Sound of Freedom: The Idea of Human Trafficking Wrecked Me

July 28, 2023

Maybe you were anxiously anticipating watching the movie Sound of Freedom. Possibly you watched it because your friends were discussing it at work. Perhaps you were merely curious. Whatever your reason for going to the theater, you now have a feeling of being unsettled. Troubled, and even messed up a bit because of the idea of human trafficking. It sure wrecked me…

What am I supposed to do with this knowledge, this data?

I’m delighted that you are experiencing discontentment in your soul.  Yeah, I really mean that. That’s a good thing. It’s called growth. Good things happen post-discontentment. This is a good day.

Most will watch the movie and feel confused or anxious, or even angry, but for them, these uncomfortable emotions will dissolve before they digest the popcorn after leaving the theater.

But not you. You have been researching information on the topic of trafficking since you exited the theater. You are reading this blog for a reason. A motivation that sets you apart from others.

You care.

You give a rip. You were bothered, and the injustice of what you witnessed is giving you emotional indigestion.

Please allow me to give you more heartburn before we chat about next moves.

First, a little background. I have devoted much of my life to protecting children from trafficking and bone-shattering poverty. As the founder of an organization that protects children from trafficking in Africa and Asia, I’ve witnessed a loaded wheelbarrow of injustice.

While I totally appreciated the movie and encourage everyone to watch it, I struggled for reasons others did not.

To be honest, I thought it was a bit tame.

I understand it needed to be in this case. However, for those of us who have spent much of our life protecting children from trafficking, I have to say that the eyes of the victims were not sad – enough. The hopelessness was not hopeless – enough.

I think it was the right decision to produce this movie in a manner that a broad range of viewers could consume. If I had my druthers, however, there would be a second movie, and it would be rated R. Nothing crass or tactless. Nothing overtly sexual. But it would make you even more sad. More angry. More motivated.

At least, I pray it would.

I assume that most who leave the theater after viewing this movie feel a broad range of raw emotions.  I just wonder how many will act on what they now know to be accurate. Compassion, by definition, always acts.

May I have your permission to take another whack at your heart with an informational sledgehammer? I’m not doing this to be sensationalistic. I want to address a couple of things – for a broader perspective.

This problem is huge. Here is what I have personally seen and heard:

  • A witch doctor, just on the road from where we have our mission in Uganda, purchased two young children for a few bucks. He sacrificed them. He took living, healthy children, tortured them in a ritualistic fashion—and killed them.
  • There was a beautiful young girl in our care in India. While visiting one time, I asked where Renuka was. I missed her beautiful, smiling face, which could light up a room. I was told that out of desperation, her mother had sold her. Trafficked her so that she could pay a dowry for her other daughter.
  • I’ve seen temporary signs posted on street corners that attempt to lure naïve young adults into calling the listed phone number. The person on the other end of the line excitedly shares about wonderful opportunities for their future. But it’s a scam. It’s a snare. A lethal trap that will change the trajectory of this desperate caller for the rest of their life.
  • I’m haunted by a gruesome statistic. A staggering percentage of rescued children go back to their traffickers. You are probably thinking, “You gotta be kidding me?” But it’s true. We often return to what we know, even if it’s evil and disgusting. According to the US Department of State 2020 TIP report, “A trafficker’s repeated abuse and the related trauma exposure may result in a trafficking victim returning to the trafficker due to the intensity, familiarity, and routine provided by the relationship.” It’s called a trauma bond.
  • I’ve been in a room full of Devadasi—temple prostitutes in southern India. Their grandmother was a temple prostitute. They are a temple prostitute. Their daughters are now temple prostitutes. They hardly even benefit from the few rupees that they earn. Once they are used up—they are flushed like yesterday’s sewage. It should make our stomachs ache.
  • Only 1 to 2% of child trafficking victims are recovered, according to Erase Child Trafficking. And, for the minuscule number that are rescued, it’s a long, long road for any form of genuine recovery—if ever. The trauma from being used sexually over and over and over is staggering. Anxiety, depression, and flashbacks are emotional tsunamis to be expected.

So, you may be thinking, “What am I supposed to do now that I am supplied with this knowledge?” Let me arm you with some practical thoughts and ideas:

  1. Don’t buy into the myth that you should only be concerned with trafficking that is in the United States of America. That’s not true. By all means, charity always begins at home, but the US has better resources than anyone to fight trafficking.
  2. Many gravitate to the idea of being the hero that kicks in the door, rescues the child from the evil trafficker, and punches him in the throat. While that fantasy might energize you, there may be a better way. Think PREVENTION. Rescue is rare. Recovery is extremely important, but very few in reality, will ever experience a recovery program. Prevention is where we need to put a large portion of our time, creativity, and resources.
  3. What does prevention look like?
    • Removing vulnerable children from the path of traffickers by placing them into caregivers’ homes. Places where caregivers are taught about trafficking and provided the resources to take care of a child who would otherwise be vulnerable to trafficking.
    • Providing self-sustaining opportunities via microfinance or other entrepreneurial adventures in which families can generate a sustainable income. Trafficking is fueled by money. It is hard for us to believe in the Western world, but in other parts of the world, desperate mothers sell their own little girls in order to pay for a dowry. Or to buy food for the rest of the family. I know this is gut retching. I know this is hard for you to hear. But it’s true. I have seen it.
  4. Find an orphan care mission that you trust. It’s OK to ask questions. Hard questions. Set a goal to set aside funds from your paycheck to regularly give to trusted organizations that are protecting vulnerable children from trafficking. Make a donation. Sponsor a child. This is a real, tangible, measurable method to make an impact.
  5. Feel free to reach out to ask questions.
  6. If you are a Jesus follower, you really take his teachings to heart. Go back and look at how often he tells us in the gospels to take care of the poor, the needy, the orphan, the widow, the marginalized, and the vulnerable. Take it to heart. What is the Spirit telling you to do? This is the very core of our discipleship!
  7. Pray for a vulnerable child every night before you go to sleep. When your head hits the pillow, whisper a prayer for someone in need.

About the author:

Matt Hartsell is the father of five including two internationally adopted children. He is married to his best friend, Barb. Matt served as an Associate Pastor for 35 years. He was also a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and is the founder of Forgotten Children Worldwide – serving vulnerable children in Africa and Asia by protecting them from poverty & human trafficking, and empowering them towards self-sustaining futures.

Feel free to contact Matt at [email protected].

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