by Mark Stephenson, Director of Programs
Suppose you were in a hostage situation in a bank. The criminals in dark masks wanted to rob the place and run. Instead, they find themselves pinned down by police inside a bank full of innocent bystanders.
Imagine you are one of their hostages and you are sitting in a chair next to the door. In a flash you realize that all the armed bank robbers have their back turned to you. You have a choice. You could stay or you could run. There’s a chance that if you stay you could die. There’s also a good chance that if you run out the door, you could be noticed and shot by one of the bank robbers.
Now what if in the midst of this dilemma someone from outside the bank grabbed a megaphone and said to you, “You are free. Why don’t you just run out? You could choose freedom and yet you choose to sit in that bank and appease your captors. It’s your own fault that you are still a hostage. You have no one to blame but yourself.”
How would you feel about what that person just told you? Is it true that you are free? Is it true that you have a simple choice to make? No, that decision is anything but simple. The option of staying and the option of running are equally dangerous and life threatening. You might think to yourself, “Real freedom doesn’t just mean having a choice between any two options. Real freedom must include a good option – a viable choice.” And you’d be right.
The problem with human trafficking is that too often we are the one’s with the megaphones yelling into the bank from the outside. For young children and youth who are trapped in the dark world of sex trafficking, escaping to freedom often seems as dangerous as enduring the nightmare of human trafficking.
The dictionary defines the word freedom as:
1: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
2: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another
It is easy enough to understand the second definition of the word freedom. We understand what it might mean for someone enslaved in child sex trafficking to be set free from his or her captor. It’s more difficult to understand the first definition.
These young victims have no freedom. They daily experience a life with no real choices. Their choices are constrained. Their decisions are coerced. Real freedom for them means not just having a choice but having a real choice. Choosing between getting beaten nearly to death or sleeping with 15 men is not a real choice. Choosing between an escape attempt that could mean death or being sold night after night to married men with a dark secret is not a real choice.
Harriet Tubman, the famous abolitionist from which we take our name, was once quoted as saying “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Part of the enslavement of human trafficking is not knowing that there is a way out. Part of the darkness endured by sex trafficking victims is the lie that there is no hope for their future.
Araminta seeks not only to offer liberation from slavery for those enslaved in child sex trafficking, but also to offer a life of real choices, unconstrained options, and un-coerced decisions. We hope to offer trafficking survivors not just freedom from their trafficker but also freedom from a narrow future confined by their past.
In the month of July we celebrate Independence Day for our nation. This is a good time to consider what real freedom looks like to you. This July, what might real freedom feel like to those who have only known the bondage of modern day slavery? How can you join this mission to offer a holistic kind of freedom to those who can’t yet see a way out?