I See the Results of Human Trafficking Every Day
A volunteer with victims of human trafficking writes that true friendship is the key to a new life.
All I ever wanted, when I was young and oblivious to the world, was to live in a quintessential American small town, in a white farmhouse with a wrap-around porch where I could sip coffee. My husband would wave goodbye, dressed in a suit, as he left for the office, and I would stay home with our ten children, joyfully frolicking around our American Dream.
My dream began to fade when I fell in love with a Welsh man and moved to the U.K. after college. I was a teacher by trade, but my qualifications didn’t transfer. We needed money, though, and I needed something to occupy my time. I found a school that didn’t require a teaching degree and began educating seven little girls about math, reading and writing—seven little girls that had grown up in safe, loving families.
Their stability gave me a feeling of unease. These girls didn’t need me. Inside, I knew there were vulnerable girls, and vulnerable women, who did. So, I quit my job, with no alternative for income. Perhaps it was intuition. Perhaps it was God.
I have always, ever since I can remember, had a faith in God that has guided me in the direction of love. When I left my teaching post, I spent a summer praying to Him to show me where to go next.
Helping People Let Me Find Order in the Chaos
He answered through a documentary called Nefarious. The film introduced me to the world of modern-day human trafficking—a grimy, exploitative world I had never heard of before. It’s a world where women and men are treated as property to be worked, raped and used. I read. I learned and I cried. Eventually, I resolved to do something.
The little town I live in has a high street, which isn’t very high anymore. It’s actually quite dirty and abandoned. There’s a well-used office there that offers support to the many victims of domestic abuse that the town’s struggles with drugs, alcohol and poverty have produced. I decided to start volunteering. Answering phones and creating spreadsheets wasn’t quite the vision of saving the world I had pictured, but it was a step in the right direction. A job eventually opened up and I was trained to support victims of domestic abuse. For two years, I helped to keep victims safe from their perpetrators, taught children how to protect themselves in abusive situations and encouraged women to understand their worth.
People who find themselves stuck in abusive relationships—whether the abuse is emotional, physical or sexual—often feel as though they’ve had their worth stolen from them. They’ve been controlled by a predator, and tricked into believing that they are powerless, inferior and stupid. It’s only once a woman knows her worth that she’s able to leave an abusive relationship.
This is what I hoped to give the women I worked with: power.
I eventually had to leave this meaningful job when I had my first child, but I stayed involved with the chaos of our community. My husband ran a drop-in project at our local church for people who are homeless and suffering from substance abuse issues. I would take my little baby along (which in retrospect might not have been the greatest idea), hoping that he would bring light to the darkness. I would drag him to the city to volunteer for a beautiful charity that distributed food to refugees. We would sit in a room with people representing various nationalities, just to have the chance to glean more about their experiences and journeys. Once a month, I left the baby with my husband and traveled two hours to spend time at a recovery home for women who’d been rescued from trafficking. My heart continued to ache for women who had been exploited.
How We Harnessed Friendship to Save the Lives of Trafficked People
Fast-forward two years: Another baby. A jobless husband. Postnatal depression. Survival mode. The same unease I felt years before came creeping back in. There was a dark underworld bubbling beneath me, but I couldn’t see it from my bubble of nappies, meal-times and playdates.
In the middle of the monotony, a friend who managed a Christian charity asked if I would start and manage a befriending project for survivors of human trafficking. I jumped at the opportunity. Within a few months, I was all set to begin matching members of the community to survivors. It was only as I started associating faces with names that I began to understand how much I had to learn from these amazing women, from their tenacity, courage and hope.
As strong as they were, the trauma that they had experienced presented itself in a variety of ways that they were unable to address alone. For most of them, their loneliness was acute. They’d been smuggled into a country that was foreign to them. They didn’t understand the language. Communicating at shops and doctors was an overwhelming venture. They weren’t familiar with the culture. How would they take the bus? Where would they buy their food?
They had no purpose.
Days were full of staying inside—a safe reprieve from the outside world. And to top it off, they had experienced horrific atrocities at the hands of people they expected to trust. They struggled with PTSD, depression, eating disorders and anxiety.
I Learned What Friendship Really Means—and Now I Can Share It
At this low, lonely point, I was able to introduce them to a befriender—who had been trained and checked appropriately—in their local community who would commit to one year of befriending for our project.
Once a week, the befriender gets in touch to plan some sort of stress-free outing: a friend who would take them for coffee, or to the seaside, museums and parks. A friend who expected nothing in return, no strings attached. A friend who loved out of purity. A friend who was committed. Often, at the first introduction meeting, the survivor would be downcast, sad and quiet. I would see the woman months later, but she was not the same. Her countenance was bright. In part, because she has been loved by a friend.
This wasn’t a love that requires payment, as many of the “lovers” before them had. Those ones required slave labor in return. Sex. Domestic work. Farming. Criminal activity. Organs. If you did what traffickers wanted, you would be paid with protection, food and possibly friendship. But it all came at a cost.
Unadulterated friendship brings life and I have the honor of facilitating it. It isn’t the wrap-around porch I imagined. That dream is a distant memory that I no longer hope for. The joy of giving life to brokenness is better. Far better.