I remember about a few years ago when I was still in high school, I sold Girls Scout cookies at the U of M campus in Coffman Union during International Women’s Day. I had never been present at such an event and did not really know what it was about. All I knew was that I wanted to raise as much money as I could selling Girls Scout cookies for my Hmong Women’s group at my high school. Although I had went to the event having only one goal, I think that I came back being exposed to more things than I expected. That was the very first time I learned about human trafficking, specifically the trafficking of young girls in the United States into the sex industry.
Since it was so long ago, I cannot remember much, but I remember something about the human receipt the size of a human being. I think it might have been a symbol used during the event to illustrate the stories of the women survivors of sex trafficking. I remember seeing one story of a young girl who was 16 or 17 years old that was sold by her boyfriend into the industry but later escaped or rescued. Her story was displayed powerfully on one tall human receipt among many human receipts containing similar stories from other girls. While I did not know much or participated in the actual event, I remember feeling fearful, taken aback and aware. I wish that then I would have known better and paid more attention to the issue of sex trafficking because right now, I am having the same feelings I once had all over again.
While human trafficking occurs in all parts of the world and in the community that I live in back home, it seems as if it does not even exist. We, society, don’t talk about it much and it’s not a topic that people like to bring up it seems. In fact, the news do not even talk about it because we barely hear any headline story focusing on the issue of human trafficking. I also think that sometimes we do not even bother to listen or to educate ourselves with this issue because we are too busy focusing on our own lives. However, in Thailand it seems like it is almost a norm or something. The topic of human trafficking seems so apparent and so close to the local communities that it is not unnormal for people to be trafficked. Just the thought of parents selling their children into the industry due to financial or other issues is mind boggling and brings me back to how I first felt reading the human receipt of the girl whose boyfriend sold her.
On Thursday after we visited the school in Chiang Dao I was on the van that Eve, one of our tour guides, was on. She shared a story about where she was from and how her village has a lot of trafficking. In her class, there were 6 students who were all girls. Three of them went into the trade because their parents sold them. Eve’s friend in her class died from HIV because she went into the trade too. I do not remember about the fifth person, but Eve’s mother did not sell her into the trade. Hearing Eve’s story and thinking about all the young girls in the school that we visited caused me to struggle with understanding a parent’s desperation and willingness to sell their daughter(s). Knowing that most of the students in the school were from poor families, a part of me fears so much for them. I know I should be optimistic and think the best for them, but I feel so worried that they can potentially be stripped away of their dignity and innocence one day due to factors in their life that are out of their control. There was so much innocence that I saw in the girls and to imagine that young girls are constantly being sold and robbed of their innocence and self-worth is devastating. I try to put myself in the shoes of the many young girls who are sold and I cannot. It is an experience that is beyond anything I could imagine and I can only ponder on questions that I struggle to understand.
I can only ask myself, why is it that we as humans have to resort to trafficking other human beings? There are so many factors that go into this issue and there is the whole supply and demand concept, but what can we do to stop this? How can I as a privileged young Hmong American women even try to understand this idea of human trafficking without feeling so fearful and sadden for those who are trafficked? Are these even right feelings to feel?