February 11th, 2013 at 8:22 pm
My first exposure to the realities of human trafficking took place in hushed tones during a power outage, thanks to the capricious whims of monsoon season and government electricity cuts in a central Indian city of 6 million people. It was the summer of 2005 and I had been living in Pune for over a month when my host sister, Asha*, first started telling me the story of how her younger sister was trafficked to a brothel owner in a desperate, last ditch attempt to keep the family’s rural farm and only source of livelihood from foreclosing. When she tried to run away, Asha’s sister was recaptured, beaten and told that if she attempted a similar feat again, her family’s farm would be burned and her loved ones ruined.
To this day, I will never forget the hollow look in Asha’s eyes when I, completely shocked in all of my privileged naiveté, sputtered, “But – surely, Asha, you don’t mean that your father actually sold your sister – do you?” She looked at me, shook her head, then looked back down at the candle flickering on the floor between us. “We had no choice,” she whispered.
In the eight years following that conversation, I’ve come to realize that tales of desperation like that of Asha’s family are devastatingly common – and are taking place within the confines of our own American cities, highways and residential neighborhoods. Houston serves as a major hub for both labor and sex trafficking in the US, largely due to our port access, close proximity to the border and several major trucking routes that traverse the country.
Since moving into the inner city here to work for a faith-based non-profit organization in 2010, I’ve interacted with countless individuals who carry similar experiences of exploitation, abuse, trauma and entrapment. Victims have included American citizens and undocumented immigrants, homeless and educated, live-in housekeepers and manual laborers, middle-aged and youth alike. Within the five zip codes that we at Mission Centers of Houston serve through food and clothing distribution, ESL classes, afterschool programming, youth mentorship opportunities, senior adult ministry and more, the majority of the individuals and families entering our doors on a daily basis are all flagged as being highly at risk for human trafficking.
Components of their vulnerability include undocumented immigrant status, language barriers, unemployment, homelessness, single parenting, unequal education opportunities and gender. The statistics are overwhelming and yet, the numerical evidence has slowly been transformed with heartbreakingly real, three-dimensional faces, lives and stories.
Now when I replay Asha’s voice in my head, a myriad of others join hers, some with a broken Columbian accent, others thick with street slang, still others with a lilting Southern drawl – and I find myself compelled by the stirring mandate to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:8-9, NLT).
Each of us at Mission Centers of Houston is honored to be a part of what God – the same God who promises to bring freedom and release from darkness for those who are enslaved, is already doing in our neighborhoods. Please pray that we would constantly learn how to better love, serve and empower our community in the same fashion as Christ.
Due to the highly complex nature of human trafficking cases, we are continuing to establish ourselves as a safe, trustworthy presence within our community so that potential and actual victims of human trafficking can approach us for aid; please pray that we would be effective in preserving and promoting the inherent worth of every individual. Please pray that we would continue to build successful partnerships with other organizations across our city who can offer appropriate direct care services, whether for trauma counseling, legal representation, safe housing, job placement or as otherwise needed.
Finally, please pray for us as we are in the exciting process of developing a human trafficking prevention program geared towards the Hispanic pre-teens and teens participating in weekly after-school programming at each of our three centers. We are also beginning to move forward with establishing the Kenny Morris Women’s Empowerment Center in order to train, educate and empower the Latina women in our community through job skill development, spiritual growth, family and parenting-related issues and anti-human trafficking initiatives.
If your heart is stirred to further respond to the injustice faced by over 27 million men, women and children who are currently trapped in slavery in the US and across the world, I would ask you to consider taking action in one or more of the following ways:
- Become educated about the realities of human trafficking and learn how to recognize the many different faces it takes in our nation.
- Enter the 24/7 national human trafficking hotline number into your phone – 888.3737.888 – and report any suspicious incidents you might encounter.
- Become an educated consumer by taking an interactive survey at http://slaveryfootprint.org/and start asking questions about where your goods come from, including fresh produce, technological products, clothing and more, in order to actively lobby for fair wages and a healthy work environment for those helping provide for our daily needs.
- Approach various businesses and organizations to make an appeal as an educated consumer for greater access to more fair trade products.
- Join a grassroots anti-trafficking coalition in your community.
- Find out what organizations in your area are already equipped to respond to the different legal, counseling, trauma care, housing and practical needs for potential and actual victims, and start to get plugged in as a volunteer or resource support.
- Create a Google alert to receive regular human trafficking updates.
- Engage in regular prayer for the victims of human trafficking as well as for service providers, law enforcement and government officials actively seeking to put an end to modern-day slavery.
*Name changed for security reasons.
By Kate Ambrose Pollard, Community Outreach Coordinator at the Mission Centers of Houston