Many years ago, I did work for the Indian government related to HIV/AIDS. My job was to go into the brothels and provide safe sex messages. I had a police officer who traveled with me. By this time in my career, I had heard many stories from victims I had interviewed. The topic greatly concerned me.
At one of the brothels, upon entering the waiting area, an eleven-year-old Nepalese trafficking victim saw me and ran up to me. She wrapped her arms around my waist, and in Nepalese she said, ‘Save me, save me, they are doing terrible things to me!’
I looked down in shock at this young girl. She had straight black hair cut in a simple hanging style that reached her shoulders. A dress, ten sizes too big, hung on her small frame. She had a pre-adolescent body. This was a child in an adult world. I can never forget the
pleading desperation in her light-brown eyes.

I turned to the police officer and said, ‘We need to take this girl out of here, now.’ ‘No, we can’t do that,’ he said.  ‘Why not? You’re a cop!’  ‘Because they will kill us before they will let us leave with her. Finding a child this age will create a lot of problems for them.’
We left, frustrated, but returned several hours later with more police officers. The officer I was with had to convince these others to act. It took some persuading. I felt they resisted because it would add more work to their shift.

When we arrived back, the young girl was gone. While the officers did a thorough job searching every floor, she was never found. Because of the severe fines and penalties that a brothel could face with such a young victim, they had presumably moved her to another location.
I will never know what happened to that precious child, but I am sure it included beatings, torture, and a drastically shortened life full of misery. Almost certainly, that little girl is long dead now—someone so young in the brothels had a very high probability of contracting HIV and dying of AIDS.
Every once in a while, each of us is given a life test. This was mine, and I failed. I should have found a way to get that girl out of that awful place, and I couldn’t. I failed her so thoroughly that I never even learned her name. For weeks after encountering this child, I had traumatic nightmares. I was haunted by the desperate expression etched across her face, along with those pleading eyes looking up at me. I would wake up in a cold sweat with my heart pounding in my chest. During these times, I imagined the things I could have done to help her. I could have simply picked her up and ran down the stairs. I could have had the police officer leave and come back with more officers while I stayed at the brothel. There were many other options that came to my mind. The fact that I failed to do these things weighed heavily on my heart. I also started reflecting on my own life. I had been doing public service work for years, but I finally came to realize that, to a certain extent, I had been doing the work for me—to promote Matt Friedman’s career, and get the next big job. It took this terrible situation to bring me back to what it was all about. It wasn’t about me. It was about the people out there who needed help.
Not knowing what else to do, I finally surrendered. I accepted the fact that, knowing what I did about this problem, I could no longer turn away. I had to step up and become fully involved. At that moment, an activist was born. Many people who fight this injustice have a similar story to tell. The reality of the pain and suffering gets under a person’s skin. Once absorbed, there is no escaping it.
In an attempt to restore some small shred of the dignity stolen from her, I call this child Amulya, which in Nepalese means “priceless.” Amulya and those like her have an intrinsic worth beyond measure. To give her suffering some meaning, I tell Amulya’s story in the hope that others will do what they can to protect women and girls around the world from similar fates.
The best way to understand the extent of an issue is through the eyes of a person who has experienced it. A few months after my encounter with Amulya, I started visiting shelters in Nepal that took in rescued trafficking victims. At a shelter in Kathmandu, I met a young girl named Meena. She had been trafficked to India and endured the brothels for several years. She had AIDS. The next day, I received a letter from her. The depth of Meena’s anguish can be felt in her words. Read these words carefully—they hold a very important message.
Thank you for your kindness in coming to see me yesterday at the shelter. Your words brought great joy to my broken heart.

I turn fifteen on Monday. After being used by so many men, I can see that my days will soon come to an end. My illness gets worse with each passing day. I can hardly eat. The food has no flavour. It is sour, like so much of my life. I will not see my sixteenth birthday.
I look back on that day when I left my family’s home. I was only twelve then. I was so happy. So full of life. I had such hopes and dreams. Now look at me. I will never marry. I will never have children. I will never have grandchildren. I will not grow old. The day that first man took my virtue was the day my God died. He and all those other men stole my life away. I was just a child. Why did nobody come to help me? I have stopped asking why this happened to me. I have even stopped feeling angry.
I need you to promise me. I need you to do what you can to prevent any other girls from falling into this hole. Promise me you will end this evil. Promise me you will never stop trying. I don’t care about myself. I’m done. Don’t let any more of our sisters go through what I went through.
My spirit is already dead inside. My body will soon catch up. How can this happen to a child?

Where are all the good men? Where are our protectors? Where is our humanity? Promise me.
I read and re-read this letter at least twenty times that day, with tears streaming down my face. Many of us who work in this field are driven by these passionate pleas. Many other victims have similar thoughts and feelings that are never revealed to the world. This offers us a glimpse into their broken hearts.

Meena was only fifteen years old. She was commercially raped more than 7,000 times. There are literally millions of women and girls in this situation. She asked two important questions: ‘Where are all of the good men? Where are our protectors?’ They are out there. We just need to find them, wake them up, and help them to work alongside us to combat this problem.
After leaving Nepal to relocate to Bangladesh, I never returned to this shelter. Several years later, I heard from one of my colleagues that Meena had passed. This was the fate of so many of these girls. To add insult to injury, after having their lives taken away from them, after being forced to be with all of these men, their final outcome was death.
Reading this letter so many years ago was another epiphany that helped me understand that we have a mandate to help end the suffering of those like Meena. Human trafficking represents one of the most disgusting human rights violations of our time. To truly address this problem, I realized that we needed to establish a second-generation abolitionist movement in which we all step up and do our part. Help be a part of the solution. Consider stepping up and helping to address this terrible crime.
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