"Love is our Name"
"They were vacant, shells of what a child should be... Their light had been taken from them"
In 2002, several friends and I travelled to South East Asia on an exploratory trip to determine how we could serve in the fight against child sex trafficking.
At one point we were taken undercover with investigators to a brothel, where children were being sold for sex. We found ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with predators in a small room, looking at little girls through a pane of glass.
All of the girls wore red dresses with a number pinned to their dress for identification. They sat, blankly watching cartoons on TV. They were vacant, shells of what a child should be. There was no light in their eyes, no life left. Their light had been taken from them.
These children...raped each night... seven, ten, fifteen times every night. They were so young. Thirteen, eleven… it was hard to tell.
Sorrow covered their faces with nothingness. Except one girl. One girl who wouldn’t watch the cartoons. Her number was 146. She was looking beyond the glass. She was staring out at us, with a piercing gaze. There was still fight left in her eyes. There was still life left in this girl...
"The number pinned to her dress was 146..."
I will never forget the emotions I felt that night. These emotions begin to wreck you. Break you. It is agony.
It is aching. It is grief. It is sorrow. The reaction is intuitive, instinctive. It is visceral. It releases a wailing cry inside of you. It elicits gut-level indignation. It is unbearable.
I remember wanting to break through the glass. To take her away from that place.
To scoop up as many of them as I could into my arms. To take all of them away.
I wanted to break through the glass to tell her to keep fighting. To not give up. To tell her that we were coming for her…"
Because we went in as part of an ongoing, undercover investigation on this particular brothel, we were unable to immediately respond. Evidence had to be collected in order to bring about a raid, and eventually justice on those running the brothel. It is an immensely difficult problem when an immediate response cannot address an emergency.
Some time later, there was a raid on this brothel and children were rescued. But the girl who wore #146 was no longer there.
We do not know what happened to her, but we will never forget her. She changed the course of all of our lives.
We have taken her number so that we remember why this all started. So that we must tell her story. It is a number that was pinned to one girl, but that represents the millions enslaved. We wear her number with honor, with sorrow, and with a growing hope. Her story can be a different one for so many more.
Love is in our name, because it is our motivating drive to end child sex slavery and exploitation. We believe love to be the foundation of real, sustainable change.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."
We hold that to be true. Love protects and defends the vulnerable and oppressed. Love restores the broken and empowers survivors.
"Are we listening?"
I often hear people refer to victims and survivors of child trafficking and exploitation as "voiceless" and "helpless." I disagree.
They are the most resilient, courageous, and tenacious people I have ever met. And they have a voice. The question is...are we listening?
Will we add our voice to theirs? Will we be part of a collective shout that leads to action and eventually ends this horrific injustice against children?