Jay and I drove back from a wedding in Chicago this weekend, and as we crossed the border, my favourite natural phenomena took place. Dark clouds loomed in the distance, while simultaneously the fields in front were illuminated by the setting sun. Stunning. (Note: My camera was in the trunk, but the photo above by William Pitcher is a perfect representation!)
As I my eyes gazed over the scene, Jay remarked that there is perhaps a reason, besides the beauty in itself, that I love this contrast so much. I think he’s right.
This is the contrast we should learn to thrive in. We must not allow the darkness of the storm to hold us in fear, nor should we allow ourselves to ignore it by gazing only at the light. Dealing effectively with something as evil as human trafficking requires us to acknowledge and understand the darkness, while living in such a way that brings forth life and light.
Next time you see black clouds behind sun-soaked fields, ask yourself how well you are living in the midst of such a contrast.
Natasha Falle – a Canadian prostitution survivor who now runs an organization called Sextrade 101- recently did an interview on CBC about her experiences. She also talks about where Canada’s prostitution laws are headed.
There is a Supreme Court hearing scheduled for June 13 on this issue, during which over a dozen groups will be sharing their input. This case will ultimately decide whether brothels and living off the avails of prostitution are to be legalized in Canada. I am following this closely and will keep you posted on details as they unfold.
Jay and I recently led two workshops at the Inspire Justice Conference, and were approached by a middle aged woman after one of the keynote sessions. She thanked us, explaining that we had changed her son’s life, and now he is changing hers.
We felt humbled. These are the moments I wish I could capture in a bottle – moments in which we catch a glimpse of the domino effect caused by our words and actions, and feel that we are part of a much bigger story. Since then I have been able to put a finger on something I value deeply: the willingness of our parents’ generation to learn from their kids.
When it comes to social justice, many in my generation are choosing to live differently. This takes many forms. Like buying ethically made products. Or downsizing instead of upsizing. Or volunteering abroad. Or being committed to a cause. Or boycotting certain businesses. Or serving soup in the red light district.
Our parents have seen many of us grow from little children to teenagers to university students to adults. They have patiently endured the shaping of our ideologies and supported us through the ups and downs that come with each stage of life. But for the parents whose adult children care deeply about social justice, the relational road may have been (or might still be) a rocky one.
A few years ago my sister-in-law, Ruthann, and I were attending the same university and learning daily about the injustice happening all over the world. In our own way, we both grew prideful about all that we knew and looked down on those who had not had the same “revelation” about living justly.
I remember many conversations around my inlaws’ dining room table during which my mother-in-law would end up feeling judged and discouraged. My mom has experienced frustration as well, especially the year that Christmas and birthday shopping became complicated. Not only did Jay and I want to simplify our lifestyle, but we had also requested that no one buy us clothing unless it was used or ethically made. This coming from a daughter who used to live at the mall was a big shift for my poor mom. Here’s what it comes down to:
Though many of us have gained some knowledge about rights and wrongs in the world, this knowledge has not yet been balanced and perfected by an equal dose of love and grace.
I am glad to say that Jay, Ruthann, and I are slowly learning how to live by example instead of getting bogged down in debates. We have been reminded that if it were not for our parents – who shaped our character as children, encouraged us to learn, and provided for us in many ways – we probably wouldn’t have been able to learn what we know now. We are also learning that we don’t know everything. Our parents have insight and experience that we do not. Both my parents and in-laws have shown a tremendous amount of grace toward us, and I want to extend that to them in return. Changing one’s lifestyle without isolating and judging others is a slow and humbling process.
The beauty is that our generation is not the only one changing. Many in our parents’ generation are taking the same steps we are, either following the example of their kids or leading the way. Today my in-laws are living so intentionally that I am challenged and encouraged every time I see them, and this past Christmas my mom was thrilled to find a sweatshop-free store!
Just the other day, I was speaking with a mother figure/friend of mine. This is a woman who is intentionally becoming more conscious about social justice and her part in it. She lives with mixed emotions. She celebrates when she buys a fair trade chocolate bar, and moments later kicks herself for buying a coffee that is not. I think we are all in that spectrum somewhere. She said:
“Michelle, I’m a little offended that you keep referring to my generation as the one who has screwed everything up and yours as the one who will fix it.”
She raises a good point. Though I often do challenge the status quo of our parents’ generation, they are not solely responsible for the injustice in this world, and our generation is not the saviour. We all have a role to play in reducing exploitation and planting good, and there are certain things that our parents’ generation can do way better than we can. They have seen trends come and go, they have acquired skills and resources, and they have worked hard so that we can have opportunities. We have a lot to learn from them.
On the same token, our generation has a lot to offer our parents. Many of us are willing to take risks, we are challenging assumptions, we are re-evaluating systems and power structures. We are tech-savvy and cyber connected. And we are young enough to be completely audacious.
So, for the generations ahead of us:
To those who raised us, thank you for having grace and patience with us. To those who have resourced us, thank you for believing in us. To those who are trying to be more intentional about living justly, we admire and encourage you. To those who feel judged and discouraged, we apologize for hurting you. To those who are trail-blazing ahead of us and beside us, we are inspired by you.
For our generation:
Let us hold to the convictions we have, and make no apologies for wanting to pursue justice. Let our lives be marked by passion, and let us not be afraid of sacrifice. Let us keep asking the hard questions and dreaming big dreams. But as we grow in knowledge, may we also grow in love and grace.
None of us know it all, but we should all intentionally pursue truth. I hope that as time goes on, I would learn to inspire – not judge – those around me, in the same way that I have been inspired by others. May we all, regardless of generation, strive toward this.
In the past couple of weeks, a horrific tragedy has unfolded in Southwestern Ontario. On May 6, Tim Bosma, a 32 year old husband and father of a toddler, went missing. He had posted an ad online to sell his truck, and never returned after going for a test drive with two potential buyers. A massive search ensued, involving the police, the media, and hundreds if not thousands of volunteers. Posters were pinned onto family homes and business windows.
Communities were shaken, and still are.
On May 14, police confirmed that they had found Bosma’s burned remains on a farm near Waterloo. One suspect is in custody, and the police are searching for others. Some believe that this may have been a thrill kill. This horrific incident has consumed my mind for the past two weeks, and my heart aches despite not knowing the family personally.
Shortly after Bosma went missing, we got an email from a friend who worked for years with street youth. He pointed out that homeless people and at-risk teens go missing all the time – yet it doesn’t even make the papers. But the moment a rich white male goes missing, everyone jumps on board.
I heard similar things from others, including anti-trafficking advocates, who wished that the same attention being drawn to this case would be applied to those who are missing from poor and marginalized communities. Native girls and women go missing all the time, often ending up in trafficking rings or in ditches, yet no one seems to care. In British Columbia, a man named Robert Pickton murdered at least 26 women – many of them prostituted women from Vancouver’s East Side – and even though police received tips about something going on at Pickton’s pig farm in connection to the missing women, a full investigation was not a priority.
Missing women from Vancouver's Downtown East end
My husband Jay had a beautiful response in light of the Bosma case, which reflects our heart in this.
Regardless of the fact that one person’s pain is prioritized over another’s, let us not become embittered. Let us not permit it to spoil our loving spirit.
Let us mourn for this man and his family, and tell his story. And let us also mourn for those who society considers to be the “least of these,” those who have been forgotten and marginalized.
We must let this be an opportunity to expose our own racisms and prejudices, and a chance to learn or re-learn what true, unbiased compassion looks like.
Pain is real, whether one is rich or poor, white or black, young or old, celebrated or marginalized. Refusing to take part in one person’s pain will not alleviate that of another.
This crime has wounded many of us because it is closer to home than ever before. Perhaps this is an indication that many of us are living in a bubble of safety and complacency, where we can avoid the painful realities of those who have not had the same opportunities.
The memorial service for Tim Bosma is taking place on Wednesday, May 22. This is a time for us to mourn with those who mourn, and my hope is that this would be a starting point for extending this love to those in our communities that have been forgotten.
We can do both. We can enter into mourning with the Bosma family, and we can enter into the pain of those on the margins. Our hearts have a capacity to love greatly.
My sincere condolences go to Tim’s family during this difficult week, as well as to those whose loved ones have been forgotten.
Last weekend I was sitting out on the front porch at my inlaws’ place, sipping iced tea and enjoying the beautiful spring weather. A neighbour passed by on his bicycle and we asked him to join us. He is from Bangladesh. We started talking about the recent factory collapse that has caused the deaths of over 1,000 garment workers in his country. His countenance fell. ”I’ve decided to not purchase any clothing made in Bangladesh until labour laws change,” he said. Pain was etched into his face.
On Wednesday April 24, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed with about 3,500 workers inside. Large cracks had been discovered in the walls the day before, but despite this, workers had been ordered back to work on Wednesday. They were told that their month’s pay would be withheld if they did not enter the building. A survivor recounts:
“The owner of Rana Plaza along with gang members holding sticks were standing in front of the main entrance gate threatening that they would beat us with sticks and break our bones if we didn’t work that morning. We were frightened and had no choice but to go in to work.”
An hour later the building crumbled. Here is a list of labels that were being made in the building that collapsed:
Joe Fresh, owned by Loblaws Inc. of Ontario, Canada (custom records and labels found on site)
Velilla – Spanish work clothing company (labels found on site)
And here is where the finger pointing begins. The race to the bottom, a bi-product of unchecked capitalism, ensures that no one is really responsible for what happened.
Plausible deniability: A condition in which a subject can safely and believably deny knowledge of any particular truth that may exist, because the subject is deliberately made unaware of said truth so as to benefit or shield the subject from any responsibility associated through the knowledge of such truth.
The owner of the plaza that housed the garment factories doesn’t claim responsibility, because the factories had chosen to operate in the building without demanding structural upgrades first.
The owners of the the garment factories are not responsible, because they are only trying to meet the demands and deadlines of the multinational corporations who they make clothing for.
The companies who sell clothing in their stores are not responsible, because they assume that the government of Bangladesh is enforcing labour laws that align with their codes of conduct.
The government of Bangladesh is not responsible, because if they start to reinforce labour codes, international corporations will pull out of Bangladesh, with significant economic ramifications.
The customers buying clothing are not responsible, because they assumed that the company selling them would be monitoring their factories. And, at the end of the day, stylish clothing for low prices trumps any further investigation as to where that clothing comes from.
In essence, the landlord blames the factories, the factories blame the multinational corporations, the multinational corporations blame the government, the government blames the economic climate, and the customers blame their ignorance or inability to afford clothing that is ethically made.
And no one is left to take responsibility for the hundreds of people crushed under the weight of concrete.
A last embrace: Two victims uncovered from the rubble from the Bangladesh Factory Collapse. Photo by Taslima Akhter. Photo Source: http://lightbox.time.com/2013/05/08/a-final-embrace-the-most-haunting-photograph-from-bangladesh/#1
Of course, the reality is that every player in this sequence is responsible. It’s time to make this personal. If you have purchased a Joe Fresh item, you are responsible. If you don’t research where your clothing comes from, you are responsible. If you are a shareholder of once of these corporations, you are responsible. If you manage a sweatshop, you are responsible.
This goes for me too. This is a picture of me several years ago, before I was fully aware of where my clothing was coming from. I am wearing a grey, super comfortable Joe Fresh shirt that I bought for around $15.00. I didn’t realize where this shirt had come from. I was unaware that the people making it were earning wages of 14 cents to 26 cents an hour while working 13 to 14 ½ hour shifts – 6 and 7 days a week. Despite my past ignorance, I have decided to take responsibility today.
This shirt is the only Joe Fresh item I have owned, and I am donating the amount the I paid for it to the Bangladesh Injured Worker’s Relief Fund, set up by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. I have benefited from the labour of these workers, so the least I can do is support their families in a time of absolute crisis.
It will be interesting to see if companies are willing to take responsibility. Since Joe Fresh is close to home, let’s look at their promises in response to this tragedy:
“A new standard at Loblaw, ensuring all of our control brand products are made in facilities that respect local construction and building codes, and a commitment to have Loblaw people on the ground who will report directly to us ensuring that product we produce is made in a manner that reflect our values.”
However, making a real change would require Loblaws to alter its core value for the Joe Fresh line. In a video on their website, the Creative Director explains:
“The Westons came to me and asked me to create this line of apparel, and restrictions were: price point.”
Since restrictions is plural, I assumed there was more coming. But as it turns out, price point was the only restriction. Which means profit at any cost. This is why companies often seek out countries with poor government labour regulation. Cheap labour equals lower prices for customers and bigger profits for shareholders.
Analysts were told that there has been no measurable impact on Joe Fresh sales since the tragedy in Bangladesh.
I am very concerned for the 1000+ families who now have no income. These types of scenarios often push girls into the sex trade, and there is no doubt that traffickers are currently on a hunt in this area of Bangladesh where vulnerability and chaos abounds.
This raises the following question: if families in poor countries are made even more vulnerable to abuse, sex trafficking, and homelessness when a factory shuts down, doesn’t that mean we should continue purchasing products made in these factories, even if the conditions and pay are not adequate? If we stop consuming, won’t we put all these people out of work?
In this situation, I think the best thing that can be done is to plant the good and phase out the bad. Currently, the economics are twisted in such a way that workers in impoverished countries are dependent on their own exploitation. While I believe that we should stop purchasing clothing made by low-paid labour in places like Bangladesh and China, we must simultaneously support fair trade initiatives in these countries. I am perfectly fine with buying ethically made clothing from any country. Every dollar is a vote, and the more we demand ethically made products, the more it will impact communities positively. Eventually, ethically sourced products could become mainstream. People in Bangladesh could gain independence through real opportunities instead of depending on their exploiters for a quasi-livelihood.
7 Things You Can Do:
1. Go through your closet. For every piece of Joe Fresh clothing (or clothing from the other companies mentioned earlier) that you own, make a donation for the amount that you paid for them. Don’t own anything from these clothing lines? Look at the labels and make a donation for every piece made in Bangladesh, whatever the brand.
2. Sponsor a child in Bangladesh. For about a $1 a day, you can provide access to life-saving basics that change a child’s future. World Vision’s child sponsorship programs are community based, meaning that the whole community ultimately benefits in a sustainable and wholistic way. If you want to decrease the likelihood of someone ending up in a sweatshop – or other vulnerable situations – investing in a child’s life is a great place to start. You can refine your search to children in Bangladesh here.
3. Discover your slavery footprint. Find out by taking the survey here and see what you can do. You can find letter templates to companies and other resources too!
4. Run an ethical business. We need a generation of selfless entrepreneurs who have a people motive instead of a profit motive - businessmen and women whose driving motivator goes beyond lining the pockets of first-world shareholders. Currently there are very few companies that source ethically. There is a market for this, so start a business! Go to Made In A Free World for ideas.
5. Research where your clothing comes from. Google the company name with the word “labour practices” and see what you find. Or, pick a product and see if you can find what factory it was made in. My friend had to do this for a university class, and barely anyone was able to complete the assignment due to red tape and corporate run-around. Write a letter to the company in question and tell them that you would like them to source their products ethically.
6. Buy used clothing. This way, you are not contributing to the booming demand for new clothes that are made in these factories. Consignment stores are awesome for this. Bonus: you will save money!
Coincidentally, the catalyst that launched Jay and me into anti-trafficking work was the Catalyst Conference in Georgia six years ago. This annual leadership conference is where we first heard about modern day slavery, sparking a passion in us to fight sexual exploitation. We have learned that good leadership is a vital part of any movement, and are always looking for resources to help us become better leaders and influencers.
Brad Lomenick, the executive director of Catalyst, has recently released a book entitled The Catalyst Leader. For those of you who are wanting to lead with excellence, this book is a treasure chest of counsel. Here is what Brad has to say about The Catalyst Leader.
What can leaders expect from the The Catalyst Leader?
The Catalyst Leader provides practical help for all leaders at any stage of their leadership journey, ultimately defining what it means to be a Catalyst in this generation, and inspiring us all to be true change makers wherever we lead. I believe the book is defining, practical, inspiring, and timely. The book provides perspective and practical application that leaders can put into practice immediately in their leadership today. I hope the book is both a kick in the pants, a punch in the gut, and a pat on the back. Both challenging and encouraging.
Why write this book now?
Because I believe we are at a crossroads of leadership in the US, and ultimately around the world. In fact, I believe we have a leadership crisis in our country. And based on the research we did in partnership with The Barna Group for the book, the survey and data would validate that assumption. We currently have a dearth of leadership in our country. In general, we trust our leaders less today than we have in the past. There is a lot at stake. And it’s time for a new generation of leaders to rise up and take charge.
Catalyst has gathered leaders for 13 years now. We wanted to create a leadership guide, the “ultimate” handbook on influence. It’s our turn to lead now, but we have to make sure we are leading well. I want to see leaders all over the world take their leadership and influence to a whole new level.
Lots of great leaders have created great leadership resources, but most of them aren’t peers to me or my generation. We wanted to create a community driven resource that would be a practical guide for leading over the next 20-30 years. I’m passionate about raising up great leaders, and I’ve devoted much of my life to convening and equipping leaders of all ages and stages in life who want to grow in their leadership abilities. And I’ve written the Catalyst Leader to empower you to lead better, and lead longer.
Perhaps never before have so many young leaders been poised and positioned for influence. Scores of twenty and thirty somethings are running companies, nonprofits, churches, and social innovation projects. They don’t have 10-15 years to figure things out anymore; they need to be equipped and prepared for the journey now. Many leaders today have platforms that exceed their wisdom, experience and maturity. These leaders need the tools and know how for getting it right. I hope The Catalyst Leader is a resource for them to do just that. A roadmap for our generation to lead well.
Our tribe and community of Catalyst leaders are in need of practical and relevant help in regards to their leadership and influence. We currently are dealing with a demise of leadership mentoring in our culture, especially in organizational life, and I want to truly help leaders lead well.
Can you tell us about the importance of calling?
To start with, here’s a working definition of calling: God’s personal invitation for me to work on His agenda, using the talents I’ve been given in ways that are eternally significant. In essence, calling is where your greatest talents and deepest passions intersect. Our vocation should flow from that crossroads. It’s imperative that you discover God’s unique calling on you life.
I’ve come to realize that living and leading from one’s calling is a necessary first step to leading well and becoming a change maker wherever God has planted you. Without understanding your calling, you’ll end up bogged down in the mud of life. But when living out your calling, your work will be better, and you’ll naturally want to work harder. Calling should give us life, and provide us direction. Our vocation should flow out of who we’ve been uniquely designed by God to be.
Think back to your childhood. Identify the things you were good at and energized you. Do they still? What did you naturally look forward to? What barriers are preventing you from pursuing the stuff you love to work on? God desires for a sense of mission to burn within us, driving us forward in the perilous journey of life. I believe God has a unique purpose that He desires to carry out in every single person he creates. He’s carved a specific and significant path for us all. A Catalyst leader is called. Find your uniqueness.
How does someone create legacy where they are right now?
Your legacy, regardless of where you are in your leadership journey, starts now. The way you start determines how you finish. Start with the end in mind. So many of us don’t think about our legacy until we reach the finish line. But creating legacy has to begin when we begin. Starting well means finishing well.
How do you become collaborative without becoming competitive?
Collaboration has to flow from a place of generosity, truly believing that a higher tide lifts all boats. Be more concerned with others. Listen instead of talk. Be interested over interesting.
To be collaborative we must understand that it’s not about me. It’s not about your organization, your non profit, or your project. It’s about connecting people, not competing.
Collaborators are okay sharing their wisdom, their knowledge, their connections, and their networks, because collaboration means working together alongside others. Co-laboring. Building bridges instead of constructing walls. We at Catalyst have partnered with those who might be seen as competitors, because we believe in an abundance mentality. When you have an abundance mindset you are more likely to collaborate instead of compete. Avoid the scarcity mentality – the idea that there is only so much to go around.
You can purchase The Catalyst Leader via the book website as well as through amazon.com (amazon.ca for us Canadians!). And, just in case you were wondering if Brad can bust a dance move, the answer is yes.
Let’s take the influence we have seriously and make an impact in this world!
Archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a philanthropist who advocated for Brazil’s poor in the 1900s, famously quoted:
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
I heard this quote at a justice conference I attended on the weekend, in which a common theme seemed to emerge from the sessions: the issue of systemic injustice.
Jay and I are passionate about sex trafficking prevention, but we have experienced significant push back. A social worker who helps street walkers told us all about the dangers and abuse that the women experience on a daily basis, but was afraid to speak on record about demand because she was paid by a government that had made prostitution fully legal. We were rejected funding for our film because critically examining the root causes of trafficking is too controversial.
If we focus on rescue and aftercare for victims of commercial sexual exploitation, we are called abolitionists.
When we ask the question of what systems allowed them to be exploited in the first place, we are called moralists.
Apparently we have stumbled on an unfortunate truth: dismantling systems of exploitation is not sexy. Which is exactly why the documentary we are working on is so necessary.
The systems of injustice connected to sexual exploitation take many forms. Take capitalism, for one. Profit is the soul of capitalism, and it comes at a high human cost. As Shane Claiborne shared the the conference, “when we really love our neighbour as ourselves, capitalism won’t be possible and Marxism won’t be necessary.” Capitalism undermines the ability of the poor and marginalized to have a chance of making a meaningful, sustainable living. If we are serious about ending trafficking, we must examine the system of capitalism that makes the rich rich and keeps the poor poor.
But to this, we face the back lash arguments of “trickle down economics” and the predictable accusations of being socialist.
A second system we are looking at is a legislative one – the legalization (or full decriminalization) of prostitution. In the past 5 months we have been to 10 countries to examine prostitution models, and have learned that making this industry fully legal changes cultural attitudes toward women, provides traffickers with a safer environment to blend in, and makes trafficking victims more difficult to find. Complex issue.
To this we experience the arguments that prostitution and sex trafficking must be kept separate, and that people should be able to do what they want.
A third system we have encountered is gender inequality. In most countries women are at a distinct disadvantage, disproportionately experiencing the negative effects of political and economic decisions. They are seen as objects or burdens, putting them at risk for trafficking, poverty, and rape.
Yet when we address this issue, people are either too disinterested to care, or dismiss us as radical feminists.
So, in order for us to have a popular, noble anti-trafficking campaign, we can’t address capitalism, we should never talk about the legal status of prostitution, we should let boys be boys and not discuss demand, and we should skip over the boring topic of gender inequality.
What does this leave us with? Oh. Right. Prosecution of traffickers and aftercare. We can talk about those. Because no one’s profits are in jeopardy. Corporations are off the hook. So is the sex industry. By this point, the money has already lined someone’s pockets.
But let’s consider the fact that the money required to rehabilitate one victim can be made by a trafficker in a week. And the fact that men who pay for sex have increasingly violent and degrading demands. And that traffickers rarely receive a sentence because international crime cases are extremely complex and extremely expensive to carry out successfully.
Prevention, by nature, requires us to look at systems of injustice, and dismantle them. We must do so with wisdom, patience, discernment, as well as compassion and grace. Our goal is not to press buttons for the sake of pressing buttons, but to examine the motives holding up these structures that make commercial sexual exploitation possible.
I do not have all the answers, because these issues are big, complicated, and culturally sensitive. But until we get serious about prevention by asking the tough questions, we must be willing to accept the fact that we will need more and more after care facilities, and more specially trained police – more and more time, and more and more resources.
I propose we creatively and strategically subvert systemic injustice.
I hate mushrooms. I have been expanding my vegetable horizon a ton in the last 2 years, getting over my dislike of onions, asparagus, and eggplant, as well as overcoming my fear of pomagranates. I now love all these foods and eat them regularly, which makes me feel like I am making healthy (adult) decisions. But mushrooms are a whole other ball game. Fungus weirds me out.
This weekend in New York, Jay and I went to the famous Grimaldi’s – a pizzeria in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. We stood in line for 30 minutes, ordered our pizza once we were seated, and waited for another 50. Our mouths were watering by the time it arrived, but there was a slight problem – the entire pizza was covered in mushrooms. While I often pick them off with ease and pass them to my mushroom-obsessed husband, the mushrooms on this pizza were small and very numerous, baked under the cheese. So, like a 4 year old, I began to pick them off one by one. Jay sat there, annoyed and probably embarrassed, as I meticulously slaughtered my slice.
And then I saw it. A camera. Pointed at my plate. Two girls at the table next to ours were filming me pick at my meal, trying to hold in their laughter as they zoomed in on my plate as well as my concentrated face. All of a sudden, I realized that my moment of immaturity was probably going to be posted online somewhere for the world to see, and I felt extremely embarrassed. Not only that, but I was reminded of the fact that while I sat there picking at my meal, children around the world were digging through garbage to find something edible to quell their aching bellies.
I was silent as we walked to the subway. I was afraid that this video would go viral and be seen by thousands of people. If this video of me gets put online and I never find it, I can’t even respond to it. I felt ashamed. And I felt violated.
As the train rushed into the station and screeched to a stop, a horrific realization dawned on me. Traffickers often make pornographic videos of their victims, and use them as a tool for absolute submission.
“If you try to escape, we will show this to your family.”
“If you don’t comply with our demands, we will spread this around your village.”
“If a customer complains, we will put this on the internet.”
Though for a while I have known this to be a common method of manipulation among traffickers, I have never actually put myself in the shoes of a victim who is being blackmailed.
Take a moment and think of the most shameful or embarrassing thing you have ever done, and imagine it being videotaped and sent to everyone you know.
It might cost you your reputation, your job, your friends, your future opportunities. Or, if you are part of a loving, healthy community, they will love you despite what they have seen you do. Unfortunately, in many cultures, protecting one’s family honour results in victims to bowing to the threats of traffickers.
As much as I hate the discomfort of learning lessons in such a tangible way, I want to thank those girls for filming my childish, embarrassing moment at Grimaldi’s. It has allowed me to walk in another’s shoes and humbled me immensely.
So, if a youtube video with a frowning blonde picking mushrooms out of her pizza goes viral, take a moment to remember those who are being sexually exploited and manipulated for profit. And let’s all become the kind of community that loves others despite their shameful moments, whether those moments have been forced upon them or resulted from poor decisions.