by Jim Boyle
One night in the fall of 2002, Rob Morris witnessed the horrific crime of people selling children for sex in a brothel located in Southeast Asia.
He and some friends were on a mission to learn more about the issue of child sex trafficking and see how they could be helpful in thwarting it. They had connected with an organization that was working to combat human trafficking. They were invited to see one of the suspected operations, where investigators were working undercover to gather evidence before conducting a raid.
Young girls behind a glass wall were wearing red dresses as they watched cartoons on television with blank stares. Each girl had a number pinned to her dress. Menus had prices for different sex acts.
One girl was not watching the cartoons. She was staring at the group through the window with a piercing gaze. Her number was 146.
“I’ll never forget the look on her face: Was it fight? Or was it panic. The hypervigilance that so often follows trauma? Maybe it was disgust. In my heart, I hoped it was defiance,” Morris states on the Love146.org website. “We thought we were going to see the issue of human trafficking that night. Instead, we saw a person. That moment changed something in me. Ever since, it’s challenged me to not look away.”
It was that fateful discovery and what followed that led to the formation of Love 146, a nonprofit that has also taken on the issue of sex trafficking in Asia, the United Kingdom and the United States — mostly one child at a time. Over the last 20 years, they have developed Survivor Care and a 24/7 wrap-around care and they have developed curriculum called “Not a Number,” aimed preventing exploitation. The care is differentiated, as what works in Asia won’t necessarily work in America.
There’s a constant tension of an urge to take immediate action with the time it takes to be thoughtful so that the group’s efforts can be effective and sustainable.
“It takes time to listen and recognize that we don’t and can’t have all of the answers,” Morris said. “Today, Love146’s global work preventing child trafficking and journeying with survivors is informed by our approach of being learners.”
Not all sex trafficking looks like the scene that played out that night in an Asian brothel, but the exploitation of youth takes many forms and happens all over the world. In retrospect, Morris and his associates have concluded that putting themselves in that situation at a brothel was dangerous for them and, worse, could have brought further harm to the children. The brothel was later raided, after enough evidence was gathered. The children were no longer there, including the girl who had the number 146 pinned to her red dress. Morris and others were left to wonder.
Morris has since concluded that children are at the greatest risk when people know something and do nothing or don’t even dare to find out.
W.E.B. Du Bois, a sociologist, historian, author and activist, put it this way: “There is but one coward on earth, and that is the coward that dare not know.”