How I Opened My Eyes to the Reality of Sex Slavery
Andi Hawkins: www.andihawkins.com
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Almost two years ago I sat with my head in my hands after seeing a video about the sex slave industry in India. A friend had invited me to a screening of the video “Good Night Red Light” hosted by Project Red Light Rescue, a division of Sower of Seeds International Ministries. Throughout the showing I found myself stunned and weeping. The images on the screen showed girls as young as twelve being tricked or taken by force to an elaborate network of brothels. There, they all but disappeared, being kept in hidden cages for up to three years while they were repeatedly raped and tortured by customers and traffickers– and hardly anyone knew it was happening.
Sitting in a church auditorium watching a video about this issue, all in the ease and safety I enjoy every day, made me uncomfortable. Life is so unfair– how could any girl survive that kind of nightmare? Here I was in an air-conditioned room eating cookies and drinking coffee while around the earth, little girls were being raped and beaten. It made me sick. I left the screening with a fervent desire to fight for them somehow.
The facts on sex slavery are staggering. Today there are 12,000,000 sex slaves worldwide– over half of them children. They are little girls being ruined by a predatory system of organized crime. As the porn industry thrives, the demand for prostitution grows, and India is not the only offender. Forced prostitution is a global epidemic. Girls are trafficked from around the world and sold anywhere men will buy them: Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa, and, yes, even the U.S. Usually taken to foreign soil, the girls are unable to communicate enough to get help. They are victims of the greatest human rights violation of the modern age– and most of us don’t realize it going on.
After seeing “Good Night Red Light” a group of friends and I began volunteering for Project Red Light Rescue. At first it was simply stamping mailers and wearing Red Light Rescue t-shirts around town, but soon we were heavily involved in fundraising and awareness efforts in our community. In November of 2010, a group of us even traveled to India to meet some of the rescued girls in person. The experience was life changing. We heard their stories, held their hands, and cried with them. We even prayed with women in a church in the Red Light District who are still stuck in the brothel system. They are no longer caged physically, but the shame of prostitution in Indian society makes them “untouchables” who have no other options but to stay where they are. Unless they are rescued, they will die in the brothels of violence or disease. It was so hard to leave them there.
What Can We Do?
|When I think about the unjustness of our world, the terror, the despair, I reach inside myself and pull out the one thing more potent than even the darkest evil: my ability to love.|
So, what can the average person do? More than anything, rescue groups need money. Until society collectively decides to abolish sexual slavery, the only hope a girl has is from aid groups who plug away in the trenches, shutting down brothels and fighting to get individual girls out. Its an expensive endeavor because most girls have no education or skills to help themselves once they are free. Rehabilitation is a long process. Aside from counseling, girls need health care, clothing, and food while they heal from the mental and physical trauma. There are many groups, like Project Red Light Rescue, who already have the infrastructure in place and just need continuous funding to keep rescues going. Even monthly donations of ten or twenty dollars can make a difference.
Besides money, there is only one other way to bring change. In order to explain, let me tell you about an experience I had while in India.
A small group of us from Project Red Light Rescue visited a night care shelter in the Red Light District. The shelter was a one-room facility where little girls sleep whose mothers still work as prostitutes through the night– a much safer option to being drugged and hidden under the bed while their moms service clients above them.
I thought I had seen the worst possible living conditions in the previous slums we saw, but I was wrong. The drive to the shelter was sobering. We were only on the edge of the Red Light District– not even the most forsaken segment– but the things I saw haunt me still. People were living and working in closet-sized sections along a slender, rotten road. The sides of our car brushed against drying clothes and sprawled garbage because the lane was barely large enough to accommodate a vehicle. The air smelled sour and dank. Every visible face showed misery and hopelessness. Bodies were wispy and unkempt, often naked. There were so many people, and no space or air, just thick oppressiveness. It was a side of poverty that transcends hunger for food.
We pulled into a gated compound. The night shelter room was in a large abandoned school building. Several aid groups have rented rooms there to help care for children living nearby. We smelled refuse as we climbed the stairs to the second floor.
When we entered the night shelter room, something changed. I sensed an overwhelming peace, as if someone had poked a hole right into Hell and carved out a tiny haven. A throng of smiling girls surrounded us, eager to show off their bed or to hear us repeat their names in our foreign accent. A wall of windows overlooked the brothels where their mothers worked, but the despair of the street below hadn’t snuffed the hope from their twinkling eyes.
I wondered what was different about these girls. What invisible force was powerful enough to break through their desperation and give them life? Looking around the room I found my answer in the quiet women straightening sheets or tousling a small head of hair– and even in us, a little group of travelers from afar, laughing and singing with our new friends.
What saved those little girls was nothing more complicated than love. Like Anne Lamott said in her book Traveling Mercies, “This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re sure love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway.” When I think about the unjustness of our world, the terror, the despair, I reach inside myself and pull out the one thing more potent than even the darkest evil: my ability to love.
I couldn’t take those girls home with me, but I brought home the lesson I learned from them: To love much and love often. In the end, its all we’ve got.
Please visit http://www.sowerofseeds.org/ and http://www.sowerofseeds.org/project.php?id=25 for more information on how you can help rescue these girls
[box]Andi Hawkins is a columnist for Women On the Move (www.momsmoments.ca) and an avid supporter of Project Red Light Rescue (www.sowerofseeds.org/rescue). When she isn’t playing trains with her two young boys, she loves running and reading. She is currently writing a book about sex slavery in India.[/box]
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