Stacey over at Glitter and Churchy Church published a post today that spurred me to edit/publish one I’ve been sitting on since last weekend when I attended the same conference she talks about. Go read…now or after you finish here. Whatever. But go read. She took a short term mission trip and used it to fuel her passion AND actions. (By the way, she pulls off that signature look she mentions in a FANTASTIC way.)
So there was a Human Trafficking 101 conference here in Boise last weekend. Because, believe it or not, human trafficking & child exploitation happens right here, in our safe/clean/beautiful/boring town. I went in looking for resources and action steps more than information. I’ve read and watched and seen the statistics. I have the information. But what I didn’t have was first hand accounts from people who work with this issue on a daily basis. What I didn’t have were the personal stories from my backyard.What I didn’t have were real, local numbers from the offices of warriors in my community. I went in prepared to take notes. I didn’t, convinced that there was no way I’d forget what I’d heard. But driving home I realized I was so overwhelmed, so over-saturated that I could only remember bits and pieces and the emotions. I was exhausted and I couldn’t process or feel anything. They showed a documentary after the speakers and I just went straight home. I couldn’t handle anything further. And I was frustrated. I wanted action steps. I wanted to sign up to DO something. I work well in a support role…give me papers to files, contact lists to alphabetize & color code, a blog or twitter account to update, a fund raiser to organize. WHERE WAS THE DOTTED LINE TO SIGN UP TO DO SOMETHING?!!?
A week later, I can think more clearly. I can process. I’ve gotten past the sense of overwhelming helplessness and frustration. One thing that we heard multiple times was that the majority (80? 90%?) of girls that are trafficked come from abusive homes/situations. And it’s very easy to take that fact and think “Oh. My daughter/niece/cousin/neighbor doesn’t fall into that category. She’s safe.” But. But. That’s looking at only a portion of what happens. Your loved one may never be physically touched. And for that, I am grateful. Believe me. You may know for 100% certain that she’s in a safe, loving, positive, protected home. There are a LOT of amazing families out there. But there was another aspect the detectives mentioned that never occurred to me. Exploitation. One of them said “Once upon a time you worried about the creepy guy down the street. Now we’re putting computers in every 13 year old’s pocket and we have to worry about every creepy guy IN THE WORLD.” These guys who exploit are are masterminds at manipulation. And by nature of their development and hormones, even your well adjusted, confident, protected daughter is not 100% safe. She may never be touched by these guys. And that’s GOOD. Please don’t get me wrong. But what happens if they convince her to simply send them a video of her changing. Or a “tastefully sexy” picture. Once that door has been opened, it’s rarely going to stop with “tastefully sexy”. What happens when she realizes what her image has been used for? When she realizes just how many hundreds of thousands of people have seen it? When she realizes as she’s walking down the street that some of these people could recognize her for…that? How is she going to view men now? What kind of damage is being done to her psychologically, emotionally, relationally?
I hear it said all the time that this is a “women’s problem” or a “female problem”. It’s not. I understand where that phrase comes from but our men are hurt by this too. If they are watching porn, their expectations of women and relationships are damaged. If they’re not, it’s often implied they’re “not men”. After all, it’s just natural, right? And what about how the damage to the women affects them. These are future wives and partners. And yet, these children will be running the world we live in. These children will be making decisions that influence us. These children will be raising the next generation. These children are exposed to sex and are more sexualized than any generation before. On average they are exposed to porn at the age of 11. ELEVEN. When I was in 5th/6th grade, boys and girls were just starting to rediscover each other….by tripping each other and pulling hair and playing chase. The ones who snuck a kiss behind the tree on the playground were publicly tried and found guilty of having cooties. We may have learned what sex was in a very clinical manner at that age…and we were horrified by the idea. Now? Now it’s entertainment and something to experiment with. AT ELEVEN.
Last weekend I was a bit frustrated and a lot overwhelmed & discouraged. I didn’t have an action step. I didn’t have a plan. Over the past week though I’ve realized – we ALL have an action step. Because all of us can influence a child. Rescuing the currently exploited girls (and boys) is important. Please don’t misunderstand. That is INCREDIBLY important. But if we just rescue after the fact, we will never make progress against the problem. There is still demand and there will ALWAYS be someone to utilize. But if we influence our children, if we raise them with knowledge of healthy relationships and to be violently opposed to the very idea of using another human being, then the demand AND the source starts to shrink.
This is a problem for all of us. And we don’t have to be social workers or detectives or on a task force to make a difference. If you’re a parent, be THAT parent. Be the unreasonable, over protective parent who insists on knowing every password and pass code. Be the nosy parent who reads texts and checks phones and computers. Be the paranoid parent that has tracking/monitoring software on devices. Be the embarrassing parent who insists on having THOSE mortifying conversations. Be the parent who knows your child and who is influencing them. We don’t have to lock these precious kids in a cellar to protect them. They need to understand the world. They need to see and experience all the good while still recognizing the negatives….and being equipped to deal with those. But we also can’t give them unlimited and unsupervised exposure. Be involved. (Admission – I don’t do all these things all the time. I’m not a great mother. I know all the areas I could improve. But I can’t give up. You’re not a perfect parent either. It’s okay. Just don’t give up.)
If you’re not a parent, be a mentor and a friend. Be a safe place, a safe person for someone. Be a positive influence, show our children what life CAN be like. They need more than mom and dad….and some don’t even have that positive example to see. My hat is off to the people who face this darkness head on in daily battle. We need them. But we “common people” have a job to do that is just important. We have an action step. We have a place to start.