Monday, January 11, 2010

Homeless Kids and Human Trafficking

Here are some disturbing facts about human trafficking in America:

One out of three kids under 18 who end up on the streets will be lured or forced into prostitution within 48 hours, according to national estimates.

Girls as young as 12 and boys as young as 11 are coerced into prostitution daily.

About 300,000 American youths are currently at risk to be trafficked yearly for sexual exploitation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

These numbers mean that America has become one of the frontlines in the fight against human trafficking. Many people are aware of the evil of human trafficking but assume that the majority of it occurs in India or Thailand and not here in the US.

I spent a week on the streets in New Orleans the summer I turned 20. I slept in a dilapidated building with my friend Shon and a dozen or so kids from a squatter tribe called Born Against. They were the first people we met when we got to the city and they invited us back to their squat with all the genteel hospitality you’d expect from the old south. But this was no antebellum mansion with it's large veranda and tea sipping sisters fanning themselves on the back porch gossiping sweetly in their slow southern drawls. It was an old Victorian that was falling in on itself. The front porch looked like it was being held on by the ivy that covered most of the peeled-paint siding. The toilet was a hole in the floor in a back room and the only entrance was a set of rotting steps at the back door that were covered in condom packets in various states of decay dumped there by the bucketful by the health department to keep the squatters from reproducing . We slept on the bare wood floor with the rats and giant roaches. The front room was Wolf and Cassandra’s. Wolf was the tribe’s leader, Cassandra his 16 year old runaway girlfriend. That week we met kids as young as 14 living on the street. Some running from abuse, others the authorities, but many I found, had left home with a romantic notion and a doe-eyed sense of adventure.

I fell in love with those kids. Walked them to sign up for pre-natal and talked them down off bad trips. I ate out of the same trash cans they did, spent the nights listening to their stories sitting in Jackson Square or on the river walk. One night I taught them the lyrics to Amazing Grace and we all sang them to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”. I left part of my heart there in New Orleans and think about the Born Against tribe all the time. I hope they made it where they were going, I hope they found what they were looking for, and I hope they somehow manage to escape the evil people who exploit kids like them.

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