SUPPORT THE TRAFFICKING VICTIMS PROTECTION REAUTHORIZATION ACT
An 11-year-old girl in five-point shackles is escorted into a courtroom. Her crime? She was caught in the back of a van with a 43-year-old man who had paid for 30 minutes of her time to do whatever he wanted to with her.
Where was the man when the girl was in court? He’d already been released, fined $50 for misdemeanor solicitation and set free.
The little girl – because at 11, what else can we call her – belonged to a pimp who had three other girls in his possession. After she had run away from home, the pimp took her in, and now she was “paying him back” for a roof over her head, her clothing and some food.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but slavery still exists today, and this is what it looks like.
According to the U.S. State Department and the International Labor Organization, there are between 21 and 27 million slaves in the world today – more than at any other time in history. Of them, 25 percent are women, men and children – thousands in the United States – who are victims of forced sexual exploitation. And while not all those who work in prostitution are victims of human trafficking, many are, especially children.
“Runaway and throwaway” children are easy prey for traffickers. One out of every three teens will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home, and the younger a girl is, the more likely she will be sexually victimized.
A pimp will attempt to break a girl’s will though physical and verbal abuse to prepare her for a life of prostitution and separate her completely from her previous life, making the child completely dependent on him or her and enslaved to the sex trade.
This is happening not just to someone else’s kids; the victims could be my kids and yours. There has been a marked rise in the sexual exploitation of kids from middle- and upper-income backgrounds.
“Any child who is feeling lonely and isolated is at risk,” Judge Peggy Walker of the Douglas County Juvenile Court said. “Kids run away to the city and sell their bodies for drugs or alcohol or a place to stay, [and] their parents are generally stunned, believing that sexual exploitation is something that happens to someone else’s child.”
The Johns can look just like you and me: Of the men purchasing sex, 75 percent are white and of upper- or upper-middle-class.
Our Motivation for Change
A century-and-a-half ago, President Abraham Lincoln declared, “…upon this act [of emancipating all slaves], sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty G-d.”
Lincoln’s claimed authority not just from the Constitution, the U.S. military, the citizens of this nation and G-d on high; he characterized the act as one of justice itself.
As Jews, the call to end human slavery goes beyond merely justice. Among our religion’s central rallying cries is, “remember, you were a slave in Egypt,” reminding us of our freedom and the great responsibility to protect others who are enslaved which comes with it.
We sing about redemption from slavery in the daily prayers. G-d commands us to free the captives, that slavery is wrong, and that, as Jews, central to our identity is ridding humanity of the practice.
We celebrated 150 years since the date of the Emancipation Proclamation on Shabbat T’shuvah, the special Shabbat which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During those days, we prayed, we repented and we did acts of justice to save our own souls. When we commit to tzedakah (here, “justice”), we are breaking the cruelty that exists within us and the world and transforming it into compassion, and in doing so, we are changing our very nature.
Justice is protecting the slaves in our world. Today, we both yearn and are commanded to turn the world, ourselves and wickedness around toward good. We are the ones who have committed these crimes, and we are also the ones who can protect their victims. The power is in our hands.
How You Can Make a Difference
It is incumbent upon us to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), the cornerstone of the U.S. effort to combat modern-day slavery. This act, currently stalled in the Senate, will allow us to make sure the protections for the slaves of today are renewed and expanded upon.
Simply go to passtvpranow.org, sign your name and do your part to protect those who suffer the fate from which we have been freed. And simpler still, come to the Child Trafficking Summit: Education to Action on Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. at The Temple to learn more and get involved fighting this fight.
Editor’s note: Rabbi Rachael Bregman is the founder of the Open Jewish Project and a rabbi at The Temple.
By Rabbi Rachael M. Bregman
The Temple and the Open