What really scared me was the big, red dot.
The dot itself was not scary, but its size and location on the map gave me chills. The map is of Houston and the immediate surrounding area. The red dots, which varied in size from a BB to a grape, represent high concentration areas of human trafficking. The biggest dot in all of Houston sits just north of where the Southwest Freeway intersects Beltway 8.
Houston is one of the biggest areas in the country for human trafficking and the area of highest concentration is in our back yard. My office is about three short miles from Ground Zero and I was totally clueless. Chances are you were too. Covering and writing the story on the front page of this week’s paper unnerved me. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of human slaves toil in unimaginable conditions right under our noses.
Whenever I drive through the long construction zone that is the Southwest Freeway between Rosenberg and Sugar Land, I can’t help but wonder how many of those workers are there against their own will. The same thought crosses my mind as I watch any of the myriads of buildings going up in our area.
I used to think of the workers as mostly illegal aliens doing the hard labor that Americans don’t want to do – if I thought of them at all. Now I’m not so sure. I have to wonder, is our super new interstate highway paved in part by slave labor? Do I walk into stores built entirely by free hands? Is the food I eat at restaurants prepared by trained chefs or kidnap victims who have been beaten and tortured into submission?
The story I wrote this week is about a group called Freedom Church Alliance. It’s a network of local churches and nonprofit organizations dedicated to stopping human trafficking. Their primary toolkit is a cardboard box called a GoBox. Inside is all kinds of information people can use to help fight human trafficking. One item in particular is a DVD of a documentary called “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.”
It’s not the kind of documentary filled with cute little animals you would show your children. Children should never watch it. It’s a story of a different kind of animal – human monsters who buy and sell other humans. Its focus is on sex trafficking. It goes into vivid detail how innocent children – mostly girls – are groomed or even outright kidnapped off the streets and brutally raped, beaten, and humiliated as their masters prep them for a horrendous life of unthinkable servitude.
The documentary includes interviews with former prostitutes, pimps, and others involved in sex trafficking. It looks at the problem from a global perspective. That’s what makes Houston such a hotbed because of its massive port and mixed cultures. It’s very easy for smugglers to get their human cargo into and out of the country that way.
The video includes re-enactments of slave sales, brutalization, and other aspects of sex trafficking. Although they are toned down for the benefit of the audience, it still made my skin crawl. I don’t recall the exact figure they gave, but it was something like more than 95 percent of all women working as prostitutes and an untold number in the porn industry are working against their will.
They may be acting like they enjoy it, but they don’t. They simply have no choice. They are so harshly conditioned to believe the lies they are told that most of them feel they have no value, no other purpose, and no hope. Even when they are rescued, their minds have to be re-trained to accept that they are valued as a person and that they have a free will and are in fact free.
In part of “Nefarious” they showed parents in Southeast Asia who traffic their own children. There are places where having a baby girl is akin to hitting the jackpot because the fathers can make a living selling their young daughters for sex.
I don’t think things are that bad here in Houston, but now I sometimes have to wonder.
The problem of sex trafficking probably hits closer to home than most of us realize. The porn industry is rife with sex trafficking victims. Anyone who has ever viewed pornography is guilty of adding to the demand side of the sex trade. I’m guilty. For most of my teen and adult life I was addicted to porn. I confessed my addiction to my wife in 2009 and entered a 12-step recovery program through a Christian based ministry called Celebrate Recovery.
I now know that I bear the guilt of someone else’s enslavement and shame. That’s a tough reality to face. It’s only through the grace of God that I can find forgiveness and freedom from my sin. It’s because of that grace that I owe to each woman I helped victimize through my consumption of porn not just an apology but a promise to do what I can to help combat this horrific crime.
Honestly, I have no real desire to take up sex trafficking as a cause. I have a very full plate and many commitments and responsibilities I must tend to. But if I don’t, who will? If I could find the time to watch pornography I can certainly find the time to pray for the victims and to go through my GoBox and start finding ways I can make a difference. This column and my story are good first steps.
I hope that they will open your eyes to the seriousness and depth of the problem right here in our own community. I hope that you will go to your place of worship and ask what you can do to get your church, temple, or mosque involved. A great first step is to visit www.freedomchurchalliance.org and become informed and then involved.
If my daughter were being trafficked, I would hope that someone would try to rescue her. I can be that someone for another parent out there. No, I don’t have to be directly involved and I don’t have to put myself in danger. I can pray, I can donate, and I can help spread awareness.
If enough of us get involved, we can help shrink that big red dot on our side of the map, or even obliterate it. To sit back and let it grow is a stain on my conscience I cannot bear, nor should you.