It was an ordinary day. My alarm went off 3 times before I finally rolled out of bed. Thirty minutes later I was out the door, headed back to the hospital for another full day’s work. I never knew what I would be facing each day, only that the possibilities were endless. This day I was called to Labor and Delivery where a 15 year old girl, from Napal, was due to give birth to her first child.
As social workers, we are often called when there are concerns or red flags. In this case, the nurse had concerns that the young girl was potentially being trafficked because there were two men who presented to the hospital with her, one of which never left her side for more than a few minutes at a time. These men were at least 10 years her senior and never said more than a few words. Her parents never came to the hospital, but due to the legal requirement that a parent or guardian sign ‘consent to treatment’ forms, the nurse was able to reach them, and they provided a verbal consent.
As I entered the room, I carefully looked her over, smiling and making light conversation with her. She had a small tattoo on her wrist, someone’s initials. I knew that pimps were known for branding their “property,” so I politely inquired. She looked down, then smiled at me and said, “Oh this is just my boyfriend’s initials.” As she spoke, I was not just listening to her words but her non-verbal expression. Searching for any sign of hesitancy or holes in her story, and then it dawned on me. Her answers were too good; almost as if they were scripted. The man who accompanied her, was finally convinced to go down and grab some lunch. I took that opportunity to tell her my concerns and explain how if she was in trouble we could help her.
Silence. I waited. She repeated to me the same scripted story and smiled. In that moment, I knew there was not much I could do. Still I wanted to know more. I started by using non-threatening verbal and nonverbal communication to quickly build rapport/trust with her. Over the course of 30-45 minutes I learned that she and her parents moved to America 3 years prior in the hopes of a brighter future. She dropped out of school at 14 years old and was got pregnant shortly after. She reported that her parents sent her to live with her soon to be husband. He was 25 years old, but she was reluctant to say anything more. Never once did she say that she was being forced against her will. For her, it was an arrangement that would have been made regardless of her geographical location. She explained that it was typical for an older man to be with a girl her age and that most of her friends had already been married off.
What can I do? I left her room with this question plaguing me. I made the decision to call children services and make a report, with the hopes that they would be able to ensure that she was truly safe. It was never revealed whether she was a victim of human trafficking or a child bride. I only knew in my spirit that something was wrong. I have countless experiences of encountering young women and men, I suspect are victims but only a handful have ever confirmed. I began to think of all the women, men and children who were being violated, not just in foreign countries but right here in our backyard. So many faces go unnoticed because we fail to take notice.
According to the Ohio Attorney General “Right now in Ohio, more than 2,000 school-age children are potentially at risk of being forced into human trafficking through exploited labor, domestic servitude or prostitution. Children, especially those not living with their parents, are especially vulnerable.”
This issue can’t be ignored. In the United States, trafficking doesn’t look like brothels and sex bars, such is in Thailand but that doesn’t make it less prevalent. Just because you can avoid driving down Main Street at night to escape the sight of prostitution doesn’t make it any less real. Suburban communities are being impacted at an alarmingly high rate. With social media and online communities on the rise, the number of children at risk continues to increase at disturbing rates.
Again, I am plagued with the question “What can I do?” Proverbs 31:8-9 says “Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy.” What are we going to do to advocate for the voiceless? Are we going to turn a blind eye to the injustice or will we stand for righteousness? Will we open our mouths and speak out or will we continue to live as though there aren’t 20-30 million slaves in the world today?
We are more than half way into National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and my request is that we all take some time to really think about what part we play in the injustice. What is God telling us to do in this hour? No part is too small, and no prayer is too little. Whether you are on the front lines of this issue or interceding for those who are. The time has come to take a stand.