First-Person: An inside look at human trafficking in Johannesburg
Dec 22, 2011
By MARTHA RICHARDS
International Mission Board

SOUTH AFRICA (BP)—The odors of liquor, smoke and sweat permeate the air. One small bulb lights the alleyway. Traffic is light on the main road, but this side street keeps busy.

“Mister!” yells a young woman to a car driving past. “You’re the daddy. I’m your little girl, and I got what you want right here!” Another woman hides in the shadows, quietly crying. The pimps’ laughter rises as they share jokes while smoking and playing cards.

Two young women share a bottle of alcohol to give them courage to approach the cars driving through the side street. A client parks in the shade, waiting for a woman to join him in the backseat. Another client follows a woman into her pimp’s apartment. Thirty minutes later the man leaves.

BEFRIENDING VICTIMS Charntel Paile (right), an outreach worker who ministers to prostitutes in South Africa, visits with Najia, a trafficking victim, before Najia is admitted to a drug rehabilitation facility. Unfortunately, after the six-week program was complete Najias trafficker convinced her to return to a life of prostitution. IMB photo
One after another the clients pick up the women, but somehow there is an endless supply. As one woman leaves, another arrives. Two young women stand in the shadows, hesitant and afraid. Suddenly a pimp approaches and provides them with more drugs. The women begin to sell themselves again.

I was convinced I could never end up in a situation like these women—hooked on drugs and alcohol, forced into prostitution and sold from one man to another. I could never be a slave. I could never be trafficked.

One afternoon with a pimp in the park changed my perspective. I knew who he was and what he did. He knew nothing about me.

Diallo* was adept at slyly pulling information about my life and passions. I’m not hesitant in sharing my faith, and soon Diallo learned I’m a Christian. Moments later, he invited me to attend church with him.

The scenario is all too common. A strong, handsome young man meets a single woman. He is lively and charming. Best of all, he says he’s a Christian. New to the area and looking for friends, it would be easy for a woman to fall into his grasp. The innocence of the moment can soon turn into a nightmare.

TRAFFICKED AS A TEEN Lisha was trafficked as a young teenager and has spent nearly 20 years trapped in forced prostitution in South Africa. Just a few days after this photo was taken, Lisha was almost beaten to death by her pimp for trying to escape to a drug rehabilitation center. IMB photo
Just one prearranged meeting is all he needs. An unopened drink that’s already been drugged, a friend or two lying in wait or a short walk down a deserted street. He takes you, arranges for men to rape you, forces you to take drugs and then, once you are under his control, he sells you to someone in another city or country.

Through a fellow Christian in the area who has a ministry to these women, I’ve learned that approximately 90 percent of the women working the streets of South Africa’s urban centers are trafficked—deceived, taken against their will, sold and transported into slavery.

One of these young women, Lisha,* invited me inside her small, bare apartment—no bigger than a dorm room. The only “furniture” was a blow-up mattress. The dirty kitchenette was dimly lit, and dust gathered along the floor. A moment passed before I realized Lisha and I were not alone.

Kaniz* was curled into a ball in the corner of the room, weeping silently. Her pimp had recently purchased her in another South African city. Lisha immediately became Kaniz’s protector, taking her beatings and making sure that only “good” clients picked her up. But Kaniz had just learned she was going to be sold again and separated from Lisha—her only friend.

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