When I learned about human trafficking, I was living in Athens, Greece. I began to see very young girls in the doorways of the legal brothels. I recognized that these were not Greek girls. I began to ask questions — to study the issues — and ran head-on into human trafficking. Immediately, I understood that the challenges could not only investigate the bad actors buying and selling children. I also started asking about why the victims were mostly from a particular country and who was buying children to sexually exploit them. The answers were complicated and involved some of the same issues I’d been studying for years such as patriarchy and violence against women. But new issues expanded the complexities – borders, poverty, and greed. The process was like watching a slow-motion video of a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb. At first, I was frozen, literally overwhelmed with the magnitude of this social injustice with so many facets.
Then, I wanted to shout down the bad actors, march in front of city hall, and demand that the government do something. I wanted to be a voice for those who were trapped, vulnerable, abused, and sold. I began the conversation by calling on experts who had already been where I was now. In 1999 I invited Dr. Beth Grant to speak at our annual women’s conference led by the nonprofit my friends and colleagues had started. Dr. Grant told us about how they were serving girls in India. In that conference, I began to understand the impact of poverty and harmful traditional practices for girls. But there was more to learn and I studied. I became part of conversations around community tables that included university professors, women’s advocates, and even our Ambassador to Greece’s wife, Dr. Bonnie Miller. When I interviewed Dr. Miller for our Lydia Living magazine, I began to see the path to action more clearly.
I was ready to do something. It wasn’t that I wasn’t doing something all along. President Abraham Lincoln who fought to end slavery in the US was my model. He said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Sharpening the tools we have is a significant part of our job. Equipping our students to enter the battle with expertise that equals their passion is critical for abolition to succeed. Swinging a dull axe with ALL of your might misappropriates the energy we must bring to this battle. Education, critical thinking skills and thoughtful integration of the complexities must inform how we systematically deploy resources. A sharp ax, the right angle, the right place. . . that’s how to achieve the goal. We cannot afford to wildly attack the issues. We must study the issues first so we can be a voice and make a difference!