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My Words as Weapons: Creepy American Tourists

My blog spans many themes and subjects, from light-hearted to serious, but my aim on Wednesdays is to be a human rights activist, usually tackling the atrocity of human trafficking, a.k.a. the modern slave trade.

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”
– William Wilberforce

Over the summer I read a book called Escaping the Devil’s Bedroom by Dawn Herzog Jewell, all about “sex-trafficking, global prostitution, and the gospel’s transforming power.”  While I read, I added tiny post-it notes to flag areas and content I found interesting, shocking, or that I knew I would want to address later.  It’s later now. Sometimes you just need to let information sit for a while to process.  Other times you forget, due to time lapsing, or laziness.  Mine was a combination of both, I think.  I’ve gotten into researching human trafficking fairly heavily a few times, but sometimes it just makes me so mad or sick that I need an emotional break.  Break’s over.  I believe I will use my post-it notes and this insightful book to inspire my next several Wednesday human rights posts.  Please share this information if you feel it can help make any difference.

American tourists don’t have a great global reputation.  This does not mean all American tourists are jerks or anything.  Sometimes I am an American tourist. However, we are often seen as rude.  I can top that.  Many people won’t believe this exists, but there is a whole network of global sex-tourism, and according to this book and World Vision, “Some predators travel specifically for ‘sex-tours’, expecting anonymity, low-cost prostitution, ready access to children, and immunity from prosecution.  Americans account for 25 per cent of child sex tourists, according to reliable global estimates.”   Sure, there’s another 75 per cent from other parts of the world, but how is it that one country alone accounts for so many creepy pedophiles on a mission to ruin the innocence of children in impoverished nations?


The other part of this appalling information that caught my attention was the information that followed.  I knew already that Thailand and the Philippines were huge prostitution destinations, and that children made up a disproportionate percentage of these “prostitutes”, but I was unaware that San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, had more than 300 brothels, rivaling the others in this industry.  “Commercial sexual exploitation of children in Costa Rica could involve as many as 5,000 sex ‘tourists’ every year.”

Photo borrowed from Rahab Foundation's page

Photo borrowed from Rahab Foundation’s page

The reason this shocked me so much is that I was in San Jose two summers ago on a mission trip.  I saw some of the areas from where the victims are lured.  Costa Rica is not a poor country, but the difference between the haves and the have-nots is enormous, making the have-nots perfect for such injustices.  Costa Rica is also a huge tourist destination, and some tourists like to take part in the ‘local attractions.’ Many of those families cannot afford to exist together, and most of these young people will not be able to attend school for long.  What other options do they have?

My mission team first expected to work with the Rahab Foundation, located in San Jose to help restore and reintegrate families involved in prostitution, but the schedule would not permit, so we worked with  Roblealto Child Care Association instead, where we were able to work with at risk kids who are cared for in a way that will give them hope and prevent them from entering prostitution.  Seeing these young kids, it is hard to think of the dangers they face, and I am glad organizations such as these exist.  Perhaps one day, after I learn better Spanish communication, I can get back to San Jose and work with these organizations to show unconditional love and hope to these young people.


Human Beings are NOT Commodities

Wrecked.  Anguished.  Destroyed.  Devastated.  Shattered.  Crushed.  Broken.

Normally, putting words together is something I can do fairly easily, but I cannot find words powerful enough to truly express and show my feelings after I watched last night an amazing documentary called Nefarious:Merchant of Souls.  Yes, it is as ominous as it sounds, as this documentary exposes the world of human trafficking for what it really is, and it is aptly named.  No other film ever made me cry as much as this, except maybe The Passion of the Christ.

I wasn’t completely unprepared.  I have been researching this atrocity for a while now.  I knew it would be difficult to watch and know the truth, but I wanted to press on anyway.  At one point in the film, I had to ask my husband to pause it because at that moment, I could not go further emotionally.  They were just finishing up with their journey into Cambodia, and it involved a pair of blood stained pajamas for a girl the age of seven.  SEVEN!  They had been found after a raid, I believe.

Once you know something like this exists, you cannot ignore it, which is why so many people choose to remain ignorant on the matter.  Yes, I said ignorant.  That doesn’t mean people are stupid.  It means they are uneducated in that area, and in this case, by choice.  But this cannot be ignored any longer.  Approximately 27 million people are enslaved around the world today.  About 80% of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation, and an alarming number of them are minors.  In fact, in the US, the average age of children trafficked for sexual exploitation is 13-14.  I’d like to give credit to the source where I got these numbers, but I’ve seen them time and again in the process of my research, from varied sources.

I remember learning about the abolitionist movement which existed before and throughout the Civil War, and I just figured that was history.  After all, it ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, right?  But slavery is more rampant today than it was even during the African slave trade.

Many people don’t want to acknowledge that all the prostitution in the world, both “legalized” and not, is a result of trafficking.  Sure, there are some women who seem to go into the “industry” willingly, but about 95% of them also come from a background of sexual abuse and little to no self worth, which means their vulnerabilities/weaknesses/past injuries were exploited.  Most women are tricked, coerced, or even kidnapped and forced into prostitution because no little girl ever says, “I want to sell my body when I grow up,” and demand from sexual perverts is high.  Human trafficking is the second most lucrative trade in the world.  After all, pimps can sell the same merchandise time and again.

Except they aren’t selling the same merchandise.  No.  Every time that girl, or young woman (or even boy or young man- it is not as common, but does happen) is sold, she loses another part of herself, of her soul.  So she is not ever the same, losing her identity and her value sometimes up to 30 times a day.

Trafficking is like an onion.  It has intricate layers, and it stinks!  Whether it’s legalized or not, if it exists in a country, you can be sure there are payoffs happening to government officials somewhere up the chain.

The first glimpse into this idea I think I ever knew of was in a fictionalized tale I read for my Women in Literature class back in college.  Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller is a fictionalized story of a Korean woman who had been sold by her own sister to be a “Comfort Woman” to Japanese soldiers during WWII.  The conditions were terrible and I was shocked by what I read.  I knew the story was fiction, but it had to be based off some truth, right?  Sometimes I would randomly think back on that.

Then I watched this video by Love 146 in church one Sunday, and it reminded me of that novel, only this was definitely real.

Since then I slowly began to research this modern day slavery.  I even was part of a 200 mile running relay race where my team decided to use the race to raise awareness and funding for Love 146.  My husband and I began to feel compelled by God towards doing more, but we haven’t really known what or how to do anything.  The mission trip I am about to embark on to Costa Rica will be a chance for me to work with the Rahab Foundation, an organization helping survivors from the sex trade to recover and rebuild their lives.

Like I said, I’ve felt for a while now that there is a future for me in this fight somewhere, alongside my husband.  But when I watched that documentary last night, all the little questions and doubts I had been having about whether it was a real calling or not completely left me, to the point where I could almost physically feel it (yeah, I know that’s weird).  I know that I cannot imagine myself doing anything else with the rest of my life but helping to put an end to this worldwide crime and to do what I can to work with these girls and women and to give them hope…

to give them God…

to share with them my favorite scripture… Jeremiah 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (NIV)

One of the women in the film who had been prostituted, but was rebuilding her life mentioned something about being a princess because her father is God, the King of kings.  The only way most of these women can ever get out of the mindset they have been put into is to have hope, and for most of them the only place they can find hope that deep is through Jesus.  Maybe you think that’s just a bunch of crazy religious fanatical stuff, but why is it people always have the instinct, whether they think they believe in God or not, to cry out to Him in their times of need?

If you want to learn more about this topic, there are countless organizations out there dedicated to this cause, including the ones I linked to already.  Please find one close to you and see if you can help.  Also, if this inspires you at all, please share it.  We need to raise up an army of abolitionists who will fight for those who currently have no voice.  Each of these “victims” or “survivors” has a story.  Each is a living, breathing, feeling person who should have hopes and dreams.  What gives any one person the right to put any other human being through something so inhumane?

My Summer Vacation by: Terri Klaes Harper

Summer is finally here, and many people have been asking me, “What do you plan to do with your summer break?  Don’t you get bored?”  As if I’m instantly pining away for the new school year to start. Here’s the truth on that matter:  Teachers aren’t sad during the summer.  We do not curl up in the fetal position and rock back and forth, begging for papers to grade as if experiencing school withdrawals.  It just doesn’t happen. NO!  We only have two months of the entire year to truly LIVE. Give us some credit.

What are my plans?  I plan on relaxing as much as possible (for ten months of the year I’m wound up so tightly, I make skinny jeans look comfortable)- blogging, reading books, writing and editing a book, sleeping in the hammock, spending quality time with my husband, running and working out, playing with my dogs, going to the beach, working on the house, cooking yummy food, chilling with friends, relearning Spanish, etc.

And when I’m not relaxing, I’m going to work on saving the world.  Yep- I’m going to make as much of an impact as I can on my mission trip to Costa Rica in July.  My secret wish is to be a superhero and end human trafficking.  I get to learn a bit about that this summer with the Rahab Foundation.  I feel my future holds my husband as my human trafficking fighting partner, and dogs as our sidekicks.  More on that later.

So, my question to you is, what are you going to do with your summer?