My family moved from Finland to Ethiopia when I had just finished grade two, and many of my childhood memories reside in the Horn of Africa. They were very good memories – of chasing hyenas, having a dozen nationalities represented in one classroom, and taking horse riding lessons to the sound of prayers being recited through the booming loudspeaker of the nearby Orthodox church.
I saw Africa through the eyes of a child, and it was wonderful. The abandoned tanks I saw in the fields were merely big toys to climb on, and the small, ornate wooden boxes I saw for sale on the streets were just decorative pieces of furniture (I didn’t know they were children’s coffins until years later). We moved to Canada when I was 12 years old, and all through high school I had a strong desire to go back and see Africa through the eyes of an adult.
After graduation I had the opportunity to volunteer in Namibia, and through it was on the other side of the continent from where I had had my childhood adventures, it was good to be back in Africa. The smells and sounds brought memories rushing back, and I savoured them. But I was an adult now, and got to see and experience the brokenness and pain that were also part of the continent’s fabric.
I held a baby who had been born with AIDS, drew pictures with street kids whose only source of income was selling wire hangers, and sang songs with eighth graders whose chance of contracting HIV were greater than that of graduating high school. But because none of these issues affected me personally, I was able to keep my distance emotionally.
One day my friend Sarah and I washed our clothes and set them out to dry in the backyard. It started to rain, but the Namibian sun had a way of drying things quickly so the clothes were left on the line through the storm. Or so we thought. Someone came into the yard while it was raining and stole every last article of clothing, right down to our underwear! I was angry. We felt violated. We kept looking for people in town wearing our T-shirts, skirts, pants. I hoped that it had at least been someone with a real need for clothing and not someone with malicious intent.
That is the most violated I have ever felt in my life. Many of you read this in disbelief, because you have been violated much more profoundly. I cannot even imagine what is must be like to experience physical, sexual, or verbal abuse. My heart goes out to you if you are one suffering or have suffered through this.
I recently watched Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, and excellent documentary about the global sex trade. In it a woman explains how she got into prostitution at a very young age. She had been sexually abused as a child by a family member, and when she was in her early teen years, a man offered her money for sex. She thought, “What? Someone is willing to pay me for what someone else is already taking from me for free?” That began her life in prostitution, which robbed her of so much more than clothes off a line. It breaks my heart that so many women in prostitution have sexual abuse in their pre-prostitution past, and it demonstrates that being violated can lead into a cycle of abuse and exploitation.
What is our role in ending abuse in homes? What can we do to ensure that people do not violate others? Asking these questions is important if we are to stop the downward spiral of exploitation and trafficking.