Honestly, I’ve never been one to care much about problems that don’t affect me.
What can I say? I’m a privileged American.
And then I moved to India.
It’s been seven months in this place, a country where problems abound on every street corner, and beyond the street corner: corruption, social inequality, impunity based on wealth, gender, and social status…just to name a few.
At some point, I sort of just accepted this.
In the past three years, I haven’t spent much time in America. I’m an international model, and as glamorous as that may sound, it’s secondary to the kinds of horrors I have witnessed in both the lower income and developed nations I have lived in and traveled through.
Thailand. Indonesia. Italy. And now India.
In Bangkok I saw young Thai girls on the streets, scantily clad and searching for work. In Milan, 14-year old models clung to the hips of any man who gave them the time of day. At the time, it was easy to overlook. I simply shook my head and brushed it off.
And then I saw what I didn’t see: As I scrolled casually through Facebook, a video from Brooklyn-based nonprofit ECPAT-USA about the prominence of child sex trafficking. In America?
Curious…and then, confused.
Because while I had always enjoyed my status as a self-proclaimed “global citizen,” in reality I had turned a blind eye to the horrors that were happening in my own backyard.
I think many Americans believe our country is guarded by some sort of stronghold, where bad is dealt with and/or ferreted out by law enforcement and the justice system.
But no country is immune. Child sex trafficking is not discriminatory. It is not limited to lower income countries, such as India, or countries with few resources. As Americans, we often think our country is above this type of crime.
But we’re all part of the same species.
In an increasingly connected world, there are more opportunities than ever for offenders to exploit children.
And oftentimes, children are trafficked in their own neighborhood, their own block, even in their own home.
“But surely our kids are smart enough to spot danger like this.”
Children are vulnerable, be it because of their lack of experience, their development, or simply their youth. Traffickers and pimps in the U.S. are known to prey on children as young as nine-years-old. We cannot expect a nine-year-old to handle this type of situation. By nature, children place a lot of trust in adults. We need to teach them what to look out for.
We need to teach them the signs. And we must teach the responsible adults around them, too.
“But surely we can seek out offenders, and prevent all this from happening!”
Given the statistics, offenders come in all shapes and sizes: young, old, foreign, domestic. It’s hard to seek out the perpetrators, to hold them accountable. We cannot simply hand over the problem to the cops and hope they will identify and stop the trafficking. This is a complex social problem that feeds on youth vulnerabilities and requires us to seek preventative measures by informing our youth of warning signs.
“But surely if it was a big problem, I would have heard about it.”
I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of times I have thought the exact same thing.
It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the things you don’t want to see. It’s an uncomfortable topic and that makes it hard for people to come to terms with accepting it, especially when it’s going on in their own country or community.
I cannot continue to call myself a global citizen if I fail to inform myself about problems happening in my own backyard. I can continue to travel for the rest of my life, but what good does that do if I remain uninformed about what’s happening in my own country and neighborhood?