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My stomach dropped, I couldn’t move, rooted to the ground in terror. His eyes were red and a patchy beard covered his face, the smell of stale alcohol reeking from his camouflage military uniform. Waving his rifle around, he tried to grab me and I let out a piercing scream, looking around for help. There was no one who would meet my eye, not the man who worked for my father or even the police who were looking the other way.
What had begun as a harmless adventure to the local mall with a friend had quickly turned into a nightmare. As we were young women in a civil war zone we were unable to walk around freely without a male escort. Sick of having to beg our male friends to accompany us around town, and being constantly watched by security guards, we were craving privacy and time to ourselves. We slipped out just before lunch and started towards the mall. It was when we turned the corner and lost sight of the boarding school, that we noticed two men watching us from a nearby field. Their looks made us uneasy but we rounded another corner and came to the main road where daily life was carrying on as usual: people yelling from their stalls, children searching the gutters for anything of value. I don’t know why, but at that moment I turned to glance behind us. There, coming towards us were the two men from the field. Suddenly the man in camo was before us, rifle in hand. He tried to drag us away but his rifle was heavy, and his movements slow. We squirmed out of his grasp and ran straight into the mall where we could get lost amongst the shops.
Looking back now, it was a stupid thing to do but surrounded by people that I knew and an active police checkpoint, I had felt safe. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone here was driven by fear. It was the reason that they glanced away, pretending as though they couldn’t see or hear what was happening. The fact that the men were in the military meant that anyone who wanted to help was prevented from doing so, for fear that they would lose their businesses or even their lives. Ours was a lucky experience. We had escaped, bruised and terrified but we were free from the pursuit of an armed trafficker.
It may seem like something out of a book, or a film, but this is the story of a New Zealand citizen and Victoria University student. Although she was able to escape harm before anything further happened, this is not the case for all.
Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry that is built upon the vulnerabilities of the men, women and children who live in extreme poverty. With false promises of a better future, each day thousands of people are sold into the commercial sex trade against their will. 75% of those affected by this sexual exploitation are women and children, with the average age of victims being just 12 years old. Every 30 seconds, a child or woman is trafficked. Even the 1-2% of victims who are able to escape this abuse are still faced with shame and stigma once they return home.
TEARFund and Live Below the Line are working together to raise both money and awareness to fight human trafficking in Central and Southeast Asia, which has one the largest sex slave industries in the world. The Live Below the Line campaign is challenging you to make a stand and support this mission by living on $2.25 a day during 21 to 25 September or donating to the Victoria University Live Below the Line team. Any money raised goes towards the rescue and rehabilitation of victims, as well as the prosecution of the traffickers involved. TEARFund also works to educate and empower vulnerable communities so that they are able to protect themselves against human trafficking rings.
To sign up or donate, just search for “Wellington’s Fight Against Human Trafficking” on Facebook or go to https://www.livebelowtheline.com/team/victoria-university.
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”