7.31.2014

If Evil has a best friend, it's Apathy.

Since my first exposure to the reality of sex-slavery and human trafficking, I've been trying to get my head around the whole mess of it. I wanted to understand it better, so I've tried to learn as much as I could about the history and the politics that drive it. I researched and read and talked to leaders in the anti-trafficking movement. I became aware of my own role in it, as I tried to see myself clearly in this injustice, both as a contributor to the problem and as part of the solution. (Yes, I'm both.)

But it's been a year now, and I'm still pretty confused.

I've spent the last 12 months trying to get my head around the language of modern day slavery and the fact that when we are using these words - word's like sold, smuggled, traded, transported, brokered, abused, starved, beaten, broken in – we're talking about human beings. Actual human beings. The kind with names and faces and families. The kind with dreams. The kind with hearts and souls. Real live people.

I've spent a year trying to get my head around the evil of it all, trying to figure out how anyone with an ounce of decency could treat another person – especially a child - like an object or an animal, a thing to be bought or bartered, used up, and eventually discarded. I've tried to understand the mentality of the mother who willingly sells her daughter's virginity, or the father who hands his son over to a sexual predator. I've tried to learn about the minds of the men and women who are drawn to the impoverished and needy the way vultures flock to the weak and dying. I've tried to find some sort of Grace for people who profit off the bodies of the young and vulnerable.

But, I'm still confused.

Initially it was hard to even consider how these terrible things come to pass, but it's not the “evil" part that has me baffled.

After looking at the big picture, I can actually kind of understand how slavery and trafficking have become so blatant in certain parts of the world. I can see how this particular brand of evil has been able to thread its way in to the moral fabric of the culture, eating away at the family unit and devouring the value of a life. It's not that hard to wrap your brain around how a murky cocktail of war and genocide, mixed with abject poverty, infant mortality, lack of education, and ongoing political unrest has created the perfect storm for exploiting the planet's poor and marginalized. There are millions of men, women, and children in SE Asia, perfectly groomed by the precariousness of their daily lives to fulfill the perverted demands of a broken world; cheap food, cheap goods, cheap labor, cheap sex. This is the survival of the weakest.

Last month, I sat in a dimly lit, sour smelling brothel and watched a group of men grabbing and pawing and touching teenagers dressed as half-naked school girls. Some of them wore pigtails to enhance the appearance of childishness, and they all rocked back and forth, with blank faces, to no beat in particular on an up-lit stage. Just rock step, rock step, rock step, forward and back, in tiny pleated skirts and towering heals, until some guy on the outskirts of the bar would pick them by number and they would be called down to sit on his lap for a while, or maybe leave with him for the hour. I watched a timid girl, repeatedly pulling her long hair forward to cover her exposed breasts, getting pointers from one of the veterans. “Rock step, rock step, rock step. You got it.”

Anyone you know?
That would be awkward.
I was supposed to be looking at the girls. I was supposed to be looking for the things The Exodus Road's undercover investigators told us they look for when they do “level one surveillance”, the little clues that can identify brothels with underage girls, and brothels who hold and sell women against their will, and brothels who traffic kids in from other countries. But I was staring at the men. I couldn't help it. In the Red Light districts of SE Asia, the brothel's guests hail from all over the world; white, black, asian, latino, American, European, African, Australian, Indian, Russian. You name it. You'll find sharply dressed business men and dirty hippies, muscle bound bros and scrawny geeks, old creepy pedophile looking dudes and young hot good looking guys - all there for the same thing.

Some of them don't even bother to take off their wedding rings.

I want to tell you that when I looked around at the faces of all those men, I saw evil. And maybe I did in some of them, but mostly I saw broken... I saw lonely... I saw addicted... I saw injured...

I saw men who believe the lie that wanting to have sex with a really young girl is normal. I saw groups of guys who believe the lie that “boys will be boys” and this is what boys do on a work trip. I saw men who could barely contain their shame, and I saw men doing shameless things. I saw them trying to drown their own brokenness in beer and bury it in boobs. I saw them pretending that paying for an intended act of love is the same as being loved. I saw the fear of rejection that lives in every man's heart made manifest. I watched it spill out and come to life in an eager willingness to degrade and abuse another human being, to devalue a soul, in exchange for a brief moment of pleasure - one minute to forget the pain of being fragile.

And maybe this sounds weird, but I can actually get my head around that. I'm not kidding. I can understand what drives it, for I, too, am broken, and I, too, am guilty of letting the shards of my shattered spirit cut their way to the surface of my life and hurt people. That kind of darkness isn't foreign to me. I mean, don't get me wrong; Sitting across from a greasy 63 year old who's groping a 17 year old who looks like a 13 year old still fills me with a special kind of rage (and it does make me wish I knew how to braid a legit, for real, Jesus-style bullwhip for some legit, for real, Jesus-style table flippin' and ass kickin'). I still believe that guy needs to be stopped. I still believe that girl deserves to be free. I still feel like the Red Light districts of SE Asia are crawling with... evil. But, what I'm saying is that I can see how we got here, to this place, where sprawling Red Light districts are plentiful, and where children's bodies are for sale, and where pimps and child molesters abound.

I guess it's just easy for me to see how a broken world full of broken people would have spots where the shattered pieces collect and congregate, surfacing like an open wound, in great need of care and healing.

I get all of that. I do. I believe that evil exists in the world (and in my own heart), so as I've spent this past year trying to learn as much as I could about all of this, it just wasn't shocking for me to consider the historical and cultural roots and the current driving forces behind modern day slavery and find the presence of “evil”. That really doesn't surprise me at all. I mean, duh.

But, you know what does surprise me? You know what I'm still super confused by?

Apathy.

I'm shocked by how easy it is to feel apathetic to the suffering of others. 

Sometimes it seems like we all know this atrocity exists, but we just don't actually give a shit.

That's the one part of this giant humanitarian disaster that lingers in my mind with a big fat question mark above it, like a huge neon sign, flashing “What-the-hell-is-going-on-around-here?!"

Most of us already know about human-trafficking.

A man directs a little girl to show off her flexibility...
in front of a brothel.
We know that young girls are being bought, coerced, or taken from rural villages and sold into slavery.

We know that children are being raped for profit on a global scale.

We know that bad men are traveling to certain cities where it's easier to buy little boys, or virgin girls.

We know that teenagers are being smuggled from one country to the next, to be used as sex slaves.

We know... but we don't really care. Or, maybe we just don't care enough to do anything about it.

One thing I've noticed this past year, as I've tried to understand this whole issue, is that we want to be entertained by the sad stories of slavery, but we don't want to be changed by them.

We want to pretend that perspective and awareness are as valuable action and service. But they're not. 

We want to be aware... but we don't really want to be involved.

Oh, how I wish I was pointing fingers at everyone else right now! I can't even tell you how much I wish I was talking about you, and not me. But that would be totally unfair, because I am so guilty of letting apathy rule my heart. It's hard to believe I could be apathetic after I've seen trafficked girls with my own eyes, and heard their stories with my own ears. It's hard to imagine that I could let those faces, those voices, those real live people, slip from the forefront of my mind, only to be replaced by grocery lists and orthodontist appointments and the numbers on the bathroom scale. But life is weird and it doesn't always make sense, so I find myself waffling back and forth between being a passionate advocate for The ExodusRoad's anti-trafficking efforts, and being a bored, self-absorbed, suburbanite who panics if there's no greek yogurt when I get home from the gym.

After a whole year of calling attention to the fact that real people are being bought and sold like cattle, it's my own apathy that I find so confusing.

I should know better! I've seen what happens when we stand by and do nothing because we're too apathetic to be affected, and I've experienced the exact opposite - the beautiful, life-giving things that happen when we choose to act on behalf of our fellow man.

I know "evil" is kind of a scary word, but there is real evil in our world. I don't care what your faith background is, this is a pretty undeniable fact. There are truly evil things happening right now to real people – real, living, breathing, dreaming boys and girls.

But we can't fight evil with apathy.

We can't change the world with inaction. 

We can't carry slaves toward freedom unless we, ourselves, can be moved. 

I do have sad stories of slavery to share with you, but when I do, I hope you'll do more than just read. Because I'm planning to invite you to become part of the solution. I'm going to ask you to care with a passion, and offer you a chance to take action. I'm going to invite you to do something small that will empower something big in the fight against modern day slavery. 

If evil has a best friend, it's apathy. The two seem to go hand in hand. And I don't know, but I think maybe it's time for us to forcefully push apathy out of the way, so we can kick evil right in the balls. 

Are you with me?