In the last month, I have handled seven human trafficking cases and consulted on one migrant worker rape case.
It has been a heavy load, both in terms of the intensity of the workload and the depth of emotion in the life stories I have heard. I have advocated for Tessa, Christi, Maria, Hansa, Faith, Liezel, Malaya and Tuti (names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims).
I usually don’t even share first names, but I do so with you as their names are important because behind each name there is a face and behind each face there is a story.
I don’t want them to become numbers in your minds, merely seven trafficking cases and one rape case, for they are far more than that. Among them are mothers with two, three, six and nine children.
They have children with a serious heart problem, children with dreams of becoming an architect and a tour guide, children who just wish their mothers would come home and bring chocolate, and children who know the value of an education and just want to go to school.
They have husbands who grieve from afar when they hear that their wives have been sexually assaulted while trying to earn money for their families. Some parts of their stories are buried deep within and some parts they share.
I have come to care about each of these women as I have sat listening to their stories, gathering data for their cases, advocating for their rights, insisting their voices be heard, their wages be paid and their tickets back to their home countries be provided.
Their stories are different except in one way. Poverty drove every single one of them to Malaysia to work.
They left children behind, sometimes husbands and extended family, for two years or longer to work and earn money to send back home to put food in their children’s stomachs, to pay school fees and to buy needed medicines.
They endured abuse and 16- to 19-hour workdays in the hope of helping their families. All but two were never paid for their work. That is the norm for the victims whose cases I handle.
Many work for years in abusive situations never receiving any pay and often very little food.
In one severe case, a maid was starved to death by her employers in the eight months she worked in their home. She was 24 years old and weighed 57 pounds at the time of her death.
I see a revolving door of migrant workers with different faces coming from different countries speaking different languages, but with their cases I could put ditto marks on certain experiences: no pay, 16- to 19-hour workdays, no days off, not enough food to eat, emotional and physical abuse, sometimes sexual abuse, passport held by employer or agent and no freedom of movement.
They came to work and ended up as slaves in someone’s home. By the time they are rescued, they have been traumatized. They are fearful, not knowing whom they can trust, and, usually, they have lost all hope of ever going home again.
Without their passports, they have no way to return to their home countries, or so they think; to be honest, without an advocate, they are right.
I have helped repatriate four women this month, working with others to get their wages, passports and tickets home. I have been called a “hero,” a word I do not wear well, as it is too big a word for a series of small acts coming out of normal human empathy for another.
That is really all it takes. Placing yourself in another’s shoes and working for what you would want for your own family – justice. I am absolutely convinced we can end human trafficking, but we need every single person to understand what it is and say, “No more. Not one more victim.”
There are a zillion different things you can do to make that happen. The ways to help are as diverse as you are.
Start posting articles on human trafficking on social media sites, talk about it and point it out so everybody around you knows what it is.
Contact an anti-trafficking nonprofit in your city and volunteer. Write a song or poem, make a video or create a poster to raise awareness.
In Christ, all things are possible, and that includes ending human trafficking.
Cindy Ring Ruble and her husband, Eddy, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in southeast Asia. You can learn more about the Rubles by viewing their CBF profile. A version of this column first appeared on the CBF blog and is used with permission.