AN ALL TOO COMMON TALE
When I started working at the call center that year, I didn’t really know how this meaningless job would impact me so greatly. Yes, it was the worst, soul-sucking job of my life, but for six months the $18.90 an hour was motivation enough to drag my feet to work everyday. For that much money, I’ll basically do anything you tell me to do (um, well, within reason, of course). However bleak it all was, and as much as it seemed there was no light at the end of my tunnel, the people I met will remain ones I remember forever. The stories told were burned lovingly to memory. With the same 10 people every day, I felt like these people were my people, my family, my little credit-card activating tribe.
On the floor, we would turn our chairs around and share cookies, personal family woes, and lament about our failure to meet the daily goals. I remember one young lady on the team named Anna. She was bright, cheerful, sassy on the phones, but ever-present and engaged during those wait times together. We weren’t allowed to have our cell phones on us while at our desks, but against all the rules, I would often overhear her talking to her mother. She spoke a lovely, foreign tongue that I guessed was Russian.
“Where is your family from? From Russia, I would assume?”
“No, actually. We’re from Moldova.”
“Oh, I know about Moldova. The smallest, poorest country in Europe, is it not?”
She was surprised, to say the least, to find someone who even knew the country’s name, let alone anything about it. “How do you know about Moldova?”
I explained, somewhat hesitantly, that I had watched a brief documentary about the problems of sex-trafficking in Moldova (video below). Because they are the poorest economy, the girls are so easily manipulated into promises of high earning salaries at restaurants and clubs, but end up being forced into the sex industry. Realizing that I had not emphasized the country’s stronger suits, I concluded by saying that it seemed like a beautiful place.
Her surprise was nothing compared to mine when she nodded knowingly, telling me that her own cousin was a victim of sex trafficking for a few years before they found and rescued her.
When I look back, I remember a casual conversation. There were no tears, no hugging, no rallying, no presentations, no call for action. Only a girl named Anna who bluntly gave me a fact of her life. A fact that remains a constant in far too many families. I felt so close to my new friend, I felt like her cousin was my family, too. I was quietly enraged, powerless, impassioned. These feelings still remain with me.
I am reminded of that moment when I read articles about young women (from Moldova, no less) who were promised double their current pay to work in Greece.* Girls respond to newspaper advertisements that prey particularly on the vulnerable. Many of these girls aren’t sexually abused, aren’t already working in the sex industry, and certainly aren’t interested in this lifestyle, but rather have a simple desire to care for their families. Once they arrive on the ground of whatever country is welcoming them, the only open arms are those of the pleasure-driven and money-mongering. Their passports are taken away, as well as any sense of dignity, hope and self-respect.
“Once they arrive on the ground, the only open arms are those of the pleasure-driven and money-mongering. Their passports are taken away, as well as any sense of dignity, hope and self-respect.”
It is estimated that in Greece alone there are nearly 2,000 women trapped in sex-trafficking. An approximate total of 500,000 are enslaved in all of Europe. As much as I was surprised to find that my co-worker had one degree of separation from this modern day slavery, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the world could sing a similar tune. With 13-27 million enslaved world-wide, you have a better chance of knowing a victim of slavery than a celebrity.
What if it was your cousin, your sister, your brother, your mother? I know that’s a common phrase used to make us sympathetic, but it’s true. They are our family. What lengths would you go to, to make sure that this abuse, manipulation and horror stopped? We don’t need to be quietly enraged, feeling powerless as I did. Whether it’s carry the torch of awareness, sharing stories, watching videos, correcting people when they say it’s not an issue, we can do something. It’s up to you.
— Leah Sookoo (intern)