-By Philip Stoneman
This past Christmas, as thousands of credit cards were swiped and presents bought, transactions of a different kind were taking place. As many entered the brightly lit, music filled aisles of shopping malls, gazing in awe at all the goodies on offer; buyers lined the sordid dark passageways of the organized crime retail stores. Tinsel and tassels mingled with cheap perfume and cigarette smoke, expensive cognac and cocaine consumed as prices were haggled.
The price is pushed up, no Christmas discount here and a young girl still in her prime , is sold. The melodious sound of Ed Sheeran’s “Best part of me” and Maroon 5 “Memories” form a musical backdrop to the transaction. The young girl begins to forget the best part of who she is, a distant memory. She is sold to a middle aged prostitutor. Her soul, sold to a (devil?), is taken by force and injected with addiction. She is a no name brand to the seller – just a number, a commodity to be sold, resold and later discarded like an unwanted gift.
Trafficking in Persons is the modern day equivalent of slavery, but it doesn’t happen in some far off land or continent, it is a daily reality in South Africa. Transactions of people – girls, boys, someone’s sister, somebody’s daughter or son, takes place in our communities under our very eyes. And while we were getting ready for our Christmas celebrations, the finishing touches to parcels of people were carefully completed.
So how widespread is the problem?
According to the National Freedom Network, the 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates 248,700 people live in conditions of modern slavery in South Africa. While FAAST (Faith Alliance Anti-Slavery and Trafficking ) reckon an estimated 27 million people are enslaved.
I could present all the different statistics from a number of sources to try and convince you that the situation is dire. It is dire; it is both bad and scary, but I want to appeal to your heart and present a picture of what these girls ( even boys) and young women go through. The stories I’m about to share are based on the experiences of two young ladies who had been trafficked. (Naomi and Ruth – definitely not their real names! )
Naomi answered an advert for work. The opportunity sounded promising, she knew there was a possibility the work may affect her morals a bit, but she was ok with it – she needed the money. Everything seemed good at first, the interview went well and she was welcomed with open arms. She was treated like royalty. Picked up and chauffeured to her first residence, a palatial home. Within hours though, she was moved to a house she would never have considered entering, let alone living in. Her senses dulled, possibly as a result of the drugged orange juice she had just drank, she agreed. Then the nightmare began…
The assault, abuse and violence started almost immediately. She was told what to do, how to do it and with whom. Multiple transactions took place daily, and she was bought and sold repeatedly….six, seven or even 8 dozen times within the first week, and more the second week. The drugs pressed her further and deeper into this living nightmare, until somehow, by grace, she escaped. The damage done, she escaped physically but mentally and emotionally she was still held captive by the memories.
Ruth, thought she knew what she was getting into, but the manipulation, threat of violence and drug use ensnared her. As if caught in quicksand, she began to sink; tentacles reaching out and grabbing hold of her throat, arms and legs whilst slowly suffocating the life from her.
A downward spiral begins, with moments of consciousness alternating with drug induced euphoria and paranoia. The tentacles replaced with iron shackles as the drug addiction takes hold. The pain of the memories, dulled and pushed back by the methamphetamines in her system. Her new Gaoler is alert and focused on keeping her captive, she won’t escape so easily from this jail. Solitary confinement for her is not a punishment, but her own personal choice. It helps her withdraw from others and from her true self. It helps her put up barriers and walls, and when the light of a rescuer shines into her dark self-inflicted cell of her soul, she withdraws into the shadows, scared of the light. She is her own jailer with her own key to freedom, but she lacks the strength to turn the key to freedom. She is held captive by her own pain. The nightmare continues, but outside her jail cell her rescuer taps lightly, wanting to help. It is her true self, but she doesn’t recognize herself. She needs outside help.
Each one of these girls, hurt in unimaginable ways, exploited and abused, are representative of the thousands, even hundreds of thousand exploited and used by the human trafficking and organised crime syndicates.
Can they be rescued? Yes, They can be, but many rescued from their physical jails they find themselves in, remain psychologically captive. The task of rescuing trafficked victims from their own psychological and emotional imprisonment is a daunting and seemingly insurmountable task.
However, the journey of finding healing and restoration is found not only in a counselling or therapeutic session, but in care, support and encouragement from an understanding community.
Healing doesn’t only take place within the counselling session, but in the context of “renewed connections” where emotional safety is encouraged and trust rebuilt. That can only take place when society and communities become aware of and are educated about Trafficking in Persons and the long term emotional and psychosocial effects of human trafficking.
You and I can become a part of the solution and make a difference by knowing more and speaking out.
If you would like to know more about what is being done in South Africa or would like to help, please go visit the following websites:
If you, or someone you know needs help :
Salvation Army Anti-Human Trafficking SA HELPINE
Toll free: 08000 RESCU (73728)
#Trafficking in Persons