A house where three women escaped is shown Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in Cleveland. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who went missing separately about a decade ago, were found Monday in the home just south of downtown Cleveland and likely had been tied up during years of captivity, said police, who arrested three brothers. (Photo: AP/Tony Dejak)
The news shot lightening speed across all media: Three young women long disappeared, presumed dead, were alive. And with the help of a neighbor they were free. As details surfaced, I found myself pulling away from business to check for updates. But for the pure rush of joy, nothing beat that first news flash: The door was forced open; the prisoners were free.
When you heard, did your heart leap?
Then do this: Picture those faces—Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus—and multiply them millions of times over to begin to have a realistic picture of slavery around the globe—children and women and men as unsuspecting as our Cleveland girls, also hidden in plain sight. In the U.S., thousands and thousands of citizens and internationals are unwilling participants in the perverse commerce of sex slavery and forced labor. Worldwide, the United Nations cites estimates as high as 27 million.
The sick suspect in Cleveland? He’s a footnote to the sophisticated network of slavery worldwide, ginning as much as $31.6 billion in annual profits.
My enlightenment—when slavery and trafficking victims changed for me from headlines to human faces—came several years ago when I could no longer get out of a mission trip to India. As a pastor of a large and affluent church in Southern California, I knew about India’s “untouchables,” its large population of “Dalits,” the world’s most trafficked people. I knew our church supported a couple of schools for Dalit children. All good; but India was a big space on the map and a long way away.
Then I was there, and I met two Dalit young ladies rescued from being sold into prostitution, and I heard them tell their stories. And every fuzzy statistic faded into two sets of eyes and the pain of two specific girls. “I’m in,” I prayed that night. “Tell me what You want.”
The three woman abducted and abused in Cleveland along with Roopa Raju (far right), a Dalit woman caught in the web of human trafficking before seeking help at the Tarika Women's Center, a Christian ministry. (Photos: FBI handouts and George Thomas of CBN.)
In this case, offering help started with our church providing funds to build schools for Dalit kids because daily education means safety now and opportunity long term. Then the church made a movie, NotTodaythemovie.com, to help raise awareness.
And here you are, newly aware, because of three women forced into slavery. The victims have real faces. And in the absence of audible screaming voices to respond to, if you’re wondering what you can do, here’s the short list:
- Be vigilant. Is there a child in your neighborhood not attending school? Treated differently than other kids? That girl bussing the restaurant table . . . is anything suspicious? You do better to misinform the authorities than to miss a cue.
- Be Informed. If something seems wrong, step away and call the authorities. Have a plan. Know slavery’s likely hot spots—as in events surrounding the Super Bowl—and refuse to abide evil.
- Be Involved. Neighbors heard the Cleveland girls’ screams and ran over. You’d be surprised how many people avoid getting involved.
- Be the change. Look into anti-slavery organizations like The A21 Campaign, Abolition International, Dalit Freedom Network, International Justice Mission, Operation Mobilization, Salvation Army and many others.
Thank God someone was there to be the hero in Cleveland. Guess what? You can be a hero, too. Keep your cape ironed and your tights in the top drawer.
This week, freedom happened and victims of cruelty acquired a face. Across the street or across the globe, you can help others like them. Because if one of us is enslaved none of us are free.
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