“Suddenly the realisation dawned on me that these girls before me were past victims. Seeing them every day… interacting and getting to know their personalities… left me wondering how any human could ever exploit something so beautiful. When human trafficking victims stop being statistics, and become real human faces with real stories, change is inevitable.” – Jas Swilks.
It was 2011 when I was first introduced to the subject of Human Trafficking. At the time I was volunteering with Easterfest in Toowoomba as a photo-journalist and had offered to do a press-release on Destiny Rescue, a not for profit organisation that rescues children from sex trafficking. To be completely honest, I had absolutely no idea about the enormity of human trafficking and was absolutely broken to hear and see images of children who had been sold on a daily basis. After coming to terms with the fact that a child was being trafficked every 26 seconds I walked out of the movie screening room with a heart full of hurt. I was overwhelmed for the children I’d never met, who had never done anything to hurt anyone; children who just wanted to be loved yet who were so grossly exploited.
I knew that if I walked out of the Destiny Rescue tent without making a commitment to join the fight, there was a chance I would soon slip into the routine of a comfortable western life, forgetting what I’d seen. I wanted to be moved daily, I wanted to be a voice for these kids, so I made a split second decision that I’ve never regretted. The decision to sponsor a child.
There were tens and tens of profiles laid out…It was hard to choose just one but I made my decision based on a heart-connection rather than simply choosing the ‘cutest’ of the kids. I chose a girl named Naru (name has been changed for privacy reason); a young mother in her twenties who loved to sing, play soccer and had dreams of one day opening her own business. I figured that by sponsoring her, I was also helping her child, and that was a driving factor in my decision. Fast forward 2 years, and this young woman has received so much love, support and care from Destiny Rescue that she now plans to open her own business at the end of this year! To see how far she has come and to know that my sponsorship played a part in this is so rewarding. Even more rewarding however, was that I got the chance to meet this beautiful woman in person just a few weeks ago.
During the time I have been a Destiny Rescue Sponsor I’ve often wondered what the next step would be. I knew that I wanted to do more than just give money each month; I wanted to make a difference on a much larger scale. So it was that in 2012, I started looking into team mission trips. Early this year I booked a 2 week trip to Thailand, and the following is an account of what I saw and felt. This is a longer post than usual, but I guarantee you will want to read through to the end – please persist for the kids who don’t have our freedom.
When I first told people I was going to be travelling to Thailand, their initial responses were always the same;
“Oh that will be amazing! You’ll have such a relaxing time! Beach, cocktails…”
Then I told them what I was really doing. Going to meet children and teenagers rescued from the sex trade.
It’s not something I’ve ever particularly felt at ease talking about. The subject of human trafficking is not pleasant and it sometimes scares people away, leaving them looking at me like I’m strange because I want to talk about something so ‘depressing’. To be honest though, I really don’t care if it makes someone uncomfortable. Unless you are happy to go and take the place of that child, then I expect the topic of human-trafficking to be up for discussion with anyone and everyone. It needs to be, and the more you learn about this global underground crime network that claims the lives of over 27 million humans each year, the more you come to understand that talking about something, as unpleasant as it may be, can also be powerful. Every person I share with is someone who may join me on this fight, and that is a beautiful thing. To see someone moved and changed within, turns the ‘unpleasant’ into something much brighter.
Before this trip I’d never been to Thailand or South East Asia at all, so the experience was completely different to anything I’d ever expected. The first thing I noticed when arriving in Bangkok was the overwhelming humidity; the heat that envelops you everywhere you go. There was also a distinctive smell that left me longing for the clean air of Australia…it followed me, wrapped inside the heat of the sun and causing me to hold a hand to my nose and mouth in an attempt to escape it’s pungent stench. Then there were the people…
It seemed that everywhere we went there were people begging. Young mothers sat in the filth of the street, plastic begging cups between their feet, their children laid out in front. A man with only a stump for a leg lay face down in the middle of the path, shaking his deformed limb and rattling a money cup. Then there were the hundreds of young girls and women trapped in the karaoke bars and brothels…This is where we went on our first day, and it was an experience that our team will carry within our hearts for years to come.
Most of us have come across brothels in our lives; growing up in Coffs Harbour it was common for people to joke about ‘that place’ in Orlando Street. Mostly everyone can say that they’ve seen at least the front of a brothel in their town, but preparing to walk through a red light district in Bangkok, knowing what we knew about trafficking, was something entirely different. There wasn’t just an odd brothel here and there, this was a town with entire plaza’s dedicated to the sale of young women and girls. Likewise, Karaoke bars are everywhere – and while they look harmless on the outside, they are nothing more than a front for trafficking and prostitution. We saw many karaoke bars during our trip, some were right next to our accommodation.
As I walked through Nana Plaza that first night I was reminded of a bible verse I had come across earlier that day…
“My heart is grieved when I see what has happened to the women of the city…” – Lamentations 3:51
That was exactly how I felt. This place, a three level U-shaped plaza, was filled with hoards and hoards of girls being sold for sex, many of whom were undoubtedly under-age. How do I know this? I know because this was the exact spot where Destiny Rescue executed a raid last month, freeing 22 girls, 19 of which were under-age. I was heartened to see that the brothel in question had been shut down completely, and was still under lock and key when we went through.
Walking through Nana Plaza, it was at times hard to take in all that we were seeing…the carnival style neon lights, the skimpy outfits, the fake smiles of workers and drunken laughter of men, the lady-boys, the pregnant women being trafficked, the hoards of young girls crammed into an open-glass window and watched while they did their make-up like animals in a zoo. It was a visual assault, but then there was a feeling we couldn’t shake; an overwhelming burden of a heaviness and depression so thick it was tangible. My friend Jess wrote of her experience:
“…I looked up and noticed two girls sitting either side of a door way with a curtain pulled open, they were slumping over on their stools and when they saw me they quickly straightened up, put on a smile… and tried to giggle. Their eyes were blank, and they didn’t really see me, as I walked past them their smiles faded and one hunched back over. This was a scene repeated over and over as we passed each bar. Their body language screaming, “I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE!”
“Did the men not see this too? No, they were intoxicated and just there to ‘play’ in the ‘world’s largest adult playground.'”
Like the rest of us Jess was angry, she was sad. What really got to us though wasn’t so much the western men drunkenly flirting with these prostituted women, but rather the sober ones. The old men who sat there completely stone-cold sober, like they’d been there hundreds of times before. Like they knew exactly what they were there to do. These men disgusted me, but at the same time, I felt somewhat sad for them. These are the men who need to be reached, because men need to be the ones to stop consuming in order for Human Trafficking to be stopped.
Below is a recount of what I wrote in my journal that night:
“Tonight we headed into Bangkok city to see the red light districts. It’s almost hard to put into words what it was like.
That place. It was like a multi-level hell, filled with false bravado, insecurity, pain and a desperation that left us all feeling burdened by a tangible depression. So many young women. So many. Sitting hunched over on bar stools or standing outside shop fronts they seemed lost, until someone walked around the corner towards them. Suddenly they would perk up, pressing their chests forward and giving their most winning smiles. Pinned to their tiny bikini tops were numbers…
It is the greatest acting you’ll ever see. A young woman doing what she is told she must, in order to support her family. Her own future and safety isn’t even in the equation. It’s the greatest display of selflessness for the greatest wickedness; they are martyrs for their families. And they pay the price every time someone picks their number.
To realise that these are not just strip joints, but actually fronts for paedophilia, rape and the most horrific degradation a human could face, is mind blowing. It is sickening to realise that these girls will be, and are being, abused behind those doors and made to service countless men every night. The turning point for me was when I saw a young woman, maybe around her late teens standing out the front of a shop with an expression I could only describe as thinly veiled fear. She was trying to smile but her lips were tight, her eyes frightened, wide…they screamed at me desperately, “I don’t want to be here!” All I could do was offer her a small smile of empathy, trying to convey the sadness and despair I felt for her. With that strange look in her eyes she reached out and touched me ever so gently on the arm. It wasn’t a beckoning call. It wasn’t a grasping, greedy gesture. It was something gentle yet helpless.
That look. The more I think about it the more my mind opens to the reality. That at this very moment she may be exposed to abuse and brutality. That she may be looked down upon and treated like a throw-away item by men who don’t understand her value. That she will be bought by men noone would want to be purchased by. To be BOUGHT full stop.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking of this girl since that night. It breaks my heart that she is still there and I am back in Australia, safe and comfortable. I pray for this girl constantly, and I cry every single time I write about her. I’m at a loss to do anything other than to rely on God to bring the right people into that place who will free her. We’ve seen miracles happen through Destiny Rescue; I believe she can experience one too.
As we left Nana Plaza that night, we all walked in silence. Moving through the streets alone with our thoughts, some of us in a state of numbness, we kept moving until we were back at the train station. Some of us were too overwhelmed to speak. We sat on the rooftop and comforted each other, praying for this city that was so filled with injustice. How was it that right at that moment, all around us were thousands of people going about their own lives, while only a kilometre or two away girls were being raped countless times.
What can we do to combat this?
THE RESCUED WOMEN
“Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans; be fair to the needy and the helpless. Rescue them from the power of the wicked.” – Psalms 82: 3-4
After seeing the overwhelmingly evil energy running through Bangkok city, it could have been easy to give up and see human trafficking as a lost cause. I have discovered since though, that the beauty of this trip was discovering the silver lining in the storm – and that is the rescued girls. During our 2 week trip we went to several rescue homes in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and the thing that impacted me was the realisation that these girls who were once in those brothels, were now free. To see them laughing and screaming like little children, to see their personalities developing and to have the chance to be a part of their healing process, was the greatest blessing I have ever had. I’ve often heard people say that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is a smile, and until now I never really understood that. All we had to do was smile and encourage the girls, to be ourselves and show them patience, love and respect. Time and time again Destiny Rescue staff said to us, “You don’t realise how much this means to them. To know that a team of western people want to come and meet them, to play games and just be lovely to them, is such a big part of their healing process. The more good memories they have, the further away those traumatic memories of their past seem.”
BANGKOK AND CHIANG MAI DIARIES:
Tuesday September 24th
Today we got a shuttle out to a Rescue Home to meet with the girls. What first struck me was how tiny they were. 14, 15, 16… some of these girls would have been only 12 or 13 when they were rescued. I can’t comprehend how a man – especially an Australian man – could feel it was okay to be with a child.
The girls introduced themselves to us (their limited English and our lack of Thai made for some funny moments) and served us a beautiful lunch of green chicken curry. They are so humble, sweet and genuinely beautiful people…. I’ve really come to love them.
After lunch we went to a local park together. It was just amazing to see us all playing and laughing hysterically – they were like little kids. To see these teenage girls playing cat and mouse and tunnel ball, basic games, with such joy on their faces almost made me cry. It was powerful to see that they have reclaimed their childhood. Back at the rescue home we gave them some clothes we had brought over and it was so special to watch their faces light up while they looked through the gifts. Some sources of joy really are universal. I’m so thankful that these beautiful girls have a new life ahead of them.
Wednesday 25th September
Today we travelled out to another Destiny Rescue home. Once again it was beautiful to see these gorgeous, happy girls learning a new trade and living their dreams. They made us a beautiful Thai lunch and we bought some t-shirts from the production room before heading off to their safe home. We played games and taught each other silly songs, one of which was a Thai song the girls taught us about fruit. Basically it involved reciting certain fruit names while pulling off some hilarious hip shaking and pelvic thrusts…not surprisingly we were all in hysterics!
Thursday 26th September
Today we met up with some Chiang Mai girls and took them out for the day. One of the volunteers Sarah, was telling us that they don’t get to go out very often so something as simple as going out for lunch and walking through the botanical gardens is an event that sticks in their minds for months.
Sometimes I feel I struggle to interact with the girls because of the language barrier and I feel like I’m not much use. Today I decided to pray for an opportunity, no matter how small, to make a positive impact in a girl’s life…During lunch I noticed that Luk (not her real name) liked to joke around and pull silly faces, so I started making little jokes and show her the photos I had taken during our fun day. She loved them! She was especially fascinated by my blonde foils and all of a sudden she was talking to me, communicating with broken English and hand gestures. I overheard her asking Sarah their house mum how to say ‘God Bless You’ to me, which was especially sweet. When it came time for to leave she started hugging me and saying how much she would miss me, and then, pointing to herself she smiled and said:
Spreading her hands wide to convey her feelings she gave me a gorgeous little grin. Somehow, despite our very limited English/Thai something had been transferred between us. It’s still hard to comprehend that such seemingly small interactions can mean so much to a person. I think we lack faith in how much God can do through us.
CHIANG RAI DIARIES:
Saturday 28th September
Today was a great mixture of fun and work. We started off with breakfast at the Destiny Café before moving onto our first project, which was to help an 18 year old rescue girl renovate her new hair salon. How incredible that a girl of such a young age is going to have her own business! We painted, scrubbed and cleaned, and it actually came up really well. It was rewarding to know that only a few hours of work meant so much to a young girl.
Sunday 29th September
This morning we headed to a local Thai church where many of the rescue girls go. There were so many of them…it was phenomenal to see them all together in one room. Even though much of the music was in Thai I felt really overwhelmed and emotional. There’s something incredibly powerful in seeing a rescue girl singing words such as ‘Jesus you rescued me…Jesus you restored me…If God is for me who can be against me?”
God’s absolute power and healing was so evident; to take such misery, such damage, and to turn it into joy is nothing other than miraculous. At the end of the service quite a few girls went to the front for prayer, and even in their struggles there was beauty. Those who were crying were bundled up into the arms of older women; safe, protected, comforted… It was an image of vulnerability and security, struggle and hope.
PERSONAL STORIES OF CHILDHOOD LOST AND RESTORED
“O Earth, don’t hide the wrongs done to me! Don’t let my call for justice be silenced! There is someone in heaven to stand up for me and take my side.” – Job 16: 18-19
During the two weeks I was in Thailand I often struggled to comprehend just what these girls had been through, and I think that’s okay. The things done to these girls are so disgusting, that no one should ever have been able to conjure them up in the first place. I do feel however that the stories of rescued girls are important, that they serve to inspire and prove just how evil trafficking is, and just how miraculous it is to see someone rise from those depths. There were moments during my trip where I felt somewhat desensitised, but whenever I heard a girl’s story I felt fresh waves of emotion, all of which renewed my soul in this fight. When visiting the Media Team in Chiang Rai I was moved to tears by a story that Media Director Cory Nickols shared with us.
Warning, the below story may be distressing to some readers – subject matter sexual abuse
“There is a girl who came to us who had been raped by her stepfather for many years,” says Cory. “One day when she was 13 a man came to her village offering jobs in his restaurant. She was so excited at the thought of getting away from her stepfather that she jumped at the chance! And of course, because she was so excited the first thing she did was go and tell her best friend, who was only 11. The little girl who was 11 came from a great family, but they were very poor so they decided that this would be a great opportunity for their daughter to have a better life.”
As you can probably guess however, the man offering the job was not a restaurant owner but instead a human trafficker. Instead of being taken to the ‘restaurant’ the two girls were taken to a shack where they were stripped, and made to do terrible things to each other. The man then raped them repeatedly over the course of two days, making each girl watch as he raped the other. These precious little girls were so horribly abused that when they finally arrived at the brothel they were turned away, and told to go back to their villages until their physical damage had healed. Upon returning to the village one of the girls recalled how a friend had been rescued from a similar situation, and got in touch with her. Miraculously this lead to Destiny Rescue being informed of the situation and staff were able to rescue both girls before the trafficker returned.
This is just one of the many stories of rape, abuse, mental and physical torture, and absolute degradation faced by every single child in the sex trade. It’s not isolated, it’s happening every day, every hour, every second. People need to understand this, to be moved enough to do something.
One of the greatest miracles I have heard about during this trip however, was a recount that American volunteer Stephie told on our first day in Chiang Rai. One day before heading into Pattaya, Stephie and her team had been praying when all of a sudden a friend shared a vision she had had. In her mind, she felt she had clearly seen two young girls sitting on a rock wall by the beach, their legs dangling over the edge; behind them stood 2 men, with a third approaching. The vision was definitely vivid but no one was quite sure what to make of it. The next day Stephie was walking through Pattaya when all of a sudden she felt fingernails digging into her arm.
“That’s my vision!” whispered her friend. Turning around Stephie looked out to see two young girls sitting on a rock wall, with two men behind and a third approaching with alcohol.
“What do we do now?” they both thought frantically. Unable to physically stop the men they did the only thing they could. To pray intensely. What happened next gave me goosebumps.
“All of a sudden, two cop cars came screaming down the road from opposite directions!” said Stephie. “I tell you what, I had not seen one cop car in all the time I had been here, and here were two of them at once! They came right up to the men, arrested them and put the girls in the back of the second car. We phoned the police and found they had been taken to a rescue home.”
Trying to summarise all of the things that impacted me on this trip is impossible. From seeing the reality of red light districts to meeting the girls now freed, from meeting my sponsor child to helping a young girl set up her first business, from digging trenches to meeting extraordinary volunteers who have given up everything to help a country filled with despair…there were many amazing moments. There were however two particular things that impacted me deeply, one of which was the realisation that pornography and human trafficking are closely linked. Although I had already seen research linking the two, it became even more apparent to me when I met a young girl named Saitong (not her real name).
To give you an insight into the precautions behind visiting rescue girls, every time we visited a home we had to check whether it was okay to take photographs (due to the individual trauma of many young women). Usually it was fine, but for some such as Saitong, the sight of a camera was absolutely terrifying. This young girl was so horrifically sexually assaulted – clearly in ways that were filmed and distributed – that a camera signified flashbacks of her past, leaving her frozen in terror, tears streaming down her face.
It is incredible that as humans we question just about everything on ethics, but not pornography. We buy free-range eggs because we want chickens to be treated fairly, yet pornography users don’t want to question if their pornography consumption is ‘fair-trade’.
Since writing this blog, I recently came across an excellent article by Biting Beaver which explains the reality of pornography as an unacceptable loss. It describes how in our day-to-day lives, there are many things which can be processed as either an acceptable or unacceptable loss. For example, the author admits that she drives a car everyday which without a doubt contributes to pollution, however it is a necessary choice she makes in order to support her family. She calls this an ‘acceptable loss’. Choosing to view pornography however, when you know that it goes hand in hand with the sex-trafficking industry, is NOT an acceptable loss.
“There is no way for you, or for any other consumer of Porn, to know the true ages of the girls in your dirty pictures. There is no way for you to know the girl’s histories, you CANNOT know if the girl you are masturbating to is, in reality, a sexual slave from Austria who has a gun pointed at her head just off camera.
“If you believe that sex-slavery is acceptable to create Pornography you believe that rape is acceptable. If you think it’s NOT acceptable but you continue to look at porn you are telling the world that it IS acceptable. It really *is* that simple. It doesn’t matter what you want to believe. It doesn’t matter if you say you are adamantly against rape. If you look at porn, knowing that rape occurs in the industry, knowing that slavery occurs as part and parcel, as an inherent THREAD in the industry, then you are saying that Rape is acceptable. Your actions are showing your values, your actions are showing just where you place rape and slavery at on the scale of what your orgasm is worth.”
In an article, ‘The connections between Pornography and Sex Trafficking’, guest author Ana Stutler also writes about the links between prostitution, trafficking and pornography, covering not only the obvious links such as forced trafficking but also coercion in pornography. She writes:
“Many women and children who are being sexually exploited and trafficked are also being used for the production of pornography. Sometimes acts of prostitution are filmed without the consent of the victim and distributed.  On other occasions victims are trafficked for the sole purpose of porn production. In today’s era of webcams and chatrooms, the lines between interactive pornography and virtual prostitution websites have been blurred.  According to Donna Hughes, “porn and internet sex shows are markets for trafficked victims.” Truly, pornography is another avenue for women to be trafficked. 
“Under the TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”  The realities of the porn industry are perfectly described in the definition of sex trafficking in TVPA…According to those who were in the business of pornography, there are times when girls are held captive on porn sets or driven under the command of a pornographer or agent to and from the sets, which would fit the definition of “harboring and transporting.”
The disguising of trafficking as ‘adult sex shows’ was also confirmed in the book ‘Big Porn Inc’ (Tankard-Reist, 2011). Discussing the idea that adult industry trade shows are promotion for prostitution and trafficking, contributer Melissa Farley states:
“The sex trafficking industry is named an ‘adult industry’ not only to conceal the fact that it’s prostitution but to manipulate people into seeing the sex industry as grown-up, mature.”
The influence of pornography is also evident in the way trafficked women are treated. Shackled and made to submit to men, verbally degraded and told they are filthy, disgusting and ugly, made to do whatever the man wants…. The below is a graphic description of one young girl’s trauma at the face of her abusers.
“She was paraded before the leering men each night. The bonds so tight around her legs that she could only hobble; the men laughed at that. The auction proceeded every night; the deal was the highest bidder could do whatever he wanted with her – anything. Fear choked at her. She never knew which man would be the one to finally kill her. Sometimes she prayed they would.
“She did not cry or scream. She stayed silent before the probing and pushing, the filthy insults. Hatred was her shield, her anger like a tightly-closed fist grabbing to hold on to any shred of sanity. Each night she listened to the men laugh uproariously as they talked about what they would do to her if their bid won.” – Story of La, as told on Destiny Rescue’s Blog.
No-one wants to consider the truth, because the reality is that whenever you watch porn there is a very real chance that the woman you are watching could be a trafficking victim…that she might actually NOT be a consenting ‘adult’…and that she may actually be experiencing physical and emotional abuse on the set and after the camera’s stop rolling. But to admit that would make the video an instant turn-off wouldn’t it? My advice is this: if you cannot be 100% certain that the woman/man you are watching in a porn video is not a victim of human trafficking, if you cannot guarantee that they are not being hurt and abused behind the scenes, then you should not be watching that film. Ask yourself, ‘Can I be sure?’
As humans, we enjoy sex. But what goes on in these bars and brothels is NOT consensual or pleasurable. NO-ONE enjoys being a sexual service station for multiple men, night after night. The women/children in these brothels are not there because they ‘enjoy’ sex, or want money to buy themselves pretty things. They are there because they were taken, they were sold, and now they are beaten into submission daily with words, fists and other objects. On top of that, their families are constantly hounding them for money, and the traffickers will do whatever it takes to keep them there – even threatening to harm the girl’s family if she leaves. This was the reality of so many girls I met during my trip, in particular one who had to carry a phone on her constantly so that the traffickers could keep tabs on her. If she missed a call, she was terrified that her family would be harmed as threatened.
How many humans would have the strength to escape this prison?
THE EXPLOITATION OF POVERTY
Learning about the cultural and social expectations on girls from their families was also a very eye-opening part of this trip. I was aware that a culture of poverty had much to do with the drive for trafficking; however I wasn’t aware that the girls who are trafficked are most often from poor hill tribes where children do not even possess ID cards (making them a perfect target for trafficking). I recall Jenny Kirwan (wife of founder Tony Kirwan) telling a story where Destiny Rescue visited many hill tribe villages hoping to warn families and children of traffickers, only to find when they arrived that there were no girls left over the age of 12…they were too late.
To be a girl in a country of poverty means that your existence is very one-dimensional; you exist only to serve your family. It is a heavy burden and this is why so many girls end up in brothels from the age of 12, and sometimes younger. They literally have no choice.
Even when a girl is being cared for and supported by Destiny Rescue, many mothers will continue to pressure their children to go back to a brothel; the reason for this being immediate financial gratification. Destiny Salon Manager Brenda told us of her struggle to see the girls pressured by their families.
“The pressure is constant. Even now there are girls who are doing really well in their apprenticeships – they’re happy, healthy, and getting an education – but their families want them to go back to the brothels because they want more money.” She shakes her head in disbelief. “I say to them [the families], this is how much your daughter would earn in the brothel…right now she’s only earning ‘x’ amount, but in a year’s time it will be this amount, and in a few years it’s going to be more than she would earn at the brothel. If she stays in the brothel she will earn more right now, but it’s going to decrease very quickly [due to her age].
“When I explain this to the girls I can see they get it. They’re smart. But some of the families still say they want the girl to go back to the brothel. They want the immediate money.”
It’s hard for us to comprehend, but poverty and its exploitation are the driving factors of human trafficking. If you are raised to believe that your family is dependent on you, and that you must provide for them, is it any wonder that you will end up in a brothel?
Rescuing these precious kids and young women once they have been trafficked is a dangerous and complex procedure, made even more difficult by the fact that the underage girls are often hidden. Brothel owners aren’t idiots, and they aren’t going to put the underage girls out the front of the businesses for rescue workers to find. Regardless of this, the girls are there to be found if you look hard enough. If a man wants a young girl, all he has to do is know the right person to ask, and be persistent about what he wants. Destiny Rescue staff have uncovered this themselves when they perform rescues. Speaking with one of the rescue workers, I asked him: “How do you find the underaged girls? How do you get them out?”
Adam (not his real name) said to me, “We go in and say to the mamasans, ‘Have you got any young girls?’ Sometimes they say no, but we persist. I tell them, ‘Look, I like young girls and I won’t have anything else. What’s the youngest you’ve got?’ That’s when they bring them out. Sometimes [if we’re lucky] you can pay a bar fine – which is where you pay a fee to take the girl to your house – and if she doesn’t want to go back we can take her straight to a rescue home.”
In most cases however, it’s not this simple. Understandably a girl who has been sold into human trafficking is unlikely to trust anyone, and it can take weeks or months to gain trust before a rescue can take place.
“I just talk to the girls the same way we’re chatting now”, says Adam. “We ask them about their families, their lives, their jobs. If you ask them they’ll usually tell you straight up that they don’t like their job. Over time they realise that we’re not there to hurt them or try and have sex with them.
“That’s when we can say, ‘Hey, there are some other options that you can take. We can provide you with an education, a good job…you won’t have to do this anymore…Sometimes we’ll organise to meet them at another location, like for coffee or something, to talk more.”
These girls want nothing more than to be safe and happy, but the pressure to provide for their families is overwhelming. I can’t imagine anyone in Australia going through what these girls go through, and still loving their family unconditionally. It’s a social and cultural expectation instilled from birth that the eldest daughter is the provider for her family if for any reason her parents cannot provide. During my trip I saw the heart break faced by staff who had put everything on the line to rescue girls, only to see them either return to their villages or the brothels because they could no longer fight the pressure of their families. While visiting one particular rescue home we witnessed a group of 13 girls who were preparing to return to their villages rather than continue their education; a decision which left staff members shattered. The reality is, without enough education or a trade there is a high risk that the girls could end up in a vulnerable situation once again, especially once they return to their families and become pressured into being the sole provider.
THE SILVER LINING
Despite the absolute horror of what is happening, I believe that miracles are being performed every day as children are rescued, loved and healed. Their resilience in the face of such deep trauma is inspiring, and with the right support every child has the chance to dream again.
Having the chance to see what is happening in Thailand with my own eyes, as well as the experience of talking to staff, rescuers and rescue girls has equipped me with such a greater level of knowledge and compassion than any book ever could. I’ve returned to Australia with a renewed passion, and a focus to see awareness raised and channeled into sponsorship – as this is one of the most crucial aspects to saving children. Prevention care and education is also extremely important, but it is the regular monthly donations that help them the most; allowing Destiny Rescue to continue saving the girls who have already been sold.
I know many people have reservations about sponsorship because unfortunately, some organisations do not spend our money ethically. The good news however is that Destiny Rescue have a great reputation for honesty and integrity, proudly ensuring that 100% of all child sponsorship money is sent directly to the girls. This is an organisation that cares so deeply for the exploited, going above and beyond to achieve justice. They risk their own lives, they educate, they clothe, they rehabilitate, they love, they work with police, they have traffickers charged; they do everything they can in the name of love and justice. As Tony Kirwan says in the Street Dreams Documentary:
“We are willing to die for this. If it were your girl, how far would you want me to push [to save her]…what wouldn’t you do to get your little girl back?”
Their vision is big. In the coming years Destiny Rescue plan to move into many more countries and aim to rescue 100,000 children by the year 2020. But they need our help.
When human trafficking victims stop being statistics, and become real human faces with real stories, change is inevitable. I pray that everyone who reads this blog thinks about the children and adults being trafficked, not as statistics, but as someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother and sister.
Today is international anti-slavery day, will you join with me in the fight?
To sponsor a child or enquire into ways you can help please visit www.destinyrescue.org.