I, along with a colleague, recently spoke in a high school in the Toronto area about violence against women and the issue of human trafficking. We were surprised to learn that much of what we were sharing was falling on virgin ears; they had no idea just how rampant the epidemic ran throughout their city, including the school system. In Canada, 90% of victims of human trafficking were born in Canada; the age range being between 12 and 21, with the average age being 17. While aboriginal women make up one out of every two victims, there is no discrimination between rich, poor, academically advanced, nor intellectually average. Any young woman (or man, although the prevalence is predominantly female) can be a target. These things ought not be so, people.
Part of our objective in speaking to the youth of this school was to raise awareness–and to raise the bar. Raise the bar on responsibility for our actions/in-actions and accountability for the type of society in which we wish to live.
A round-table discussion amongst the students gave us the opportunity to eavesdrop on their conversations and really hear what was front and centre on their hearts and minds. There was some concern as to why there was a “girls only” time allotted in the schools gym.
“Are you kidding me?” a young man said. “Do you hear the way some of the guys talk about the girls in the gym? The rude comments they make? It even makes me uncomfortable.”
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interject.
“How difficult would it be for you to speak up in a situation like that?” I asked. “To say that those kinds of comments are inappropriate- just plain wrong?”
His face flushed as he searched for an answer.
“You men have an opportunity to be change-agents,” I gently encouraged the group. “While it may seem difficult at the time to speak up and be a strong voice for women now, you could very well be someone’s hero twenty years from now. We will be remembered for the things we say and do throughout our entire lifetime. Wouldn’t you like to be remembered for taking a stand, for being the one who said NO to violence and objectification of women?”
In my recent post, Trafficked I received a comment from a passionate/compassionate blogger who was touched by the story, but as a man, felt at a loss as to what impact he could make in the life of one of these young women.
Plenty. Human trafficking and violence against women is not a woman’s problem. It’s a man’s problem. As long as men believe it’s okay to view women as a commodity to be purchased, the focus of objectification, and the brunt of sexist jokes, human trafficking will flourish. Prostitution has only remained “the oldest profession in the world”, because society still views it as acceptable. Consider cigarette smoking. Where it used to be okay to smoke inside buildings, public transit, and just about anywhere a smoker chose to light up, it is now no longer allowed. Why? Because society said that it wasn’t acceptable. Laws were changed because people spoke up.
“You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break. Your job is to stand up for the powerless and prosecute all those who exploit them ”
Psalm 82:3-4 (The Message)
Men can take a lead role in seeing an end to violence and modern-day slavery. You would be the first to jump up to defend your daughter, your sister, your friend. I know you would. Challenge the status quo. Don’t let gender-based slurs go unchallenged. Intercede in prayer for women who go into the places where women are exploited to support these women. Mentor an at-risk male youth in your community. Show your own sons how to respect and value women. One of the biggest indicators for young women falling prey to a trafficker is the lack of a father figure in their lives. I would suggest that the same is true for young men who have yet to learn what it is to respect and honour women. Be a role model.
Yes and amen.