With all the time I’ve spent thinking about sex trafficking lately, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I had the dream I did last night. I was in a public space, wearing very little clothing, and someone was trying to buy me for sex. I kept trying to get away from this person but I had nowhere to hide. I woke up from this dream terrified.
For me, this was just a dream. I could take few deep breaths and shake it off. But for millions of young girls in our world today, this is a reality they can’t just shake off and make go away. Sex trafficking is a horror of our modern world.
Girls are being sold across state lines, country borders and across continents all because there is a demand for girls to “have sex” with. I put sex in quotes because that’s what many think is happening in many brothels, but in reality what’s happening is rape. True, there are some age appropriate consensual sexual relations going on in exchange for money.
But most of what is happening in brothels around the world is rape.
I remember the first exposure I had to the idea of sex trafficking was a TV movie I saw years ago called Human Trafficking. I couldn’t get the movie and its images out of my head. I would walk around NYC imagining girls being locked away in some building just a few blocks from where I was teaching and going about my life. Since then, I have wanted to learn everything I could about it and, although I didn’t understand it at the time, I knew it was the issue that I was most called to study and immerse myself in.
In Cambodia, where sex trafficking is among the worst in the world, girls are being tortured and raped and starved every day. They are denied food if they don’t consent to allowing a man to use their bodies as they please. What is happening in Cambodian brothels is not just rape but torture, with girls being put in cages, burned, beaten with hands, guns, sticks, and metal rods.
Like any great atrocity in this world, there must be a root cause. There must be an underlying situation that leads to this. Yoga teaches us that we are all connected, that there are layers and layers underneath what we see at the surface. So when I look deeper at the reasons sex trafficking exists and how I can play a part in ending it, I have to look deeper than what meets the eye.
To put an end to trafficking, we should of course be rescuing girls and prosecuting pimps and men involved. But we have to look deeper than that to understand the reasons it exists in the first place. The fact is there is a a demand for young girls. If there is demand, pimps will continue to find a way to steal and sell innocent children. If there is demand, families will continue to sell their girls for money.
If we want to end trafficking for good, we have to address the issue of demand itself.
Why are men raping young girls, girls as young as 5 years old? How have they become so disconnected them themselves, their own hearts, their own sense of basic right and wrong? How can female brothel owners imprison other women and girls? What has happened to these men and women that make them think it is ok for this to happen?
And what about the fact that many girls are flat out sold to brothels by their families? What does it say about the state of our world that families are living in such dire poverty that they’re willing to sell their children for money?
In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist group, terrorized Cambodia from 1975 – 1979, killing and torturing millions of people. A whole generation of people were left traumatized, displaced to the countryside, and poor as a result of the Khmer Rouges’s fatal regime.
According to the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP),
“human trafficking has increased in Cambodia because of a number of factors, including poverty, socio-economic imbalance between rural and urban areas, increased tourism, lack employment, education, and safe migration; poverty being the most significant cause of trafficking.”
And the International Labour Organization says that
“the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime is still felt both psychologically and economically and plays a direct role in labor and sexual exploitation arising from ill-prepared migration.”
Poverty makes people desperate. Sometimes parents don’t know exactly what they are selling their daughters into, and other times they know but are just disassociated from the reality of it because they’re barely surviving themselves. A combination of extreme poverty, traumatization, and repeated cycles of abuse has left a group of men and women so disconnected from themselves that they see no wrong in torturing young girls.
Somaly Mam, a hero of mine, was sold into sex slavery when she was a young girl. A decade later when she managed to escape this life, she went right back into this environment and dedicated her life to saving girls with a similar fate. As part of Somaly Mam’s work, she not only rescue and helps girls reintegrate back into society, but has workshops with men to help them understand what is happening and the effects of their actions on these girls.
In order to stop the cycle of abuse, I believe we have take a look at our own fear, prejudices and anger at the perpetrators and be willing to work with them as well. I don’t expect this will be an easy thing, as I myself have trouble considering the abusers with anything but disgust. However, rescuing girls from brothels is not enough.
We have to be willing to help the abusers heal their own trauma if we want to see a real shift and an actual end to sex trafficking.
Somaly Mam’s workshops with men were doing just that. She was helping them to understand the consequences of their actions on these girls. The last I read, the workshops with men had to stop due to lack of funding. We have to look beyond the horrifying facts and statistics to understand why there is this demand in the first place. When we can do this, I believe, we can begin to address the underlying trauma that leads people to commit such horrible atrocities on others.
So I pose a question to all of you out there: Would you support programs that work with perpetrators in order to eliminate human trafficking? What do you think are the root causes behind human trafficking, and why do you it’s now happening more in the US?