by Deirdre Flynn (BEA guest writer)
I walk down the street at midday, the temperature already boiling. The open air bars are packed, the fans inadequate against the heat, and old, young, married, single, fat, skinny, ugly and handsome men fill the seats. There are some who look you in the eye as they notice you watch them ‘flirt’ with Thai women and ones who don’t. There are some who stare belligerently and dangerously back, daring you to say something as they paw at the women around them.
The stories of the women who work in the red light district of Bangkok, Thailand are even worse than you would imagine. One girl recounted being snatched off the back of a motorbike and thrown into a van where several other young crying girls sat. It was all she saw until the bag went over her head. In her case, a policeman saw this and actually intervened. He saved her but allowed the truck still filled with crying women to continue. She was rescued from that situation to only end up trafficked several years later by her ‘boyfriend’.
There is another young woman who was trafficked by someone she believed to be her boyfriend. She had been dating him for six months when he asked her to meet his family. Her friends were so excited, “He must be really serious about you!’ they said. They drove north where he brought her to an empty farmhouse, beat her, handcuffed her to a doorknob and injected her with drugs. She awoke later in a warehouse filled with at least 25 other girls.
He was not her boyfriend, he was her pimp located in the USA. She was trafficked from the state of Oklahoma into Las Vegas where she was pimped for seven years before getting out.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery where people profit from the exploitation of others.
As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include: children involved in the sex trade, adults 18 or over who through force, fraud, or coercion are engaging commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services”. There are 3 areas to the anti-human trafficking movement: prevention, rescue and recovery. Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the world.
I have often been asked if I find it defeating to work for a cause (primarily made up of non-profits) to fight the enormous multi billion dollar industry of human trafficking.
The answer is “sometimes”. Not always and not often but sometimes.
Sometimes the issue of human trafficking is so horrifying and large in its scope it’s hard to keep the faith and see success; especially when Congress chooses to let Safe Harbor Laws (laws that define sexually exploited children as victims of abuse instead of criminals, helps them find protection and support, and grants them immunity from prosecution for prostitution) and the Violence Against Women Act lapse. It can appear that when awareness and education is finally starting taking root and progress is being made, a giant step backwards happens at a federal level.
I have learned though focusing on the scope isn’t always beneficial. There are many things in life that if you stopped to think of the big picture you’d never have the energy or the courage to take that first step. It really comes down to putting one foot in front of the other. To think of the one person you are working for instead of the 100,000 children estimated to be in the sex trade in the United States each year because reaching that one person (one after another) is way more attainable than focusing on saving all 100,000 at once.
This past December I had the honor of attending and speaking at The Sold Project’s End of Year Event in California. The Sold Project works in Thailand and its mission is to prevent child prostitution through culturally relevant programs for vulnerable children. During 2010 I had worked with them over in Thailand.
While at the event, I learned some of SOLD’s students ( 16 or younger) were being solicited or, more accurately, having their friendship and trust bought by cell phones and gifts by a woman who works at an escort service in the city near where SOLD is located. This woman used the phones to communicate with them and entice the young teenagers into sneaking out of their village and hanging out with her in the city. As time went on, she told them of the business she ran, making it sound glamorous and exciting (dates with foreign men!). The pressure escalated. One of the girls made the brave and scary choice to tell SOLD and her parents what was happening and ask for help.
Is it frightening to remember how real the exploitation these children face is? Yes. Is it disheartening to learn some of the girls were still communicating with this woman? Yes. Does it make me sick to know one SOLDs first students, a young girl who used to draw me pictures with “I Love You” on them, went along with this for awhile? Yes. Is it a testament to the importance of SOLDs mission that this girl asked SOLD for help? Yes.
Yes, only one asked for help but help she received. In asking for help and telling SOLD what was happening, SOLD was able to notify officials about what this woman was doing and they, hopefully, will be able to prevent her from being able to contact and exploit vulnerable village schoolchildren in the future.
To quote the President of The Sold Project, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just the one. Or, for The SOLD Project, if you can’t prevent all 60,000 (# of estimated children in Thailand’s sex trade), then prevent just one.”
One is better than none.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing.”
Deirdre Flynn is an actress turned corporate america moonlighter turned Anti-human trafficking advocate. Deirdre spent 8 months working with The SOLD Project, a grassroots organization dedicated to preventing the sexual exploitation of children by educating at risk youth, in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Following this commitment she worked as an English as a second language teacher and establish SOLD’s volunteer program. Deirdre now lives in Oklahoma City, OK freelancing with anti trafficking organizations and working with a terrific agency which offers over 30 social service programs to the community.
You can find Deirdre here: