It seems there is a never ending list of justice issues that need to addressed in our world. Really what do we expect from a bunch of fallible, sinful, wicked humans running around? One issue that is gaining more and more media attention is that of human trafficking.
I had the opportunity to get to know some amazing women in Thailand that are forced daily to sell themselves. They are beautiful girls but you can see the emptiness, the hopelessness, in their eyes and it will suffocate you. It was a joyous occasion when earlier this year one of the girls that I came to love sent me an e-mail with pictures of her no longer in the bars but working with a Christian organization.
Today I came across a disturbing article from Myrtle Beach, SC. It is about the luring of foreign university students with summer work programs in the U.S. It isn’t that I am unaware. I know the problem is huge and it is a major concern for the university students I work with in Ukraine. Here is a brief excerpt:
An Associated Press investigation found students forced to work in strip clubs instead of restaurants. Others take home $1 an hour or even less. Some live in apartments so crowded that they sleep in shifts because there aren’t enough beds. Others have to eat on floors.
They are among more than 100,000 college students who come to the U.S. each year on popular J-1 visas, which supply resorts with cheap seasonal labor as part of a program aimed at fostering cultural understanding.
A Ukrainian woman who said she was forced to strip in Detroit asked the AP to identify her only as Katya, because she fears for her life.
Katya, who used the same alias when testifying to Congress in October 2007 about how sex trafficking brought her to the U.S., said she was studying sports medicine in Kiev back in 2004 when her boss told her about the J-1 program.
Instead of waitressing for a summer in Virginia as she’d been promised, however, Katya and another student were forced to strip at a club in Detroit. Their handler confiscated their passports and told them they had to pay $12,000 for the travel arrangements and another $10,000 for work documents, according to court records.
Katya said he eventually demanded she come up with $35,000 somehow, by dancing or other means.
“I said, ‘That’s not what I signed here for. That’s not right.’ He said, ‘Well, you owe me the money. I don’t care how I get it from you. If I have to sell you, I’ll sell you.'”
The women were told that if they refused, their families in Ukraine would be killed, Katya said.
Over the next months, the two men beat the women, threatened them with guns and made them work at Cheetah’s strip club, court records state. Katya said one of the men also forced her to have sex, a memory she still struggles with.
The two men are now in prison, and Katya’s old boss in Ukraine is a fugitive. Katya was allowed to stay on a different visa designed for victims of human trafficking and other crimes, and her mother was allowed into the U.S. because of threats on her life in Ukraine.
(to read the entire article click here)
Many of the students I have come to love participate in Work and Travel programs during the summer. I read this and thought, “That could be someone I love.” I am simply not ok with that thought. Part of my responsibility is raising awareness, not just in Ukraine, but here because trafficking isn’t just an “over there” problem. It is here, right outside our doors. Home of Chick-Fil-A, the Braves, and Turner Broadcasting Network, Atlanta is also one of the top cities in our nation for trafficking and there are organizations standing up and fighting.
Personally I love it when I see a campaign that is creative and well done. To raise awareness about this issue, director Brandon McCormick has created a 30-minute film called the Candy Shop: A Fairytale about the Sexual Exploitation of Children. Street GRACE and Whitestone Motion Pictures have partnered together to launch a 12-month campaign against CSEC, which is the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
I encourage you to take 30 minutes of your time to watch this film online and then visit their Web site to find out what you can do to be part of ending this atrocity.
If you would like to impact the lives of students in Ukraine by supporting me, I am still in need of roughly $1,000 a month in support for this coming year and am leaving in 32 days. One time, monthly, there is no gift unappreciated or too small and you will be helping change lives. Click here to find out how to give.