I’ve been pushing off writing this post for a few weeks now. Some website technical issues and other priorities had to be taken care of first. Mostly, though, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around everything I learned about sex tourism while in Costa Rica with our hosting missionary family. I don’t think I’ll ever fully comprehend it, but I won’t allow the magnitude of the problem to paralyze me.
The majority of the education I gained came in the form of van “Q&A’s” with our missionary, Michele, during our daily travels. I will admit that before 2013, I had little knowledge on human trafficking and, quite honestly, the term sex tourism didn’t make sense to me. Can we say naive? Then in January of this year I read “Undaunted” by Christine Caine, in which she details some graphic scenes of how women are trafficked. I was stunned and couldn’t believe I had never really known about this worldwide crime. Gearing up for our trip to Costa Rica I did more research, but it was nothing in comparison to listening to a woman who is in the field, who faces these victims and helps them cope with their pain. Michele works for the Rahab Foundation, a non-profit organization whose purpose is prevention, protection, and legal processes of human trafficking of women and children being sexually exploited. Just so you have some idea of the magnitude of the problem and some of the things that made me cry, here are some human trafficking and sex tourism facts:
- human trafficking is modern-day slavery in which victims are forced into sex or labor
- the majority of victims are women and children
- recruitment on average happens among minors aged 14
- child sex tourism is especially prevalent in Asia, Central and South America
- Thailand, Cambodia, and Costa Rica are among the most popular sex tourist destinations
- it is estimated that about 80% of sex tourists in Costa Rica are Americans
- vacation packages can be booked to include a sex salve for the entire tourist’s stay
The last point is what I found the most sickening. While I had imagined it being a one-night purchase of sex, I never imagined a girl being part of a hotel room where a man checks in and arrives in his room to find his chosen female, an object just like any other object in the room…EXCEPT THIS IS A HUMAN BEING!
Michele is one of the toughest women I have ever met. Michele and the Rahab Foundation work closely with government entities. These relationships have allowed Michele and Rahab Foundation the opportunity to participate in sting operations with police and the local FBI by going into the brothels. Michele has witnessed first-hand what takes place in the early morning hours in San Jose as lines of men wait to pick their woman…with many Americans running for cover as they do not want to be exposed in police sting operations.
The Rahab Foundation serves women Monday through Friday offering classes, vocational training, and small group therapy where the victims can work on issues such as self-esteem, relationships, and holistic needs. Michele runs one of these groups; she also conducts the one-on-one interviews and counseling sessions with the female victims. In October 2012, a new group of 47 ladies entered the foundation, all of which were in the sex industry desiring to leave prostitution…some were current victims of human trafficking from foreign countries. On Saturdays about 50 youth gather for a group for sexually exploited youth and at-risk youth. As part of a US grant, the Rahab Foundation gives trafficking seminars all around Costa Rica in schools, churches and community events. They have also held trainings for police, local officials, and community awareness groups.
The missing component in Costa Rica is a short-term care facility for victims. Once they have been identified, they have no place to go. This is the main reason many of the adult victims will stay in the situation and have very little chance of recovery. There are even ladies that go to the Rahab Foundation weekly yet still live in slavery.
I wish I could pass onto you in written form the passion in Michele’s eyes to see these victims freed–physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Her and her husband’s vision is to provide a short-term care facility in a small farm setting where they can grow food and use horses for healing purposes. This will be a place of refuge for these victims of slavery where they can receive the chance for recovery and be returned to their countries or re-integrate into society. Talking to Michele about this vision in numbers, I was motivated to do something. The money that they need to raise for this facility is not a lot in comparison to what a similar project in the US would cost. That’s why in previous posts I’ve mentioned that this trip was only the beginning of my mission. While the magnitude of human trafficking and sex slavery can seem so big and overwhelming to the point of paralysis, Michele made this problem small for me. Not in the sense that this is nothing to be concerned about, but in that I have a face, I know a person, who sees all the faces, who locks eye to eye with those most in need and affected by this crime. This person is making a difference in lives. Unlike government which seems to make everything big and ambiguous, Michele is someone I know. I know how to contact her. She has told me stories of how Rahab Foundation is making a difference. She’s made this tangible for me. Does that even make sense?
What am I going to do? Well, I offered a Photography 101 Class in the spring to raise funds for my trip and I thought that would be the end of it, but while listening to Michele speak I just could not help but think about the funds I could raise for their cause through my class. The next Photography 101 class is being held Saturday September 21, 2013 and there’s still a couple of spots open. I might not be able to raise all the funds for the facility, but maybe I’ll be able to donate enough for a bed, or someone’s cozy blanket and pillow. I refuse to cross my arms and do nothing. I certainly can’t ignore the problem when a woman I know puts her life at risk to rescue others. I hope you won’t either. Please share this post with your family and friends to raise awareness about this world crime that is now the fastest-growing source of income behind drugs and arms trafficking. And pray!
If you are a website developer and would like to help redesign the Rahab Foundation’s website or you would like to support Michele’s vision for the short-term care facility send me an email for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org