When is the last time you bought tennis shoes? We don’t think anything about going into a store, looking at shoes, trying them on and then choosing to buy some. When is the last time you had your nails done? You go in tell them what you want done, you pick out a color or style and they do it (or at least that is what Nell, my wife, tells me). These are normal everyday occurrences for most of us. Would you ever think of human trafficking while doing these things? Probably not.
This past weekend we hosted a group of women from Westside Baptist Church, Killeen, TX. They were here to learn about human trafficking. They were given resources and training, participated in a van tour around Houston seeing different sites and how human trafficking takes place all around us. Another aspect of the learning process was to actually go out and inform businesses about the problem and leave flyers and the national hot line number. This was done in partnership with United Against Human Trafficking. We divided up into three groups and headed out to businesses around a major shopping mall. As my group went from business to business we got almost all positive responses in accepting the flyers and understanding the immense problem of human trafficking. Two instances particularly stood out among our visits. The first was to a national chain store that sells athletic shoes. We approached the young woman at the counter and explained who we were and what we were doing. To our surprise, (although we really shouldn’t have been) she related a story to us that happened less than a month ago. A young teenaged girl came into the store late one afternoon. She looked upset, disheveled, bruised and crying. After a few short questions, it was relayed to the store employee that this young woman had been “pimped out” by her boyfriend. She had been beaten by him the night before, and she didn’t know what to do. The management at the store contacted the local police who came, intervened and took the girl to safety. This was not a case of prostitution. This was a case of human trafficking which involved the use of fear, force and/or coercion.
A few stores down we entered a nail salon. There were at least 10 different stations all full and working hectically it seemed. Again, we explained who we were and what we were doing. The woman at the counter spoke broken English. She stated that she was Korean and that the manager was out of town and only came in occasionally. She could not accept any literature or talk to anyone about this without him. It appeared that all of the employees where Asian and young. We thanked the lady as we left but noted the situation. We know that many nail salons can be a front for labor trafficking. They force young women to work long hours, for little or no wages. They work a little while at one place then are moved to another. Many times they have been promised well-paying jobs only to find out that they are unable to leave and kept under deplorable conditions. There will be a follow-up visit to try to gather more information and a possible report to the National Human Trafficking Hot Line 888-3737-888.
Human trafficking is sadly happening all around us whether we want to believe it or not. We need to be aware, informed and called to action. After this weekend, the group of women from Killeen was ready to go back to their city, get to work and make a difference in Jesus’ name.