Published in the Rains County Leader on April 23, 2019:
As a published author, the most common question I’m asked is what my books are about. I released my first novel last summer, and the short answer to that question is “it’s about human trafficking in small town America.” The second most common I’m asked about that particular book is “whatever possessed you to write about a subject like that?”
Before this book, my perspective on human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking of young girls, was very narrow, based primarily on movies and television crime shows. In my mind, this unspeakable crime was limited to the back alleys of foreign countries or a few mega-cities in the U.S. where orphans or run-aways were snatched from a hopeless existence and forced into something even worse. And it didn’t include children.
Then, one Sunday evening, a couple from Tyler visited our church. They had founded an organization called For the Silent whose mission statement reads, in part: we work to end sex trafficking and exploitation by empowering the voices of vulnerable and exploited youth. Their visit was a real wake up call.
Numbers are all over the place depending on which expert you read, but everyone seems to agree that over a million children are trafficked each year, and the average age when children are introduced into trafficking is 11 to 14. Not only is sex trafficking not limited to faraway places, it is not limited to nameless, faceless children who live in another reality. It is happening to girls – and sometimes boys – just like my grandchildren, the children and grandchildren of my friends and neighbors, the children I see every week at church or in the grocery store.
One of the stories the couple told us that night was about a thirteen-year-old girl who was targeted by a trafficker. She was an innocent, small-town girl who was approached by a stranger asking for directions. During their brief conversation, he gave her a non-threatening compliment then said good-by. Over the next several months, he “groomed” her. She “ran into him” frequently, and they became friends. At first they just talked, and then he began giving her small gifts. Their friendship grew, the gifts became larger, and she fell in love with him. He used her feelings for him to manipulate her into becoming part of his merchandise. Then, he continued to control her with fear and threats and violence. That’s why I wrote the novel I did – because I think the story of this girl and others like her needs to be told to people like me who don’t know these silent victims exist.
When I visit various group to talk about my book, I offer suggestions about how each of us can help fight this horrible crime. One of those suggestions is to support groups like For the Silent, and an opportunity is available this week. The biggest fund-raising event for this Tyler-based operation is their annual Nighwalk For Hope. The following information is from their website:
On the evening of Saturday, April 27th, we will come together as a community to shine a light on human trafficking in east Texas.
This family-friendly event includes multiple food trucks, bounce houses, music, face-painting, yard games, and more. As the sun sets around 8:15pm we conclude the night with a 2-mile walk on a section of the Rose Rudman trail.
Each participant will carry a lantern to light our way and to symbolize hope in the darkness.
[Online] registration is now closed. But worry not, you can register at the event!
Event Day Details:
Event sign-in and registration begins at 5:30 pm in Rose Rudman’s Southside Park and we will start walking as the sun sets around 8:15 pm.
T-shirts can be picked up at the sign-in table for participants who have pre-registered online. [Other t-shirts, tote bags, and souvenirs are available for purchase.]
We will have food trucks, kids’ activities, and music before the walk begins — so bring your family and a lawn chair or blanket, and enjoy a fun community atmosphere.
We will have security, adequate lighting, and port-a-potties to help ensure everyone has a great time.
For more information about Nightwalk For Hope or For the Silent, go to www.ForTheSilent.org or call 903.747.8128.