Without a choice or a voice

Shaking, cold, overworked and underinformed. Without hope, without rescue, trapped and alone. I shudder at the thought.

Twenty-seven million know a familiar feeling. Yeah, that number is right.

Right now, on our planet, there are 27 million trapped in the exhaustive and perilous torments of human trafficking, according to the International Justice Mission.

Wrapping my head around that number is just like wrapping my arms around the Grand Canyon. I can’t grasp it or deny its weighty presence.

Two million of those victims are children who are exploited and used in the commercial sex trade industry. Forced prostitution holds a decent amount of those stuck in human trafficking, but that’s not the only means of involuntary labor.

The other epidemic is the amount of people working as animals, forced to do unnatural labor until their bodies fatigue with their last strength. These people are strained to commit to a life of servitude against their will. Many are kidnapped, and many come from ancestral lineage that has never broken the chains of bondage. These people have lost hope, and I think I know why.

We aren’t aware.

As I sit in my apartment under my warm covers with my dark roast in hand, I can’t help but choke up. It’s sick. I’m sick. I have it all, and I still come home after a hard day and get upset that my day was nothing special — yet I am breathing. I have blood in my veins, a pumping heart and the free will to subject myself to nothing and no one.

Forms of forced labor include work on farms, domestic work, being a hostess, working in strip clubs, the restaurant and food service, factories, peddling and begging rings and the hospitality industry. Unfortunately, child labor falls under this category, as many children are losing their childhood innocence.

Days on the playground are now replaced by carrying bricks for 19 hours or exposing themselves to 10 accounts of rape a day. It’s disgusting, and it’s in the world we walk on. These kids don’t know the joy of feeling safe and the comforts of our life. They just know their humanity isn’t valued, and this is how our earth works. Sadly, this isn’t happening too far from home. It’s here as well.

According to The Polaris Project, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 41 percent of those sex trafficked and 20 percent of people in labor trafficking are U.S. citizens. These are our neighbors, our families and our co-workers. They are us.

We may think this is a problem surrounding developing countries, but sex trafficking is happening in Tennessee, in our counties and on our streets. End Slavery TN said it best: “To deny that sex trafficking happens in our own backyards is to avert our eyes and hearts from seeing and helping the young people who need us most.”

In fact, the state of Tennessee had 1,200 cases of sex trafficking in a single year, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The TBI studied 21 of the highest reported of the 95 counties, so we can safely assume the actual number is much higher if all were studied.

Putnam Country unfortunately was part of the 21-county roster.

Half of the 25 trafficking reports made in a single year were from minors. Let’s stop here for a second and chew on that. Twelve sweet children in our county, our city and our stomping grounds were forced into prostitution in the last year. Cookeville is not separate from this world issue.

Davidson County, home of our state capital, had over 100 reports in a single year. They have the highest percentage of adult and minor cases reported. (https://spellpundit.com/) Seventy-three percent of them were minors.

Luckily, this can end. Want to know how? Because we are graced to live in this beautiful state and have the ability to do more than just move on with life when this article is over. We have been gifted with freedom — one where we can exercise justice over others.

These people need a voice and a hand to pull them out of a ditch, an undeserved place they’ve been living in as the clock ticks by.

As 27 million tread on, let’s not forget to walk alongside them. We all have one life, and I promise you this is not the life they asked for. To get involved, visit the national agencies mentioned, and inform yourself on the matter. We can’t make change in the world until we know what needs to be changed.

We could have easily been born a victim of trafficking, though many of us are privileged not to have seen that ugly world. Stand in their shoes that we can only hope they have. This is not OK.

Push harder. Educate yourself. Fight back, and don't be afraid to ask if someone’s in a tricky situation — you have the opportunity to give back a person’s freedom.