In honor of the A21 Walk for Freedom that will be taking place world wide this weekend, I would like to dedicate this weeks “thinks” to raising awareness for those who are victims of modern day slavery. If you have not yet signed up for the walk, you can go to A21to see if there are any events in your city.
In the last few years, I have become very passionate about the injustices that happen on a daily basis. I have gone through training programs both for international and domestic trafficking prevention, met with survivors, jumped out of vans, and even almost been a victim myself (That’s another story for another day, but God put some amazing people in my life who prevented that from happening).
You might be thinking….
“Ok, Joy that’s great. I feel bad too, but I have no idea where to start. To be honest I actually feel guilty that I… well, maybe, I don’t care as much as I should. But, I don’t even know what to do or where to start. Maybe its a calling of some kind? You know, a ‘Spiritual direction’ type thing?”
I totally get how you feel. It is overwhelming. 27 million people is more than the population of Texas. Getting lost in an ocean of numbers makes it seem like there are no ends to the broken cycle. I completely understand where you’re coming from. In fact, I wasn’t always that passionate either.
I am the biggest hypocrite
In 2012-2014 I flew for Delta airlines as an international flight attendant. I got to meet some amazing people, visit many countries, and received training for many global topics. One of those things I received training for was human trafficking.
In 2013 after about two months after my anti human trafficking training, I was on a flight from MSP (Minneapolis) to NRT (Tokyo/Narita). I flew this trip often because of the Japanese language speaking positions on these particular flights. I was working in coach on this particular flight when I noticed something out of the ordinary.
As I was serving meals to the passengers, I noticed a “family” that was acting very strange.
They were taking up three end seats. A young boy was by the window, his young mother was sitting next to him in the middle, and a man who could have been as old as the young lady’s father was sitting on the end.
At first I dismissed any negative thoughts. I didn’t want to make any false assumptions or judge their family situation. That would just be very rude. But after a series of events, I knew something was wrong.
Any time I would ask the young lady or the boy any questions, the man would answer.
Whenever either of them needed to use the restroom, he would go with them.
They claimed to be from the states, but the boy could not speak any english.
The young lady and the young boy had no personal possessions.
Any kid younger than 10 would normally have something to entertain themselves with on a 12+hr flight.
All of these red flags.
As the passengers deplaned the aircraft, I watched as the man got out of his seat.
He held up everyone behind him, waited for the other two to get out of their seats, followed them out of the plane, and held both of their identification information.
I knew something was wrong. That was no family! I saw it in the kids eyes. He was terrified. I knew that look. The look of complete fear and helplessness.
But I said nothing…
As I cleared through customs with my flight crew, I kept looking back. They were going to a connecting flight to Thailand. All connecting flights cleared customs in a different area than those that were staying in Japan.
I felt sick.
But what if it was nothing?
What if they really were family?
Maybe they were on vacation?
I could humiliate them if I caused a scene.
I must be over thinking all of this.
I mean, that’s what I always do.
Joy, it’s what you always do, you worry too much.
This is nothing!
Surly by now TSA would have caught on if they were victims.
Who’s going to listen to me anyway?
All the way to the hotel in my crew bus, my mind continually raced.
That night I tried to sleep… but I couldn’t.
Who was I kidding?
I KNEW this was a trafficking case!
But who would I notify now?
I tossed and turned for a while and remembered that I had written down the trafficking hotline in my laptop.
I could call them!
Wait, I had Skype on my computer!
It should get through to someone!
I also remembered the flight paperwork to NRT showed their connecting flight. I dialed the number from my laptop, and my mind began to fill with hope. I pictured the young boy and his mother being free. He could go to school, she could go to college, get her career, be happy.
I was so anxious for someone to pick up.
Then finally a voice
“Blue Lighting hotline, how can I help you?”
“Hi, I would like to report a trafficking case”
“Ok can you describe the individuals and how you see this as a trafficking case”
I went on to tell her what I saw on my flight. As I told her the details, her voice went from calm to a sense of urgency.
“Where are they now?”
“They are on a flight to Thailand, I can even tell you what time they’re landing!”
“They’re not with you?”
The next few words make my heart sink to my stomach…
“We will do everything we can…. but with the restrictions that we have, it might be… too late.”
I honestly don’t remember what was said after that.
I got off the phone and laid in my bed.
What had I done!
If I had reported this sooner.
Are they going to find them?
Will they be rescued?
I didn’t sleep that night. Instead, I cried until I was completely numb. The flight back to the US I was a complete mess.
As soon as I got home I began looking for answers.
I wanted to know everything about how someone could be rescued.
That’s when I found A21. I learned that there were organizations that risked everything to see people like this family be set free. There were lawyers, doctors, skill/trade teachers who did this professionally, all to see justice.
After reading all of these ways of hope, I couldn’t stop crying.
I bowed my head (mostly in shame) and cried out to God.
“God I FAILED! These people… I saw them, They’re still out there!”
That’s when I made God a promise.
“If you will keep my eyes open, I will never stop looking…”
God has kept my eyes open ever since
Its shocking and heartbreaking to realize that human trafficking is not a just problem that happens overseas. Since that flight, I have met many incredible people who have given their lives to this cause. Many of them have taught me how to be active in the fight against human trafficking.
I know today’s thinks was a bit somber. Human trafficking is never an easy or light-hearted subject to talk about. As I have learned, taking a stand against modern-day slavery does not take a PhD to do. It takes everyday individuals like you and I to stay vigilant. Not everyone is meant to kick in a door of a brothel, that I understand. But there are so many ways that we can all get involved in joining the fight.
I hope you were in some way inspired by today’s post. And please don’t make the same mistake I did. If you see something, say something. It’s going to take all of us to put an end to this.
National Human Trafficking Hotline