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.