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One thing you need to know, and that I discovered, whether it be 1910, in India, or in America is traffickers will go where kids play or they’re vulnerable.
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 desires at 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, you’ll meet Daisy, a young girl whose dreams of a better life were destroyed after she moved to the city. Daisy’s story isn’t so different from countless others who have been tricked, coerced and forced into a life they never dreamed of.
Daisy was under 20 when she died. I found old black and white pictures of Daisy in the 1910 book, Fighting Traffic in Young Girls. The first picture was titled, Daisy Under 20, Dying In The Poor House. And it shows a girl in the bed, the blanket pulled up around her face, her eyes deep set, and she is being cared for by a nun. The caption beneath the picture says, “Less than three years after leaving her home, she was found in the poor house, forgotten by family and friends, and dying of a loathsome disease.”
The next picture is titled Daisy’s Lonely Funeral Paid For By Charity. The picture shows men in top hats, standing around a horse drawn hearse. The caption beneath reads, “The charity nurses took up a subscription and saved her from the Potter’s field. No flowers, no friends, no relatives, only the undertaker and his assistants.”
To quote the same book, “As tuberculosis has been called the White Plague, the diseases spread by vice are now called the Black Plague.” Medical reports from that time showed that the diseases stemming from prostitution accounted for nearly 15% of what they called, all the suffering and deaths in the country, and that was in the early 1900s. Not just the diseases that took the lives of girls like Daisy, but blindness to babies from the bacterial transmission at birth to the babies of women totally unaware of their husband’s disease. The men were regularly committed to a mental institution because of the same disease, they spread to the wives and young women like Daisy. Numerous reports show that once they entered the commercial sex industry, the victims of trafficking only survive a few years in big part because of the diseases, infections and violence, common in the commercial sex industry. And that’s even today in America.
The number of clients Daisy was forced to endure each and every day was only limited by the numbers that came to the door of her small room. She never knew when or from who she got this miserable disease. She was never given a time to heal her or rest. Like trafficking victims today in America, girls like Daisy were treated violently, and had infections and physical injuries from constant abuse from customers and her owners. Only when these girls got too sick to be appealing to the customers were they moved to the poor house to die.
To quote Clifford G. Roe, assistant state attorney of Cook County Illinois, about girls like Daisy, “This case is one of hundreds, which might be told to show how the girls leave home under the promise of securing employment. And are in this way, procured for places of ill repute.” He goes on to say, “The methods employed to entice young women are quite similar. After the girls are once within the resort, the stories are about the same. Their street clothes are seized and parlor dresses varying in length are put upon them. They are threatened, never allowed to write letters, never permitted the use of the telephone, never trusted outside the house until two or three months have elapsed when they are considered hardened to the life and too ashamed to face parents and friends again.
Girls are told of, or perhaps have witnessed others who tried to escape, have seen their failure and violent punishment, and are therefore cowed into submission. They’re always held upon the pretense of being indebted to the house. And this indebtedness has long been the backbone of the sex slave system. From the time the girl is first sold into the house, she’s constantly in debt. First for the money the owner gave to procure for her. Next for her parlor clothes. Then for the money, her procurer borrows from the owner on her, as his, property, goods and chattel. The bonds of slavery are thus fastened up these poor mortals by a system of debt and vice that the people of this great country little realized, existed until lately.” This ends the words of Clifford Roe.
Yes, I found that debt bondage was widely practiced in the United States, still in the 1950s. We’re still researching the base law in each state to see when the culture and the lawmakers decided to put a child in the prostitution law. And name a man who purchased the child for sex acts, just a John and guilty of only a misdemeanor at the most. The activists in 1910 were working to change the laws for trafficked girls, but I’m still researching when the state laws were established, denying the youth their freedom by the label of prostitute in the first place. Debt bondage also known as bonded labor, indentured servant hood or peonage was used to deny individuals freedom across the states, facilitated by state laws. These terms were used when people give themselves into slavery, as security against a loan, are assigned to debt like girls sold into brothels, or when they inherited debt from a relative. Words to sanitize and make slavery acceptable debt. Well, debt’s not good, it’s your own fault. Brothels, let’s just call them resorts.
Well, there was debt bondage, peonage, still facilitated by the law. Florida, as late as 1940, this law was challenged in the Supreme Court in Pollock v Williams, reversed a decision of a lower court that upheld the law of 1919 facilitating debt bondage.
Now, if that was really hard to understand, it simply means that as late as 1944, Florida was fighting to keep their law facilitating debt bondage, the slavery of debt. Like other types of slavery, debt bondage was documented by the music of the time. The song, 16 Tons made famous at the time by Tennessee Ernie Ford and written by Merle Travis in 1946, is one of those songs. Merle Travis’s father was a coal miner. His brother wrote the line, “You load 16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” And then his father wrote, “I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.” The miners were paid in script that could be used for the company store, they rarely had any cash, they lived in company housing and then rent was taken out of their checks. Their families went to the company doctor, increasing an ever elevating debt even more.
The first time I saw debt bondage and recognized it as such was with [Raneu 00:09:42]. This was over 20 years ago when I first went in to India and Nepal. Raneu came from a small village in Nepal, she was 14 years old when her adopted brother offered to take her on a trip to the city. She was very excited. Her brother treated her kind and even gave her a sweet drink for the hot humid trip. That’s the last thing Raneu remembers. She woke up 1,000 miles south in a brothel in India. She begged for a freedom, was told she had to work off the price paid to her brother before she could go free. Raneu was charged rent on the brothel stall her owners forced her to use and the cost of a meager food allowance they brought to her daily. Her debt began to climb. She realized the horrible truth. She might never have enough to earn her freedom, but she knew to get her freedom in that culture, in that time, she had to pay back her debt.
The good news, Raneu did make her way to our village, Asha Nepal, where she completed her education, and is currently getting her master’s degree in counseling. But hers is a good story. So many of the girls did not live more than a few years. Bondage through debt signed by someone else, is just slavery by any other name. Debt bondage, peonage, bonded labor, indentured servitude, all just slavery by other names, John, resort, all just words to make it sound better for the buyers. Today, traffickers in America use debt to keep their victims in slavery. You go, really? Yeah. This is not in other countries, but right here in America. I’ll tell you more about that in another episode.
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 9:00 AM 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 six, where Linda shares the hope that comes when children’s lives are restored and the pain that existed in the darkness is finally healed. We hope you will join us. Thank you again for listening to Invading The Darkness.