Taken vs. Tangled

I am learning that human trafficking sometimes looks less like the film Taken, and more like the Disney movie, Tangled (which depicts the story of Rapunzel- who is, in reality, a trafficked minor trapped in domestic servitude).  Absolutely, there are millions of cases of international abduction into the sex trade.  The horrific criminal activities portrayed in the movie Taken happen every day in real life.  At the same time, other more subtle, but no less devastating, schemes are unfolding right before our eyes.  Right under our noses.

Here’s why we miss it:

In Taken:  The victim is moved against his/her will across state, or national boundaries.
In Tangled:  The abuse takes place in the home (or a familiar home), neighborhood, school, church, or community in which the victim lives.

In Taken:  The perpetrator is a stranger. Perhaps from a different country/culture/language.
In Tangled:  The perpetrator is a family member (parent, step-parent, sibling, step-sibling, grandparent, cousin, aunt or uncle).  Sometimes it’s a close friend, teacher, coach, pastor, or youth leader.

In Taken:  The victim is physically bound and gagged by chains or rope.
In Tangled:  The victim is bound and gagged by fear, love, shame, deceit, coercion, loyalty, promises, threats, dependence (emotional, physical, financial, legal), affection (or the longing for it), self-protection, the desire to protect the perpetrator, denial, unhealthy attachment, etc.

In Taken:  The situation is clear and easy to define.  We know who the bad guys are.
In Tangled:  The lines are blurred.  The perpetrator alternates abuse with affection (or even “staged rescue”) resulting in profound confusion for the victim, and obscured evidence from the outside.

In Taken:  The solution is simple:  Either “take out” or outsmart the bad guys, and rescue the victim by force.  Return the victim to safety, and he/she lives happily ever after.
In Tangled:  The survivor has to come to the realization that he/she has actually been victimized– by someone close.  Once the abuse survivor finds the courage to face truth and speak truth, he/she then requires an arsenal of services and support:  law enforcement protection, legal assistance, counseling, medical attention, rehab, educational resources, family therapy, mentoring, vocational training and placement…  All of this takes a tremendous investment of time, effort, and funding.  It is a long, long process with many setbacks.

In the movie Tangled, Rapunzel is helped by a “gang of thugs” from the Snuggly Duckling tavern- people she once feared and avoided.  I like that metaphor for the Children’s Advocacy Center Thailand.  We are an unlikely collaboration of law enforcement, government organizations, and NGO’s working together in unexpected ways to bring justice and restoration to child victims.  Yet sometimes we are rescuing them from the only home they have ever known.  It doesn’t always look like I thought it would, but I’m learning that a home can be as much of a prison as a brothel.  And a child who is abused by family is in just as much need of recognition, rescue, and healing.

Humble Powerful Love

Ever wonder how Thailand has remained “free” while surrounded by communist dictatorships?  Me neither.  Until I moved here.  I have since learned that much of the freedom, relative peace, and general unity in Thailand are attributed to the “servant leadership” of the late King Rama IX.  In the wake of His Majesty The King’s death, I watched a documentary on his life.  Here are some major themes that emerge:

  1. Show up.  In person.  The King and Queen would spend 8 months out of the year traveling to visit the rural poor of Thailand and greeting them face-to-face.  One result is that the marginalized did not feel forgotten.  He left the palace, drove to their villages, and looked them in the eye with compassion.
  2. Listen.  Rapt attention is one of the most valuable gifts we can give to one another.  The King would never allow a precise time schedule because he needed to be “free to stop and talk with people” as they presented themselves.  This was while attending 826 official engagements per year.
  3. Protect daily solitude.  When asked why he spent time alone every day, the King explained, “I’m not lonely.  I have work to do.  The way of doing work is to have some concentration, that is, some peace.  And then one can think more clearly.  It is a way of preparing myself to be able to do whatever circumstances will have me to do.”
  4. Seek common solutions for the common good.  When asked if his irrigation projects were evidence that Thailand was winning against communist insurgency, the King answered, “Oh I don’t know.  But we are winning against hunger.  This is what we are doing…  We want to help people have a better life.  If we make this (project) and they have a better life, the people you call communist insurgents will have a better life also.”

I struggle with all of the above.  Often I’m in too much of a hurry to truly “see” people (much less seek them out), to take the time to listen attentively, to spend quality time alone in thought, and to pursue higher purposes (not just getting my way).

All of this points me to the ONE TRUE KING who not only demonstrated, but embodied all of these concepts (no one ever “showed up in person” in a bigger way).  And who not only calls me to a deeper love, but empowers me to live out that love.

For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:13)