“The real bravery comes from the ones who have experienced injustice firsthand and decided to move forward.”
“Ten, 20, 30 …” She pauses and looks at me, “Sixty?”
We start again, “Ten, 20, 30 …” I sound out the word for her, “F-ooo-rrr …” She makes the noise at the same time as me, “Forty. Fifty … 80?”
I take a deep breathe, the numbers are all over the place; I realize she is guessing.
“Okay, let’s start again.”
We start to count, “Ten, 20, 30, 40, 50…” She trails off, “One euro?” She’s looking at me hopefully.
“No,” I point to the coins. “That is 50 cents. What comes after 50?”
Eventually we count the ten cent coins into a pile equaling one euro.
Then we start on the next pile of coins. It takes patience. I could count the money myself and be done quickly, but that isn’t the point.
The girl is just a few years younger than me. She never had the chance to go to school, but she is clever, hardworking and determined to learn. Counting money is a small step in re-claiming her life. Several months ago she was rescued from a house where a man had kept her as an object for his sexual pleasure. Her family sold her to him.
In the room next to us, another girl chatters about the best way to cook potatoes. She has her master’s degree in economics, but was sold into a brothel after “friends” promised her work in the Netherlands.
Human trafficking doesn’t discriminate.
Human trafficking carries the same level of depravity as the African slave trade, or the Holocaust, and yet one major difference is that it doesn’t target one race, religion or background.
Some will say it is the uneducated who end up exploited, but that is not the whole truth. We might see poverty as a major factor, but then I could tell you about Rachel* who ran away from her wealthy parents, only to be recruited into prostitution by a boyfriend who was actually a pimp. When her parents came looking for her, she refused to leave with them because she loves the man who is abusing her.
I have met many victims of human trafficking, and even more individuals working in the sex industry. There are stereotypes around their circumstances. There are push-and-pull factors that leave people vulnerable to exploitation. The recruitment and trauma may be similar, but while there are common denominators, not one story is the same. Each girl, each story, is unique.
One thing they do have in common is that they are brave.
They have to be.
It takes incredible bravery to learn to count at 18 years old. It is brave to start your life over after months, or even years, of captivity.
These are brave girls who have made choices we often cannot understand. These are girls who trusted the wrong person, or made wrong decisions, all because they desired to better their circumstances.
Sometimes people say those who advocate for victims of exploitation are brave, but I think so many simply made the decision they had to when faced with injustice.
The real bravery comes from the ones who have experienced injustice firsthand and decided to move forward. They testify against their pimps despite the danger. They advocate for others instead of choosing to hide away. They get up each day, and work towards bettering themselves and their situations when it would be easier to just give up.
Over Christmas I attended a party at a safehouse where 50 victims of human trafficking live.
The girls gathered together to sing us a song they learned. They began to sing and then they began to dance. The room became a sea of swirling colour, light, movement.
In that moment I had to step back and take a deep breath.
This is bravery. Dancing in the face of adversity. Singing in a foreign language.
On that day, the girls were laughing, holding on to one another, pulling one another into a circle of sisterhood. Together they are courageous. In their joy, they are brave.
The greatest slap in the face to the enemy that wished to destroy them, is that today they are laughing.
I think back to counting coins. The same girl is at the party, singing and laughing, she is full of giggles as she reaches out and pulls me into their dance.
This girl is a reminder of what it means to be brave.
Often I give up when things are difficult or when I am incapable. I lose my patience. I grow embarrassed. I walk away.
But this girl, she has suffered losses I cannot comprehend, at every turn she has been beaten down, abused, exploited and rejected, yet she chooses to learn to count those coins, to practice speaking a new language. She chooses to laugh and dance with the others—in that moment she displays a type of courage few of us will ever understand.
Gathered all together that day, I realised I was in the company of some of the most exceptional women on earth. The world may never hear their stories or know what they have endured, but they are each unbelievably brave and resilient. It is an honour to be accepted among them.
My word for 2013 is purpose.
That is how I want to live this year—not putting things off for another time. I have learned from working with victims of trauma that life holds many unknowns. This year, I long to grab hold of the opportunities available now. I long to be brave, to be purposeful, to maximize on the gift of freedom.
We can waste it or we can embrace it.
Inspired by these strong women we can step back, take a deep breath and plunge into a circle of sisterhood, joining in their dance of bravery.
My name is Saskia. Pronounced (sus-key-a). Cool Fact: Saskia means “valley of light.” The coolest part about that fact is that I have the greatest job, bringing light into some of the darkest places in our society. Exposing modern slavery on the streets of South Africa, in the brothels of Europe and anywhere else I am sent.
My passion-–abolition. My calling–Freedom. My equipping-–A crazy love rescue.
I am not organised, not a good sleeper and not a multi-tasker; thank goodness I am a problem solver.
I love my country—Canada, drinking coffee, creating beautiful things and Cape Town (which was my home for three years). I miss the mountains, snowboarding, surfing and all things natural as I make my way in the city of Amsterdam (my new home).
Image credit: Sars Richardson