In America, where we show our support for kidnapped Nigerian school girls or read that the terrorist organization ISIS has earned millions through human trafficking in the Middle East, it’s easy to believe that human trafficking is something that happens far away, to other people’s children. But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 300,000 children in the United States are at risk for being sold into prostitution . This month, while your own children are excitedly making new friends at school, many others in this country are not nearly so lucky.
The statistics are heartbreaking enough to make you want to close your eyes and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Learning, for example, that a woman or child working in a residential brothel (a common fate for victims of human trafficking) has sex with an average of 25–48 men per day, or that more than four thousand underage youths are trafficked for sex on any given night in New York City, is nauseating and will likely leave you with no hope for these victims.
But there is some hope, as well as opportunities to learn how to address the issue. You can find them in Breaking Free by Abby Sher (Barron’s Educational Series, 2014).
Sher’s book profiles three women who escaped from modern slavery. Minh Dang was 10 years old, living in California in the early 1990s, when her parents forced her into prostitution after years of raping and abusing her themselves. Maria Suarez came to Los Angeles from Mexico with her father and was kidnapped. As the book explains, undocumented immigrants like Suarez are among those most vulnerable to trafficking. The book, however, shares their stories of triumph, bringing inspiration along with the harrowing details of their lives.
Following the book’s release last spring, the subject of the third profile—Somaly Mam—has been the focus of controversy. Newsweek reported in May that many of the details of Mam’s story describing her time spent in a brothel in Cambodia starting in 1979 may not be true. As the founder of the French organization AFESIP (a group that has raised millions to combat human trafficking), Mam has claimed to have rescued thousands of girls from slavery (though these claims may not be entirely true either, as at least one of the women associated with Mam’s work was never involved in the sex trade).
While these allegations certainly cast Mam’s profile in Breaking Free (which is presented as entirely non-fiction) in a new light, they don’t diminish from the overall message of the book, or much of Mam’s good work on behalf of victims of human trafficking. Beyond its stories of hope and triumph, Breaking Free includes helpful and clearly presented information detailing who is most at risk for human trafficking, where it happens most frequently, why it happens, and how we can all contribute to stopping this horrific crime.