By Cindy Ruble
Have you ever noticed that your experiences and life circumstances draw you to certain songs on the radio? Heartbroken? Every song seems to be about lost love and excruciating pain, although when your relationship was going well, you didn’t notice the waterfall of sad love songs.
Recently, I was driving home from a rather frustrating day of trying to help a trafficking victim get justice in a system in which justice is extremely rare. I work in anti-trafficking. The song playing on the radio was “Human” by Christina Perri. I imagined it was another sad love song, but that is not what I heard that day.
Perri sang, “I can stay awake for days, if that’s what you want … I can fake a smile, I can force a laugh, I can dance and play the part, if that’s what you ask. Give you all I am. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.”
I thought about how true those words were for most of the trafficking victims we rescue. Almost all the women we help have been forced to work 16-18 hour days, seven days a week. They never have a day off. They are exhausted all the time, but they continue to play the part, hoping to make enough money to put food on the table and put their children through school back in their home countries.
They tell themselves, “I can do it,” despite the long hours, despite the emotional, physical and sometimes sexual abuse, despite food deprivation and intolerable working conditions. They forge on until the day they recognize that they will never be paid. They are working 112-126 hours a week and have never received a single paycheck. If they ask for their pay, they are told they will get it at the end of their two-year contract.
These women live with broken promises. They were promised a monthly salary of $400 when they signed their contracts in their home country, only to find that promise broken when they arrived in Malaysia and were coerced into signing a secondary, illegal contract for a lesser sum. The employer of one of our trafficking victims told her that her contract was “rubbish.” Her employer treated it as such, ignoring the promises made in the contract.
When these workers lose hope in the promises, they leave their abusive employers as their employers have become their traffickers. Although the workers have entered the country legally to work, they become trafficking victims. Most of the victims we helped in the past year had been slaves in Malaysian homes.
To be fair, there are good employers here in Malaysia. However, we are ranked on the Tier 3 list of the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report. Labor trafficking is rampant, and we are nowhere near addressing it at a level to stop it. That would take massive awareness campaigns followed by arrests, prosecutions and convictions. The statistics highlight a dismal performance. Sex trafficking gets the most publicity and attention, but labor trafficking affects far more people. The issues are systemic, the abuse is normalized, and the victims are numerous and hidden.
As I continued driving down the road that day, the song played on. “I can turn it on, be a good machine.” I thought about how these women were not machines despite being forced to work as though they were. The women we help have faces. They are human beings with families who love them and depend on them. They are women who are daughters, sisters and mothers. They do indeed “bleed when they fall down.”
I wish I could introduce you to the many beautiful faces and spirits I have encountered in my anti-trafficking work. Women who are kind and hard-working, mothers who love their children and miss them deeply, daughters who came to support aging parents back home. Irene Fernandez of the NGO, Tenaganita (Women’s Force), used to say they are “women of love.” They came to work in another country at great risk to themselves because they loved their families deeply.
Grace* was one of those women. She worked in a house where her employers physically, sexually and emotionally abused her. She worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day. Her employer hit her with a rattan stick and slammed her hand in the door in anger.
After she came to us for help, Grace’s hand still hurt as she did her washing. In her employer’s house, Grace was not given enough food to eat. She was always hungry and every time her employer couldn’t find something, she called Grace a thief. Grace said, “No Ma’am. I have nine children. I am not a thief.”
No apologies came when the employer found her belongings right where she left them. Grace never had a day off.
Can you imagine working 16-hour days, seven days a week with no day off? All human beings need rest. As Grace was about to be repatriated, she told me she would be going back out to work in another country. I cringed because I knew she could end up in an even worse circumstance the next time.
I asked if there wasn’t some kind of work she could do in her country so she could be near her children and not put herself at such risk. She said, “Ma’am, I have to. I don’t want my kids to be like me. I want them to get an education.” Grace’s nine children were the focus of her life. She loved them, and I knew she would put herself out there again and again until every last one of them finished school. Grace was a woman of great love.
When you contribute to the CBF Offering for Global Missions, you link hands with us to rescue victims like Grace from human trafficking, to advocate for justice, to help recoup their hard-earned wages and facilitate their repatriation. Your dollars empower us to stand alongside them as they move from being victims to survivors. You help us to shelter them and to provide victim care and counseling. You undergird all the anti-trafficking work we do.
Thank you for partnering with us. Thank you for your commitment to advocacy and ministry among vulnerable and marginalized people. Please continue to give generously to the Offering for Global Missions as we have much work left to do. We need your help as we work toward the day that justice rolls down like water. Make a gift to the Offering at www.thefellowship.info/givenow.