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Grant Modern Day Slavery
When singer Natalie Grant sat down to watch her favorite TV show, she had no idea that her life was about to change. That particular episode of the popular NBC drama Law & Order dealt with the horrors of human trafficking. "I knew that the cases portrayed on Law & Orde_ are always based on real issues," Natalie recounts. "But I couldnít believe what I was seeingó10, 11, 12-year-old girls in cages, shipped over to America to be used as sexual slaves, forced into prostitution."
What is being called "modern day slavery" involves the transport, from one country to another, of 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children each year. This does not include the unknown number of persons who are traded within a country. Despite the growing awareness of the problem and efforts to stop it, the trade continues to grow, driven by the money that can be made.
"Surely not in America," we might think. "This canít happen here." Similar thoughts went through Natalieís mind as she sat in her comfortable home, sipping tea. In a speech last year, Colin L. Powell stated that in the U.S. there are up to 18,000 cases a year. This despite growing efforts by the government to combat the problem. Tragically, the vast majority of victims are women and children.
In testimony given before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a young woman named Rosa shared her personal ordeal. She, like many victims of trafficking, was lured from her parentís home in Mexico through the promise of making more money.
She was only 14 when she arrived in the U.S. and was told that her employment would consist of having sex with men for money. "I had never had sex before," Rosa testified, "and I had never imagined selling my body. And so my nightmare began."
"Because I was a virgin, the men decided to initiate me by raping me again and again, to teach me how to have sex. Over the next three months, I was taken to a different trailer every 15 days. Every night I had to sleep in the same bed in which I had been forced to service customers all day.
"I couldn't do anything to stop it. I wasn't allowed to go outside without a guard. Many of the bosses had guns. I was constantly afraid. One of the bosses carried me off to a hotel one night, where he raped me. I could do nothing to stop him.
"Because I was so young, I was always in demand with the customers. It was awful. Although the men were supposed to wear condoms, some didn't, so eventually I became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion. They sent me back to the brothel almost immediately.
"I cannot forget what has happened. I can't put it behind me. I find it nearly impossible to trust people. I still feel shame. I was a decent girl in Mexico. I used to go to church with my family. I only wish none of this had ever happened."
The heartbreak from seeing a tragedy like this depicted on her TV screen led Natalie Grant to search the Internet looking for answers. She found Shared Hope, an organization devoted to rescuing children from prostitution and giving them a home, an education, and the skills to make a living on their own. She called the organizationís office first thing the next morning. Within a matter of months, she and her husband were on their way to India, to visit the red-light districts and see human trafficking up close, and what was being done to stop it.
"I was walking down the street in Mumbai, in broad daylight, when my eyes locked on a little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, peering out of a cage, looking at us on the street below. It was beyond my imagination," Natalie says of the experience. "Iíll never forget that moment. That was her life. Every day people walked by, and they didnít even notice her."
What Natalie saw that day changed the trajectory of her life. It woke her from complacency and passivity to a life driven by compassion and passion. It even changed the way she approaches her music. It led her to a new place of self-discovery that has given rise to songs written from her heart and that she hopes will make a difference.
Those who would like to make a difference in the lives of those that otherwise might not be helped can support HOME foundation, the new ministry Natalie started. The focus for 2005 will be India, which is seeing an increasing number of victims of the severest forms of trafficking.
HOME will partner with Bombay Teen Challenge to build a medical facility for the Village at Ashagram. It will be a place devoted to the healing and rehabilitation of girls and boys illegally forced into the sex trade. Sadly, 85% of those rescued have AIDS, and the nearest medical facility is over two hours away. The new facility will provide each person with quality medical care and the costly medications that will help to prolong their lives. To support this work, or for more information, visit nataliegrant.com.