In 2011 I decided to go back to school to pursue a future in photojournalism. I’ve always been inspired by people and their stories. I was hungry for a career that mattered. Naturally, I concluded that nothing could be more fulfilling than the chance to document the lives of incredible people and share their stories with the world.
Truth be told, journalism wasn’t for me as I quickly learned the style of writing I wanted to do, and the actual writing I was required to do, were worlds apart. Regardless of my decision to forego the journalism part of my degree, I still found opportunities through my classes to write and share about things which mattered. Today I want to share one such essay.
American Girl : Part Three
Before she was born, they had predetermined a price, and she was sold three years later.
They enlightened her about life as a super model, but she was deceived and now she serves eight to fifteen men per day.
He was born a boy, but girls are worth more money. Consequently they overdosed him with estrogen and now he is a lady-boy, commonly called the “third gender”.
She was kidnapped, drugged, and forced into prostitution.The perpetrators are unscrupulous, violent, and corrupt, yet the authorities are no more innocent than the transgressors. The powers to be and the perpetrators are in a triangle love affair with Money. Money is superior to any physical entity; it has no life and no death. To the king and to the pimp, Money is god. This is Human Trafficking, a crime against humanity, where pimps and police reign as gods over women, children, and lady-boys.
Although money is the objective of the crime, it will require a power superior to wealth in order to revolutionize the unlawful activity. The crisis extends beyond cash and prominence; supremely, the objective is absolute power. There is no loyalty. There are no rules. There is only dominance.
To free a victim of the sex slave trade, you must actively surrender yourself, abandon your comfort, eradicate your pride, and expose yourself to pain and humility. You must renounce all judgments in order to pursue your convictions, bestow unreserved compassion, and assume action. Only then, will you understand that to free a slave, you must become her slave.
My mission begins when I abandon my wellbeing and meet her in the darkness, known as downtown Bangkok, Thailand, where neon lights glimmer with sinful promises. As I advance toward the luminescent plaza, the aura darkens, my heart beats to the bass of techno, the women call to me, the men move more aggressively, and my confidence ceases. Finally I arrive at Nana Plaza, a three-story high courtyard complex. This is the tourist HOT SPOT, where an average of 2,000 women, children, and lady- boys are exploited each night.
The ground level resembles a “Main Street” bar scene which is rich with underdressed prostitutes. A significant distinction of Nana and the standard bar experiences are the two shrines strategically positioned on each side of the entrance. Here, the enslaved girls offer burning incense and baby bottles as prayers to Buddha with hope that he will protect their children from a life of slavery.
As I continue to the second floor the bars become increasingly provocative. Neon signs reading: Angel Witch, Bottoms UP, Fantasia, G-Spot, and Rainbow 1, 2, and 3, entertain the sleazy delusions of wavering fantasies. Inside each bar, horny shoppers receive pleasure from thematic choreographed dances by topless girls in g-string bottoms. Outside the bar entrances, threateningly large pimps urge passing guests into their bars. Furthermore, they ensure that nobody takes a girl without paying and no girl leaves alone.
To reach the third and most perverse floor I must persevere past the insistent pimps on the second floor. This level is limited to three of the largest clubs, including Carnival, Hollywood Carousel, and Cascade. It is here the gentlemen gather for the quality drinks and the clean girls, in addition to the exclusive and explicit sexual shows. As a general rule, the later the hour, the younger the girls, and the higher the price. This concludes the tour, and now it is time for action.
Now I must focus and surrender and allow humility to overwhelm me. Here, I abandon all discriminations against the man and the girl. This world does not need my judgment; it needs my action. As I enter the flashing strobes and deafening bass disorient me. I find a seat in a crowded row, where I feel at ease, hoping no one will notice me. A server quickly recognizes my arrival and takes my order. I find that my five dollar soda masks my nervous behaviors as I bite the straw and incessantly tap the glass. I observe the men who are squirming in their seats while enjoying the show. They resemble many familiar faces, my boss, my uncle, my brother, and the guy who stood next to me on the train. They range in age from 20 to 70. Once I saw a family, mom, dad, and son, enjoying an evening show. While I am sitting, pride lurks in. I start to question why I am here. I deem myself completely inadequate. What is everyone thinking when they see me? Do they think I am a lesbian, or a pervert? No. They pay no heed to me. They do not care about me or my motives. They came for her, the same girl I came for. Except they came to use her, and I came to rescue her. I must ignore my pride and commit to selflessness. Focus on her, the girl who has her eyes locked on me. She sees me and knows I am safe. She points to me and smiles, indicating she will join me when her dance is done. Soon, I will have a chance to affirm her trust.
When her dance is finished, she jumps off stage, grabs her jacket, and sits uncomfortably close to me. She holds my hand, a cultural norm, and asks me to buy her a drink so that she can stay with me. Her English is limited, so she asks a friend to translate the conversation. In a short time, I learn that she is 14 but pretends she is 19. She works here to pay off her family debt. Tears begin to fall down her cheeks as she tells me she is scared of the men who buy her. She explains that the pimps will threaten her family if she does not make enough money. Suddenly, a pimp pulls her away and removes her jacket as two men sitting nearby express their desire for her. She goes to them, they run their fingers down her bare body, and one kisses her as other pulls her onto his lap and invades her innocence.
I am outraged at the impudent attitude of those men! Can they not see that she is a beautiful child? How can they disregard her humanity in order to gratify their desires? She trusted me and for a moment believed in hope. This is personal. As I leave the bar, my only objective is to save her, no matter the cost. I am now her slave. When I close my eyes tonight, I must not let your convictions escape me. I cannot ignore the images of her face in my dreams. I will be sleeping safely while she is being oppressed. Yet, I must not allow my anger to defeat my purpose; instead, utilize my fervent compassion productively.
In the morning, the haunting images of the young girl inhabit my every thought. These memories drive me to immediate action where I join forces with a small jewelry manufacturing shop. This shop is located only blocks from Nana Plaza occupying the upstairs of ramshackle cleaning business. When I arrive, I am greeted by an elderly lady who flashes a toothless smile at me and points up the stairs. I enter a colorful room of beads and pearls looped on strings and chains. The tables are occupied by joyful girls laughing and exchanging creative ideas, similar to a middle school birthday party. I then learn that I am the cause of laughter, when a young girl, only 16, invites me to her table and giggles while asking why I am so tall. I am full of delight as I engage in broken conversation with the jovial youth. One story after another, they expose the details of their daring escapes from life as sexual slaves. I ache for their past and rejoice in their victory, but their stories evoke disturbing images of the 14 year old girl who still lives in bondage. If only she could be here to experience the joys of adolescence and camaraderie.
To me, the solution sounds so obvious and I hope if I show them the way to freedom, they will follow. This experience has taught me the difficulties they must overcome. If they leave prostitution, they will make only a third of their wages and they fear that is not enough for survival. Then, I learn of the core problem. These girls were robbed of their education and opportunity to acquire the necessary skills for employment. Sadly, the jewelry business does not generate enough income to employ more than 30 girls at time. Regardless, I have found an answer.
The sun is setting and I am exhilarated to tell my young friend that I have found a place to take her. I will buy her away and set her free. Tonight she will be liberated!
I arrive back at the same bar and the repression I felt the night before is gone. I am burning with uncontrolled determination as I walk with absolute confidence. In less than an instant my hope is escorted out the door by a tall, dapper man who irreverently flaunts a slanted smirk. When I lock eyes with her, my heart shatters on the ground and my knees follow. Bent over at the feet of satisfied pimp I desperately gasp for air. The man has the girl, the pimp has the money, and I am left alone, shattered and defeated.
My first defeat has educated me on the veracity of sexual slavery. I will not give up. She and others just like her deserve my unwavering compassion. Every day that I return to her, I inspire more hope. This is not a quick and easy battle. I am now involved in a multibillion dollar war of Money versus Humanity. I must stay strong, remain humble, and always remember that she deserves a life as beautiful as mine. She deserves freedom.
Friends, it hurts. Every single time I read these words and remember this moment. It hurts so badly. To my core. I know that I can’t change that experience. But I know I will never forget it. And because of that, I will NEVER give in.
I just want to take a minute to go back to this quote.
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing great or small, large or petty,–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
These words speak so much truth. I love that Winston Churchill acknowledges the ‘apparently overwhelming might of the enemy’ and still he says, NEVER GIVE IN. The enemy is strong, but God is stronger. . I want leave you with a verse of encouragement.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
If you have any questions, or comments, or similar experiences, PLEASE leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I would love to hear from you!
Please continue to follow along for more from the series, American Girl, to learn about my journey in the fight against Human Trafficking.