Lucy's Reflection

Statistics are dangerous things. Some figures are simply too high to imagine and the volume overwhelms the individual sense of what is happening.  I can’t imagine $32 billion or even 1.1 million people and the idea that 177 countries are identified as having inadequate response to the trafficking of their citizens leaves me feeling helpless. 

Human trafficking is the most horrifying face of a global free market:   People as commodities, moved across borders to where the markets are most lucrative. The maps and the statistics in this Al-Jazeera report create the sense of worldwide tides of wickedness which no individual can fight.  It is too easy to feel powerless.

Even when I listen to the details of Svetlana’s story, the sheer volume of the terror swamps me – she dare not give her true name; she has not seen her son for 7 years; she has been repeatedly tricked and betrayed by women; she fears the authorities in her homeland and the lands where she is held captive; her family is threatened if she seeks to free herself.  And if a single act of rape is an horrific violation, how can one comprehend repeated assaults, 12 hours a day, day after day? How can a body or a spirit survive, let alone recover from such abuse?

I liked the man from Anti-Slavery International. His response was to call a spade a spade: ‘Be clear’ he said. ‘This is not prostitution – this is poor people being subjected top multiple rapes for a protracted length of time.’  His anger was obvious when he described the trade in people as ‘a high reward, low risk occupation’.  One of the reasons why human trafficking has become such a huge business is that criminals perceive that it is less risky than the drugs trade – surely that’s something we can lobby our lawmakers to change.  I also liked that the Anti-Slavery guy challenged his interviewer when she described herself as ‘an ordinary person in the street’.  He is right that bringing this issue into the public eye is a first step in helping women like Svetlana. The media gives mixed messages about sexuality and the value of people but the message in this report was clear and healthy.

The enormity of the statistics left me feeling helpless but helplessness is a luxury when it’s not my sister, or daughter, or niece who is being tortured by multiple rapes and lengthy imprisonment. Each of us must struggle against this terrible trade. What can I do? Well, I pray I am raising sons who will find no attraction in paying for sex with an exhausted stranger and that they will have the courage to challenge any of their peers who treat women as objects to be used and discarded.  I will not be shy to speak up when popular culture promotes sex without love as a commodity.  I will continue to support the work of women’s refuges and agencies that liberate today’s slaves, both in their pastoral care of individuals and their advocacy on policy issues. And most importantly, as I journey through Lent, examining the temptations which draw me away from the miracle of the resurrection, I will not allow myself to close my eyes to the suffering of those millions of women. Their Gethsamanes and Golgothas require our witness and prayer – only by looking the horror in the face, with hope, in love,  can we find ways through to the new life promised in Christ.

About the Author

Lucy D’Aeth:  She is an English born New Zealander who has been living in Switzerland for two years. Most of her time at present is taken up being mother to three young children (11,9 and 5), but in previous lives she has studied history and theology and has worked for churches and in Public Health.  She is active in her local Lutheran Church and is daily challenged and enriched by living in such a multicultural community.

Maryann's Reflection

I had heard of “trafficking” of women, but I didn’t really know what it was.  I had heard that there were prostitutes here and there.  When I lived in Los Angeles and I was driving to work at 6 am, I’d see women standing on the street corner that had probably not gotten work the night before – or were out still hoping for one last ‘john’ before they called it a night.  I saw them; I felt sorry for them.  I always thought of them as women who were forced by poverty and lack of opportunity to earn a living the only way they thought possible.  I never saw them as slaves. 

When I walked past the same women in Geneva, all of whom have skin much darker than mine, I wonder why are they there?  Are they being forced to stand there in their short skirts and high boots?  Are they choosing to earn a living this way? After all, their profession is legal there. 

Svetlana’s story made me sad.  However, when the “expert” was saying that her story was typical – that made me angry.  There should not be a ‘typical’ when it comes to modern day slavery.  We should find each case exceptional; we should be outraged.  Yet we walk past the women.  Perhaps we see them, perhaps we don’t.  We walk past them just the same.  We see them as the perpetrator not as the victim.  Perhaps we blame them for our societies’ obsession with money and sex. 

I see two factors that directly relate to the exploitation of slaves.  First, in all countries, there is an obsession with passports.  With my American passport I am allowed into most countries in the world – I just have to show up and they say, “Yes, please, right this way. Come spend your dollars here.”  Yet, my friends and neighbors that have Kenyan or Malawian or Honduran or Mexican or Uzbek passports must prove their value before they are allowed to leave.  They must do a song and dance before they are allowed to visit the US or Canada or Romania for work or on holiday – and even then, if the man or woman sitting in that little booth doesn’t like the color of their shirt they can be turned away at the airport.  This is all done in the interest of “national security”. 

Because our security is so important we are sacrificing these women.  Once their handlers have taken their passports they are non existent.  They cannot leave.  They cannot go home.  We are complicit in their slavery.  Our notion of ‘security’ blinds us to the truth  that all people are human. 

Culpability is the second factor I want to address.  The victims are not to blame.  Instead our governments and the people who pay for the services are to blame.  If there were no profit, if this was not a $32 billion/ year industry, it would not exist.  Profit drives this industry to traffic in human beings. 

Now, I know more about trafficking.  I know the story of Svetlana.  I know the story of Katyana, who I saw in another video.  She said that she wants people to know that “if I have a smile on my face it doesn’t mean I’m happy to be here.”  Her words will stay with me as I see the women standing on the street smiling at the men.  Who will they return to after they have finished servicing their clients and have the money in their pockets?  Their smiles might look pretty, but perhaps betray their true situation. 

About the Author

Maryann Philbrook:  She is originally from Louisiana in the United States, but currently lives in Austin, TX.  She worked for the World Student Christian Federation in Geneva, Switzerland as the Communications Intern in 2009.   Maryann started blogging in 2003, but has really picked up the pace since she started working for WSCF in 2009, with her blog about her experiences in Geneva.  Maryann graduated in 2006 from Occidental College in Los Angeles, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Politics.  After graduating from University she was a Beatitudes Society Fellow,  an Episcopal Urban Intern and an English Language Assistant in France.  Aside from being passionate about the French language, Maryann’s heart goes out to reconciliation among different strands of Christianity so that a more just world can be created.  

Jooa's Reflection

When I hear or read the word ”trafficking” I immediately remember a film shown at my first WSCF conference in 2005. Its name is Lilja 4ever and it tells Svetlana’s story in other words through another person, a young Russian girl Lilja living in Estonia. In the story she was rejected, abandoned and finally betrayed by everyone: her mother, her aunt, teachers, social workers, boyfriend who ends up being a trafficker... And in the end she has no other way out of the violent sexual abuse and exploitation she is exposed to in some unknown Swedish town than throwing herself down from a bridge. 

The story was fiction, yet it is reveals truth.

Invisible, voiceless Svetlanas and Liljas are all around, in our midst. What happens to them might not draw our attention while we live our lives of comfort and safety, but it happens because of us, even if we didn’t directly abuse them. Ultimate reason is very simply revealed in the story of Ruth and Naomi, which is this week’s Bible Study: poverty and disempowerment of women on one hand, greed and privilege on the other. The value of financial profit weighs more than the value of a human being, and we close our eyes while hundreds of thousands of women are trafficked right in front of us into sex slavery.

Instead of seeing these women as victims and trying to help them, we often punish them for their situation. Despite of the increasing awareness about trafficking and sexual exploitation of women,  most societies still blame the victim.  In many countries prostitution is illegal in a way that punishes the woman who is forced to be a prostitute, letting the people who buy their “services” keep consuming them freely.  The trafficking business flourishes. A woman trafficked to Europe, if caught by the police, in most cases is not helped out of the circle of prostitution and into a safe life, but is returned to her home country, where often nothing good awaits them.  Their situation upon return may be worse than it was before they were trafficked.

Something that once again came to my mind when hearing Svetlana talk on the video is the way we, as women, fail to understand and support our sisters.  We keep up the atmosphere of disapproval, judgement, denial, and we might even contribute to the oppression of other women by our inner, deeply-rooted attitudes that we might not be aware of.  Our true attitudes are revealed in and carried over in little things, i.e. in vocabulary that we use.  It makes a difference whether we say “prostitute” or “hooker”. How often have we used the word “whore” or heard someone else use it, when referring to a woman?  For me, this is a matter of principle and also a matter of solidarity with other women: there is no such a thing as a “whore” in any circumstance.

As women, there is a lot we can do to stop the exploitation of our sisters, all the Svetlanas and Liljas in the world. We can make a big difference with our own behaviour, how we relate to people around us and to our own bodies, who we choose to vote for, and how we make ourselves and our leaders accountable for our actions.  Moreover, we can bring up our children, partners, brothers, sisters and parents to respect every person’s integrity, dignity and sexuality. We need to remember and make others around us remember that any person we see, any Ruth, Svetlana or Lilja around us, is someone’s daughter, sister, mother, partner, and they are a human being just like us, not an object.

Broken body

how broken it is and we go on, break it again

but not in remembrance of you:

for pleasure of our own.

God oh God,

when will we stop

breaking your body -

the body that doesn’t belong to us

the body you gave for us so that we would cherish,

not exploit?

About the Author

Jooa Miriam Vuorinen was born in North Karelia, Finland, some time ago. She has lived in Estonia, worked as a professional choir conductor in the Orthodox church, and has a master's degree in theology from the University of Joensuu. She currently lives in Budapest, Hungary, working for the World Student Christian Federation as the Europe regional secretary.