Three years ago I was sitting on a friend’s couch watching Liam Neeson do “what he does best” in a movie that I found profoundly interesting and entertaining: Taken. It was the first time I had watched this movie, finally, after all my friends kept telling me I needed to see it. At the time, I did not realize that this movie would change my life. It was my gateway into what is now my passion: anti-trafficking.
Today as I sat at my desk in my office at work, I thought back to all the times I did not know. One day in particular still bothers me:
It was pouring rain outside, so I opened the front door to the porch, but left the glass screen door closed. I grabbed my favorite book and lay on the couch. The sound of the rain hitting the windows mixed with the fresh air blowing through the house was so relaxing. I started to doze off when I heard, Tap! Tap! Tap!
At the door, there was a boy, no older than 17 or 18. He was sopping wet, wearing a backpack and had been riding a bicycle. I was ready to send him away because I knew he was going to try to sell something. I had already sent away three door-to-door sales people in two days! But, for some reason I felt like this kid deserved to be heard, so I decided to let him do his whole spiel before turning him away. With a thick British accent, he told me all about how I could learn about the human body with an anatomy book that looked like it had been through a medical exam or two.
“I’m sorry, I’m really not in the market for anatomy books,” I responded. I felt badly for him; he was getting soaked, but was not giving up on selling his product.
After trying to talk me into the book for a minute or two, he finally said, “Can I be honest with you? I really would just love a cup of tea.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t have tea.” The disappointment on his face made me feel even worse him.
“Coffee?” Poor kid. We didn’t even own a coffee maker.
I laughed. “Would you like to come in for a minute and dry off?” With a look of relief, he smiled politely and came inside. (Don’t worry, my roommate was home, too!)
He sat down with his glass of water. He was really quiet. We could tell that the rain wasn’t going to let up soon, so we asked him about his job. Through a series of questions we learned a lot:
He was from London. A friend told him about a job during the Summer that would take him to America to sell products. America. Land of the free. Here he would get to make new friends, lots of money and if he sold enough products, he would win a trip to some Caribbean Island or something like that. He would also get a free bicycle to use for his job. All he had to do was buy his plane ticket. When he got to America, he learned that in order to make that money he was promised, he had to go to at least 100 doors a day and sell 80 books a day. There was no chance of actually winning a trip or making much money. He was already out the cost of his plane ticket. Every morning he and the others in his group loaded into a van to be dropped off in different neighborhoods at 9 AM and picked up at 7 PM every evening. They each sold something different, so it was possible the other guys I had turned away were in his group. It turned out the job wasn’t as exciting as he thought. He didn’t get a lot of free time (if any) and he really missed London.
We all sat awkwardly silent, listening to the final sprinkles of rain.
Finally, he decided he should go. He stood up, hesitated, looked at the ground like he wanted to tell us something, but instead grabbed his backpack. Everything inside me felt off. I wanted to stop him and insist he stay for dinner. I wanted to drive him back to where he was staying. I wanted to ask more questions.
Instead, I said goodbye.
At the time I didn’t know why I felt like that, but looking back now there were so many signs. I believe this was my first experience with a trafficking victim.
Unfortunately, his situation is common. You may have encountered it yourself, but not known. It is so easy to be oblivious to what’s going on around us. We get wrapped up in our own worlds, but we come in contact with so many people in our everyday lives. This could be happening to anyone; from the door-to-door salesman to your favorite manicurist at the nail salon.
You might see something that doesn’t seem quite right, or have a bad feeling about it, but what can you do? We’ve all been there. We don’t ask questions. We don’t want to be bothered. Or maybe we just don’t know that these things happen.
I didn’t know about trafficking at that time, but I did know that something seemed odd about his story. I didn’t do anything. I let him leave. I can’t change that now. All I can do is keep the memory as a constant reminder of how often trafficking happens and as motivation to take action.
Trafficking happens. Around me. Around you. All the time.
I want you to know about it.
And now that you’ve read this, you can never again say that you did not know.
For more information on human trafficking and how you can help, visit http://www.rescueher.org.