In July of 2011, I sat in a room listening to a presentation from a Human Trafficking organization. I live in a small town in Indiana, so I’m sure we were a little behind, but at that time, most people around were still pretty unaware of the reality of Human Trafficking, let alone the specifics of groups doing something about it. I remember feeling horrified by a story of a woman offering a young girl for sex to the gentleman now making the presentation in the room where I was sitting. He said, “Then she pointed to another young girl and said, ‘and you can take her for your son.’” This woman offered up two young girls for the unthinkable in a market among the shoes she was selling to some man who was just walking by. I decided that day I was going to do whatever I could to help to stop that from ever happening.
Thinking back to that experience, I am trying to put my finger on what changed for me. What flipped the switch? I think it was a story that helped me connect to the humanness on the other side of all the statistics and awareness. It makes sense. I’ve heard about the importance of dehumanizing an enemy during wartime. Why wouldn’t the opposite be true when it comes to the things that inspire us to participate in what is good for others?
It makes me wonder how much more we could do to end human trafficking if given the opportunity to connect to the human exploited, abused, and trafficked on the other side of that report or social media post.
To do that, I want to offer the same opportunity to you. I want to share a short story of a time I looked into the eyes of another human and really saw them. I hope it helps you, as you read, to see the individual on the other side of all the information we learn during Human Trafficking Awareness month.
Since 2011, I’ve had opportunities to participate in work I never expected for my life. It has been rewarding to participate in work for freedom, but some of the experiences are difficult. While working with an organization, I was with a team in Bangkok and walked by a KTV lounge when a young woman walked up to me and invited me to come with her into the establishment for sex. She had quickly laid her hands around my neck bringing me face-to-face with only a few inches between us. I understand she intended to encourage something specific, but for me, it brought me close enough to look past the bright lights and the glitter or the area. I looked deep into her eyes and saw the person standing in front of me. Behind the smile, there was much more. I smiled at her, politely refused, and began walking away. I had to move her arm to step out of her reach, and as I was stepping away, I felt her move. She swung back around in front of me, and this time held her hands on my shoulders. Her face had changed. She was no longer smiling. Instead, she looked tired and sad and said in a different tone, “Please. Just come and sit with me for a while… No funny business.”
At that moment, my heart broke and as I, once again, politely refused and walked on, I wanted so much to take her from that place. Although I don’t fully understand everything she felt or understood at that moment, I had just looked into life — stolen. I saw value — rejected. I saw hope — lost. But what remained, even in this dark environment, was a person deserving dignity, respect, and freedom. I felt a flash of anger as I thought about the men I resembled who would have responded so differently, and everything that night would hold for this young woman.
While the best thing I could've done that night was to keep on walking, the best thing I can do for her, and the many in similar situations today is to keep sharing, keep working, and keep inviting others to join the many of us in creating a free world.
For you, the woman that night, and for every other valuable person, I will work for freedom during Human Trafficking Month, and throughout the year.
Will you join us?
As the Executive Director for Sari Bari USA, David serves the Sari Bari USA team and engages with the supporters of Sari Bari. He shares from his experience and the powerful stories of the women of Sari Bari who work to make their lives new.
David is a graduate of Grace College located in Winona Lake, Indiana. He also sits on the board of a nonprofit organization that focuses on collaboration with law enforcement and service organizations to combat human trafficking in the Dominican Republic. His passion is evident when he shares about his work and desires to communicate the value of each individual and the beautiful opportunity we each have to creatively discover how we can recognize and support the equity, dignity, and freedom of others in our world.