Sex Trafficking, Statistics, and the Stories We Never Forget…
To the ones who we lost, to the ones yet to be found
Which is great, and so needed. I mean we have always tried to keep measurable results, but now we are taking it to a whole ‘nother level of reporting. What it has meant for me this last week was to go back and graph all the stories of individuals assisted throughout the last year.
Documenting numbers, to help create accurate statistics. Numbers are so needed in the world of anti-trafficking, as so often people scoff at the huge statistics passed around when it comes to addressing modern day slavery.
But when you have been in direct contact with a trafficked person, every number has a face, and every face has a story, and every story starts long before the abuse of human trafficking.
I remember one of the first girls we interviewed, three years ago; she was trafficked into South Africa from Burundi on the promise of a job. When she sat down to tell her story though, it started almost 15 years before. She told us that when she was 9 years old her family was caught up in the Hutu/Tutsi conflict. After their neighbours massacred her mother, this little girl went digging through the bodies to try and say goodbye. Then one by one her family died or was killed, until she was left with just one sister. The same sister who introduced her to her trafficker and encouraged her to set off for South Africa in search of a job and a new life. When this girl arrived in Cape Town, she worked as a forced domestic worker for several months without receiving any pay. Then her trafficker informed her that she had been sold to a man and would have to marry him unless she paid off a debt that was the equivalent of $2,000 USD. When the 2008 xenophobic attacks broke out, she was able to escape her traffickers and hide out in a refugee camp. She worked when she could and saved all her money and when the UN gave a stipend to refugees wanting to leave the camp, she took all she had saved, and all she was given, and paid her debt to her trafficker. She was free, but she then ended up broke and homeless on the streets of Cape Town.
Every number has a face, and every face has a story.
People tell me that some of our stories of human trafficking are ‘unbelievable’. Mostly because it is hard to believe that so many bad things can happen to one person. While we love to focus on the successes, and the people who get out, there are the stories that are never told. There are the ones who don’t get out, the ones who are too far-gone to want out, and the ones who are never found. The girl who gets trafficked twice before the age of 15, and when she is finally rescued, her family refuses to take her back. The one who a naïve service provider allows to go back into the brothel to get her clothes, and is never seen again. The one who wants to leave her violent pimp, but the pull of crystal meth is too strong. The one who refuses to accept the fate of forced prostitution and ends up jumping out a window to her death.
When we collect numbers and statistics, I remember every one behind it, the good and the bad. The stories too horrible to share, the stories to personal to exploit by making public, and the stories you are ashamed of because you know you could have done more.
I think every abolitionist has that one, the individual that changes you; the one you will never stop looking for. I have my one. I know so much about her it is like we have met. The worst part is, we haven’t found her yet. I have looked and looked and prayed and searched, and come so close. I think about her all the time. Many others have been found because of the search for this one. But always we were not quick enough, or they were tipped off, or the police decided not to act, and then one day she was gone, almost like she never was. For every successful statistic, behind it is still the knowledge that this one is still not found. So many times I wish I could just look her in the eyes and tell her she was not forgotten. So badly I want her to know that all those days we were looking, and that I was praying, and that she is still not forgotten, wherever she is now.
We have a lot to celebrate these days. Systems have improved, protocol has been written, task-teams formed, and this year many prosecutions are going forward. The climate around Human Trafficking in South Africa is changing. It is no longer an obscure issue, completely unknown. So much groundwork for future success has been laid, and I am a huge advocate for focusing on the hope, celebrating the daily success stories, no matter how small.