Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Safe Place to Play

In the tree-lined neighborhood where I grew up--the same area where I still live--kids ran all over the place with very little supervision. During the summer, friends came from a few blocks away to play hide-in-go seek after dark. Once in awhile, we even slept outdoors in our backyard. There was never any concern that children might be snatched off the street. Modern-day slavery didn't even seem to exist. At least, I'd never heard of it.

Things are different now. On this morning's news, I heard of yet another little girl who disappeared. Parents have to remain constantly vigilant even in their own front yards. Many in the U.S. call sex trafficking "an epidemic." Traffickers reportedly infiltrate high schools, church youth groups, and malls. Wherever vulnerable victims  might be found, the potential for perpetrators exists. 

The other night I wondered if I saw the "grooming" process taking place at my gym. During a step class, a well-built nice-looking African-American man was assisting a young Hispanic woman, who probably weighed 300 lbs. Most class attendees use one or two steps, her's was flat on the floor, signifying that this may have been her first visit.
 
Perhaps I've become paranoid but there was something odd in the way this guy kept calling her "Baby," and encouraging her with "Beautiful, you can do it." That part might have been endearing if I hadn't noticed him glaring at her whenever she stopped to take a drink of water. I began to wonder if her long-sleeved shirt and sweat pants were his idea or what his intentions were for her after she loses the weight. 

It well could be that I was way off base. I'm still wondering if perhaps I projected my concerns about modern-day slavery onto a perfectly innocent situation.

Regardless, Oasis USA gives me hope that one day if enough people get involved, we'll have traffick-free communities. This organization helps activists identify the types of trafficking taking place in a particular area. In Pomona, we thought the problem was massage parlors, until Oasis helped us figure out that street prostitution was much more prevalent. They came alongside Pomona First Baptist's abolitionist group in the beginning to show us the steps we could take to start making a difference in our own neighborhood. The next post will feature an effort that relates to Halloween. Don't buy your candy yet!

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