Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trafficking Enlightenment on a Difficult Subject

Slavery is a term all our young people think is something of the past, something that happened before their time. But what too few people realize is the slave trade is still very real and in many capacities. We have hear horror stories about the human trafficking into the sex trade, but the human trafficking into the domestic trade is also very much alive and very much ignored. In Kim Purcell's Trafficked, she fights to stop the ignorance regarding a veritable slave trade that imprisons so many of the world's young people.

Hannah is from Moldova, but the family looking for a nanny wants a Russian girl, so she must watch her dialect if she is to make this work. Her friends and family warn her about trusting anyone willing to take her to the US for a job that seems to good to be true, but Hannah won't listen. She and her grandmother are barely surviving as it is, and she won't sit idle while her grandmother's blindness ruins her life for lack of money for a simple cataracts operation. So Hannah travels under a fake name and fake visa to the States, but she is very wary of her surroundings. She has heard the stories of girls shoved into brothels and sold as sex slaves and has no intention of becoming one of them. When she arrives at a home with children to take care of, she breathes a sigh of relief that she has not become another statistic.

But instantly, something feels off to Hannah. Lillian, the mother, demands to keep Hannah's papers and return plane ticket. Hannah loses the ticket but manages to hang onto her visa and passport. Then, she warns Hannah to stay away from her husband. Hannah finds this disconcerting, but the promise of $400 a week is too much to pass up over a bad feeling. She quickly settles into the absurdly long days raising this woman's children, cleaning up after the family, and even cooking all their meals, but she can't get over the fact that she is clearly a "tool" to the family, not a human being. Forced to stay in the garage instead of a bedroom and given only a few clothes, she is basically at their mercy for anything she needs. When they don't pay her for weeks and weeks, she finally asks about her wages only to find she has to "work off her debt" of the ticket and the agent to get her here. Hannah quickly begins to understand that while this might not be a brothel, she is still a slave to this family. But with no place to go for help and people who threaten to hurt your family if you leave, is there anyway to escape that slavery?

When I first saw this book, I have to say I only scanned the blurb and assumed it was the sex trade, not the domestic trade, that Hannah had been duped into. While the domestic trade seems less harmful that the sex trade, it shouldn't be discounted as less terrifying and dehumanizing, because it is still slavery at its very core.  I was also very happy to see Hannah was wary of the arrangement and on high alert for anything suspicious. I often wondered how these girls, at this point in time, didn't know about human trafficking and remain alert. It was good to see a girl who was indeed aware but whose obligation and love for her family led her to take the risk anyway. I often wonder if our students (or us, for that matter) understand the desperation that a person can reach where they would knowingly put themselves in a potentially life threatening situation in order to save their loved ones. I think Purcell did a great job of illustrating that devotion in Hannah.

My one confusion with this story was the connection of the host family to Hannah's dead parents and missing uncle. I think this story line was only dealt with superficially and detracted from the primary focus of the novel- a young girl can be held as a slave in modern day Los Angeles. With all these ties of the father to her past life, it makes this story more narrow rather than casting the terrifying large net of having this be any girl and any family. And since it wasn't properly explained, developed, and concluded, it was only a distraction in my personal opinion. I would rather have the message be out there that this can happen to any girl from any place, not just a specific girl whose mother rejected some guy who had an issue with rejection.

So I would keep this as a book for students who are old enough and mature enough to have very candid discussions about what the human trafficking situation really is. If you can't read this book with a student and openly discuss the horrifying aspects of rape and brothels and forced prostitution, or you think the student isn't mature enough to handle this accurate part of humanity, pick another book. But this is an important thing for our students to know about. Slavery isn't over. It is alive and well and can be right in our backyards. Trying to ignore it doesn't mean it goes away, it just makes us ignorant and guilty of not doing something about it. 

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