I am disheartened to identify myself as a witness to modern-day human trafficking and sexual slavery. I live in Miami where every day feels like vacation. That is my ordinary world.
A few weeks ago, I strolled into my building, beautiful art on the lobby walls, sparkling marble floors and views of the ocean. I held the front door for a young white girl, perhaps 17, also walking in, gorgeous, no makeup, dressed simply and exuding something I couldn’t quite put my finger on — sweetness, I think. The few minutes we spent together changed my life — and, I hope, hers — forever.
She told me she was here from another city. She mentioned that she’d planned to be in town for several days, but had been here for several weeks. Her boyfriend wouldn’t let her go home. She said she’d tried, but had been thwarted in every effort. She took a little joy in the fact that she’d done some dancing and at least made some good money. Her tone was serene, sincere, nonchalant, not an ounce of fear apparent. Her glassy eyes, likely drug induced, somehow added to her charm.
We said our goodbyes, I wished her luck and immediately went into action. Surely, she’s being trafficked, I thought, and the “call to adventure” began.
Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I take the next step and call the police?
Instead, I called a human-trafficking hot line I had heard about and breathed a sigh of relief as I dialed. I listened to a brief recording, then waited on hold for what seemed like an eternity. In those seconds, my feelings went from deep sadness to raging anger. What if I were that girl?
In that moment, I remembered she had told me her name. This was my one shot. Finally, my call was answered. A young man, almost unintelligible for all of his mumbling, asked for my name.
There I was, just as Joseph Campbell surmised, answering the “call to adventure.” I was being asked a question that was no longer simple: If I share my name, will it become public? Will the trafficker know who I am, come after me, threaten, attack or kill me? Should I hang up and live my life knowing that someone needed my help and I did nothing?
“Look, dude, I cannot understand a word you are saying, I can’t give my name. What’s next?” He asked a couple of questions, with a tone that made it sound as if I was disturbing his time at work. Then he gave me a phone number.
I dialed it immediately, but it was the wrong phone number! The woman on the phone gave me the right number, the non-emergency operations for Miami-Dade County. I called and gave a detailed report, still without my name.
I texted a friend who’s heavily involved in supporting the movement against human trafficking in Miami at the highest levels. We made progress immediately. The next morning, I was sent a photo of the girl to confirm her identity. Yes, she was a victim of human trafficking. I studied her photo, noticed the differences between what was exuded there and the sweetness I felt in her presence. The tears wouldn’t stop.
The girl did not leave, a normal response, I now know from experts. When things get worse, I thought, and they will, she’ll know her options. Well, things must have gotten worse, because I later was told that she was rescued — and that I may have saved her life.
Florida ranks third in U.S. human trafficking, behind California and Texas. An estimated 1.5 million people in the United States are victims of trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, and mostly children.
Going forward, it is my job to remove the obstacles and hurdles in the way. We must all accept the challenge to make a difference, to work with the organizations and people who have committed their lives to alleviating this wickedness.
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking in Miami-Dade County, call 211 immediately.
Seanne N. Murray, an author, is the founder of Seanne N. Murray Enterprises, 90 Minutes of Solutions and The Ara Initiative.