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We started working on focusing on America. I didn’t know much, but these women taught me. And they became involved for the first time with respect, because most of the time here in America, if they had been trafficked into commercial sex, used as a prostitute, they were not seen as very credible, and really not listened to.
Hello, and welcome to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking, featuring Linda Smith, the founder of Shared Hope International. Join Linda as she shares stories from her 23 years of fighting the battle of domestic minor sex trafficking. Our desire is that each episode of Invading the Darkness will help you understand the importance of fighting child sex trafficking, as well as equip you to join in that fight. In this episode, Linda Smith will take you on a journey back to 1910, and tell you how sexually trafficked children were looked upon during that time. Linda will also draw clear lines that connect culture, language and the law.
How would I tell people what I just saw? I’m in a hotel room I’m thinking through how do I even tell my husband, what I just saw. In India, in Mumbai, I just spent the night in a brothel area and was sick at my stomach. Thousands of women and children were lined up standing stalls. The hands of girls were coming out the windows on the second floor. And man after man was shopping, shoulder to shoulder crowded choosing the person he wanted to lay a few rupees and use in any way he wanted to use.
I felt overwhelmed. But God I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do. But I knew I needed to do something. The next day, I was still thinking this through. I was only going to be there a short time. I was between votes in Congress, I was a member of the US Congress at that time. And they asked if I wanted to go out and see the little girls and little boys who had been taken out of the brothel. Because their mommies were concerned about them. They would keep them under their beds when they were born and some men like them pretty young. So the mom’s heart would come out and she would be asking for help. So this group had been taking the little ones out of the brothel area, and hiding them away in a place way out in the country. When I got out to this remote area, there were these happy little boys and girls into fairly large houses that were being supported by people out of Europe. And this group had been able to get the help they needed for them. But they really couldn’t find help for what the world called prostitutes. But my heart was broken for what the world called prostitutes, those women and children. Well, they weren’t really women often. If they had been used in a sexual commodity situation otherwise sold, then they were called women, and no longer considered a child. So they were just stigmatized, they were called prostitutes. And like many parts of the world, I found once labeled prostitute, they were denied justice. Nobody cried out for them. They were just to do what they were doing until they died. And then they would bring other people to the place they’d been into the stall. I had to do something. I was just totally, both exhausted and nauseated from the smells, and compelled.
There’s a scripture that is in James, for you that know some about the New Testament. And it simply says, “If you know, you better do something. ” Now you will go on and you’ll look at it. And some of you get a hold of me and say, “Well, it didn’t say quite like that.” But to my heart, I knew how precious they were how each individual was preciously made by a big God and intended for better purposes than that. I had to do something. So I did what I knew to do. I was the chair of the Small Business committee for Congress. Or had been right before that. And I think that way, so I thought, well, what would it cost to start some rescue homes or some places for them to flee. And so knowing the children were safe, the little ones, I wanted to get the young teenagers, the young women out. And so I put together a budget and started homes for them to flee to. Well the rest of that is for another time, but 37 women, many girls fled to another part of Mumbai, where we’d started homes, and we started some things for them to do. So they could be cosmetologist or do hair, and nails, they could do various kinds of things like tailoring. And we started helping them right in those homes. It wasn’t very long before I realized they needed to be out of there and started working with a group in India, on a village.
I came home, talked to everybody I knew that had ever had $1. And if they had $2, I wanted one. If you were warm, and my friend, I asked you to help me and we helped build a fairly large village. I knew that moment. They needed purpose in their life for the day. So they could hook their heart on a hope for tomorrow. And that’s how Shared Hope was started. I remember coming home and talking to my husband and just getting so mad. I would just be so mad and he’d say, “But Linda, I didn’t do it.” And he was so right. But I had to deal with that anger, because just being angry doesn’t do anything. So I started doing more things more villages around the world, praying over each one. But knowing fully that it would take a society that stopped calling women and children, prostitutes, that understood they were victimized individuals, to really change the situation. It wasn’t very long.
Before I started working with my colleagues in Congress, I left Congress and started working on the new anti trafficking bill. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was passed. And I knew that if we didn’t implement it, what good would it be? If it was only focused on blonde put on a shelf? What good would it be? Some of my colleagues asked me, both Democrat and Republican, if we could do something to make sure the bill, this new bill of 2000 got implemented, that it really became a law that helped women and children. And so I was asked if I’d put together a World Summit, and bring countries together . Because you see, they still thought it was about countries around the world. I was starting to know at that point when they passed the legislation to start this World Summit, that there were women and children in America being trafficked too, but I didn’t know very much. I knew a little bit from some of the women who were speaking out because they were trafficked as children right here in America, right in our own communities. So I started asking if they’d come to this World Summit, and Shared Hope’s board, hosted them to a dinner and hosted them as our guests. And they became involved for the first time with respect, because most of the time here in America, if they had been trafficked into commercial sex, used as a prostitute, they were not seen as very credible, and really not listened to. So we started working on focusing on America. I didn’t know much. But these women taught me. And we started working on finding ways to help women and children here in America. It was very interesting though. The people that started joining the movement, were people that I emphasize. Actually, I write chapters with in the new book Invading the Darkness.
Now, why did I call it Invading the Darkness? Well, I’d been researching trafficking clear back to 1900. To find out how it really started, what really happened that caused us as a society to label a person as a trafficking no, as a prostitute. We labeled them as prostitutes, not victims of trafficking, not victims of anything. Once they were literally in a brothel, the justice system treated them different. So I went back to look at why our state laws had prostitution laws, and the so called prostitutes, and in most cases, in spite of age, were considered bad. And they were the ones that could go to jail. They were the criminals, while the laws weren’t built to penalize the men driving the market, who were going to buy commercial sex with these individuals that they called prostitutes. So when I was looking at the history, as much as I could find, I found an old book that identified different places in the history. And I found that the people there looked an awful lot like the modern day, anti-trafficking movement. They were academics, they were attorneys, they were ordinary moms. And at that point, they had the surfrage jobs, they had all of the medical schools, schools for girls, and a lot of religious groups that would go to the streets. So what I found is that they had been researching and trying to change laws, but they were having trouble with their culture. Because once you label a person with a crime committed against them, the people think they’re bad. So the laws were all written to make the girls, the criminals, the children, the criminals. And lo and behold, these people would do something very simple. They decided if they didn’t get people alongside of them, helping them, that there would be no way because they didn’t know where these girls came from. Mostly girls, is what they were focusing on. So they would light candles, and all these different groups, they would go into these areas, they called resorts, bravo didn’t sound so nice. And if you’re a man, you go to a resort, and they go to where these places were, and they would walk in, and they would one by one, light their candles. And all of a sudden, it wasn’t dark. These men that were buying in these places who were going in and giving money for a little time with these girls from the villages and small towns around Chicago and New York.
Well, they didn’t want anybody to see if anybody saw them, wow, that would be bad. So they went in and they would light the darkness. They would invade that darkness of evil with light. And out the men would go, they would leave. And they would stop coming even for fear that people would see them. Another way that they shed light on this issue is they would go into the communities into the rural areas and tell the parents, it’s dangerous for your girls and boys. Now that same DOD, they weren’t really referring to the boys being trafficked. Although I found they were because they were men who liked boys. The posters would warn the moms and dads that the girls were being tricked to go to the city, they would show pictures of the ice cream parlors, and say this is where it could start. So if you let your daughter go to the city, even if she’s working in a factory, these ice cream parlors are dangerous. So they would warn them that there was trickery out there, they would show pictures of girls in windows behind the bars. And they were warning them about the girls. But for the boys, they would say this is what can happen and they would show a blind boy, and that they could get sick, they could get those diseases that cause them to go blind. Or they would show an insane asylum. That would cause the boy to go crazy. Boys will be boys. They didn’t even think about causing a lot of paths or creating the law. They just wanted to warn the boys. Then there were others that showed blind babies in a hospital to warn the women if their husbands were out there, their babies could go blind. Again, nothing about the men buying. They would say if we can find the men that are tricking and selling the girls, they’re bad. But nobody really talked about the real problem. Their culture was saying that the tricked girl was immoral. Or she was a fallen woman. One day, a girl in the small town outside Chicago, the next day, in a factory working to make money to send home. And then that Sunday afternoon when she finally got a break, meeting a man, usually a young man at an ice cream parlor. Within a week in a brothel, locked in, and now no longer deserving of justice, mercy, or sympathy. And if they got her out, and she went back home, her parents might take her. And if they did, she would not be perceived as being able to be married, or to raise a family. Unjust, unfair, but now an immoral fallen woman.
You’ll say, “How could that be?” It’s what I said when I was in India. When I was there the very first night inside, man after man in India, shopping for young girls and young women. How can that be? Well, it starts with language. Language reflects the culture of acceptance, or justice, and that it goes from that, from language to culture, to even if there’s a law changed, and they did start changing them in 1900, and quite a few by 1910 in the States, then if the laws aren’t implemented, if the culture will not bring justice, then is there really a law? To prove the case, some of the writers in this book were angry at the lack of justice. One of the stories was written of a case, and it’s very similar to the story I just told you. And that was, they wanted justice for this girl.
She was going to she was out and she had an attorney. And they were going to get justice. So they decided that they would go to court. But in court, there was quite a fight over whether or not the trafficker the seller was really a bad guy. They weren’t talking about the buyer, but they were talking about the seller. Lo and behold, the jury sided with the girl. They could see the girl. It was so exciting. But they appealed it to the state Supreme Court. The records show the judge heard all of the case, everything that has happened to the girl, where she came from, and the cruel deception that had been laid on her before she was taken to a brothel and raped. The judge didn’t take very long to make his decision. He overturned the jury. He said we cannot hold credible, the testimony of an immoral and fallen woman. And he let this bad guy go. So language, language labeling her. Language went all the way to the courts. And she became a fallen woman unworthy of justice. Now you would say, “Oh, o, not in our courts today.” But I’m going to tell you a story soon. Of a case in Kansas. That was very similar, very, very similar. That will show today: we have a long fight, to make sure that both our language, our culture and our law, and the fulfillment the application of that law brings justice to women and children who have been trafficked for sex used by anybody that will lay down $1 or in India a rupee.
Thank you for listening to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking. If you would like to learn how you can help put an end to child sex trafficking, please visit sharedhope.org/takeaction. New episodes of Invading the Darkness are released every Tuesday at 9am Pacific. If you have enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a five star rating as well as a written review. Join us in Episode Four where Linda shares the story of two children that were sexually exploited in Kansas. She takes you on a deep dive into the cultural divide that allows children to be abused while the abusers walk away. We hope you will join us thank you again for listening to Invading the Darkness.