Let us End the Space in which Exploitation Flourishes

I imagine most of us women are a little preoccupied as of late. My girls and I are listening to Michelle Obama today, filling our minds with strong inspiring words to remind our hearts of who we are.

On the International Day of the Girl Child, we watch CNN’s “Let Girls Learn”, alternating spoons of ice cream with quick side swipes of tears. The 5th grader takes notes, for she has already determined to make her final project about girls’ education. I am amazed at God’s creativity, the delight he must have in humanity, the beauty of these faces from Liberia, Morocco.

The same beauty which is assaulted and violated on a regular basis, of which the GOP candidate boasts.

I spend hours upon hours, 12 class periods, teaching youth about human trafficking this week. How can I ignore the connection? How can I dismiss the danger of “locker room talk” which creates the space in which exploitation and trafficking flourishes?

Is it all that far from the comments my girls have already heard from boys? Move over cause boys code better than girls. Hey, I’m hungry, go get me some food. Your legs are fat. They’ve already been recipients of a pervasive view of females as being less than, subservient, physically evaluated.

I am also in 5th grade when Mason grabs me on the playground. Mason. I remember his name. And I remember what he said when he grabbed me. The word p***y has been seared in my mind ever since as the derogatory, predatory, violating word he intended it to be. Indeed, I do not think it possible for a man to use that word and respect the woman to which he refers.

I struggle to contain the anger. I resist the urge to unleash on a classroom of high school students. Today’s candidate is merely an exposed version of what exists in too many homes, too many campuses, too many offices. His votes will bear witness to a nation which has become inoculated to sexualized rhetoric.

Unless. Unless we declare with Michelle Obama, enough is enough. For our daughters and our sons–for this is as much about our boys as it is about our girls. Male and female he created them. We are made in the image of God and together we reflect him. Together we exhibit his glory.

This week my mantra with students is, “let’s be a people who notice and then, upon noticing, let’s be a people who act.” My goal is not to scare them or make them feel guilty, but to open their eyes to see things differently. Maybe if they see things through a different lens, what they see will change? Perhaps they’ll hear the same refrain and this time, it bothers them. They’ll see their friends doing something they’ve seen a hundred times before, but now, they pause, they wonder, they’re curious. Maybe curiosity is the cure?

What if we were a people who noticed and acted? We notice the boy who starts the demeaning treatment of female classmates and we intervene? We speak frankly to the man in his life. We get aggressive about mutual respect and language in school? What if we notice the boys who are respectful to girls and we praise them? What if male and female worked together to expose the spaces in which exploitation flourishes and demand a change?

These are the weeks I feel most useless. When I am reminded that as much as we recover (rescue), prosecute, collaborate, educate, and restore, if we do not address the root beliefs about each other, human trafficking will persist. We can prune branches and rake leaves till we’re blue in the face, but if the roots survive, they keep coming back.

The real human rights issue at stake was birthed in a garden where a seed was also planted. A promised seed that would uproot it all. To that seed I look today. There is hope yet.

Beth Bruno is founder and director of A Face to Reframe, a non-profit committed to preventing human trafficking through arts, training, and community building. She writes about women in ministry, girls becoming women, and exploited women. Her writing has appeared at Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman, InterVarsity’s The Well, and she is a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. She can be found in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and 3 kids or at www.bethbruno.org.