By Bridget Degnan
Patrick Henry College
Half a dozen girls line the wall of a trash-ridden, Cambodian shack. They shift noiselessly from foot to foot as multiple businessmen sell each girl’s virginity to sex-hungry johns standing a few feet away. When spoken to, the pre-teen girls state their starting price and casually proffer oral sex to the highest bidder – as if offering a piece of gum to a friend. U.S. dollars exchange hands, and the girls disappear.
Over two million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade every year. Of that number, 200,000 American children within U.S. borders alone are forced into the sex industry. Typical brothels, which house girls anywhere from the age of five to sixteen, brutally beat any who resist before selling them into sex-slavery. It’s fast; it’s lucrative; and it’s far too easy to get away with.
Natasha Malik, Patrick Henry College sophomore and president of the newly founded International Justice Mission club on campus, first learned about modern-day slavery through watching a film called Human Trafficking three years ago. It changed her life forever.
“I thought slavery was over,” she said. “It was shocking to find out that there were slaves all over the world – 27 million worldwide.”
Never before has that figure been so high. Even during the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade during the 18th century, slavery only oppressed a fraction of that number.
“The saddest thing is that all the stories are so similar,” Malik said. “I can name five scenarios and tell you this has happened to thousands of girls and boys. A lot of times they just don’t realize … they’re tricked into a life of servitude and oppression.”
One girl thought she had found a job selling fabric in South Asia; she awoke the next morning in a brothel. Another girl moved from China to find work as a housekeeper in Thailand; she was sold into prostitution shortly thereafter. Millions more – both young and old, girl and boy – spend their entire lives working as labor-slaves under brutal conditions with no hope of escape.
Malik hopes that PHC’s International Justice Mission club will compel students to take action regarding slavery.
“It’s something we should all care about, even if we are unable to get fully involved,” Malik said. “Helping people become aware that slavery exists, praying, contacting legislators – doing all that is extremely important. We can do simple things that will make a huge difference.”
For instance, Brianna Edelblut, a senior at PHC, raised over $300 last week by simply selling bracelets to other students.
“It was to raise awareness of the issue,” Edelblut said, “There’s a lot of students involved in the issue of abortion, parental rights, protecting marriage. We need to see more students getting involved in stopping the issue of slavery.”
The International Justice Mission (IJM), a non-profit organization that inspired Malik to create the IJM club, fights human trafficking worldwide by actively raiding brothels and breaking up slave mills. They often send hidden cameras into brothels to document different situations, such as the scene described in the beginning. Since its founding in 1997, IJM has helped secure freedom for thousands of adults and children across the globe.
“I am praying to God that like they saved me, they would save more girls,” said one teenage girl recently rescued from an overseas brothel. “That which is impossible for man is possible for God. We will never lose faith.”
Students looking to get involved with the IJM club should talk to Natasha Malik or sophomore Alan Carrillo, president and vice president respectively.
“In future seasons we’re going to have families and jobs,” Malik said. “We may not think we have time right now, but we can do so much as students. Shaping the culture and changing the nation doesn’t start when you graduate. It starts now. Right here.”