know this is a distasteful subject. It’s one we don’t want to think about because it makes us feel helpless. It breaks our hearts to look at our five and six-year-old daughters and be reminded that there are children their age who are being treated in ways too horrible to imagine. Sometimes, if a problem is too daunting, we wish we hadn’t learned about it in the first place. And let’s face it. Cutting down a multi-billion dollar global child sex trade seems all but impossible.
But here’s the good news: It really isn’t. For every person who tries to exploit a child, there is someone else working to protect her.
The thing I love most about Hollywood is its desire and ability to stand against oppression, to use its collective voice to tell the stories that so desperately need to be told. Films like The Whistleblower and Taken have helped raise public awareness about modern-day slavery. Jada Pinkett Smith and Salma Hayek are speaking out in Washington and partnering with Don’t Sell Bodies, an organization dedicated to digging up the roots of sex trafficking and rehabilitating its victims. Thank you to people like Rachel Weisz, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and so many others who are contributing to the fight.
Sophia’s story doesn’t end where we left off. Three years later, the sex trafficking ring that held her captive was uncovered. The men responsible for her abuse are now in prison, and for the first time, Sophia is learning how it feels to be loved.
“When I was eleven, a new set of strangers came and took me away. They told me they loved me, and that they were going to help me. I didn’t believe them. I started going to classes. I learned how to paint. They fed me good food. They taught me how to read books, and all of the terrible things stopped happening. Finally I believed them, that they did love me. For the first time in my life I trusted someone. I’ll never forget wondering what happiness feels like. But I don’t have to wonder anymore.”
In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. Expose the darkness, and evil will have nowhere to hide.”
If you want to join in the fight against child slavery, there are some simple ways to help without taxing your time or your wallet. It can be as easy as sending a text or buying a handmade bracelet. To learn more, click on any of the links below:12 Years A Slave, Child trafficking, Children of the Night, Don't Sell Bodies, ECPAT, Felicia Cameron, Hollywood, Jada Pinkett Smith, NightLight, Salma Hayek, Sex trafficking, She Dances, Slavery, The SOLD Project, The Whistleblower