I remember sitting in church on New Year’s Eve, hearing my Pastor say, “It was on this night, 150 years ago, that slaves sat patiently waiting to hear the verdict of their freedom.” I immediately started to think about when I was enslaved. Enslaved, in 2005, in an America that is now celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Emancipation. Enslaved, even though slavery was abolished under the 13th Amendment in 1865.
Here I was in church, seven years after surviving 18 months of extreme torture – in every sense of the word. I began thinking of the slavery that still exists in the 21st century. The slavery many people don’t talk about, as it is a “hidden crime,” even though it is in our own backyards. The slavery where human beings are illegally traded and exploited for commercial sex; where human beings are severely beaten, raped, and sodomized. Here I was thinking about modern day slavery – human trafficking. My mind and my heart began to battle. Here I was, free, but some girl somewhere was still enslaved by the hands of a pimp that our society glamorizes. I ask you: do you really know what a “pimp” is?
When we use terms like “Pimp out my car,” “Pimp my cell phone,” or to describe fashion, like, “Those are some pimp shoes,” we are putting a positive connotation on that word. Pimps do not value women but degrade them and view them as commodity; they abuse women both physically and sociologically for their own personal gain. Just think about that for two seconds.
President Obama declared the month of January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month. January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness day, but what do we know about human trafficking? Human trafficking is not something I read about in a book; it was not something I researched. It was my life.
The phrase, “Knowledge is power,” is so true. Had I known what pimps really are, I would not have been enslaved. Had I been known about this subculture that exists right here in the United States, I would not have been forced into a life where I was stripped of my basic human rights.
We need to dig deep down into our hearts and realize the problem that we are facing in America. Human trafficking is the second-largest growing crime industry in the world, and we must do something about it. We must live up to our moral obligations and work together to combat this issue that affects all of us. We need to look in the mirror and say, “Change starts with me!”
We need to unite and bring justice to the oppressed, harsher punishments for the perpetrators and a safer America for our children. We must be the change, break the cycle, defend basic human rights, and bring justice to our communities.
Shamere McKenzie is the Program Assistant for Shared Hope International, an organization whose mission is to prevent the conditions that foster sex slavery, restore victims of sex trafficking, and bring justice to vulnerable women and children. For more information about Shamere McKenzie and her story, visit her website, sign up for her mailing list and follow her on Twitter.
This post is originally published on YWCA. It is cross-posted with permission.