Calling prompts introspection

By Margaret Brinson, Managing Editor

A 20-year-old prostitute, trafficked to South Africa from her home in Mozambique, takes pictures with her friends during her downtime one afternoon. Photo by Margaret Brinson

 

When we pulled up to the church, I asked if she had ever been before . Quietly, she told me, “This is where I come to pray.”

The juxtapositions were staggering: not only was I talking God with a prostitute, but there was the contrast of her fate against mine, our dras­tically different life sto­ries, dreams and aspira­tions, even the color of her cracked and peeling coffee-colored hand next to mine.

But there we both were that afternoon, as I tried my best to finagle a story from my subject: Amanda, 20 years old, a victim of human sex traf­ficking. Bought and sold into slavery, from Mo­zambique to Durban and finally Pretoria, where I first met her in June, for Amanda the buying never stops. Now, though, it is only her body that comes at a price. Her soul has al­ready been claimed; it is property of the pimp.

I was green, just a few weeks into my internship as an international corre­spondent in the Republic of South Africa, when I got word of an opportunity to cover human trafficking in the region alongside a fellow reporter. I knew I had to do it. And after I had been once, I wanted to go again. And again.

This was a story I want­ed not only more than any I had ever worked on before, but more than my nights and weekends, more than sleep, more than my own well-being. When it came down to a question of safety over the scoop, I would have opted for the story every time.

I remember one night we found ourselves in the middle of a brawl. We had come to the red light district of town to hang out with the wom­en and hopefully hear a few of their stories. We had landed in hell. Shad­owy silhouettes darted in front and to the back of us, liquor fizzing and spraying through the air like fireworks in the dark. The pimps were scream­ing in some foreign tongue — presumably Zulu or Xhosa, the pre­dominant tribal languag­es of the area. As fists and insults continued to fly just steps away on the other side of the street, I had the distinct feeling that we were next. If our white skin and American accents did not give us away, the massive Can­on 7D at my side should have told them that we were trouble.

I was scared. But I was not half as afraid as I was exhilarated, intoxicated in the moment — even the danger — drinking it in. And before I even knew what had hap­pened, I was hooked on the adrenaline.

I still wanted the story for the sake of the wom­en, for truth and for jus­tice, but I also wanted it for the excitement — for me. Instead of breaking the journalist’s cardinal rule of objectivity, I got lost in it. It was not the outcome or angle of the story I was interested in, but the thrill of getting it — the notch in my belt, the way it would read on a resume.

Now I know everyone wants a job they can be excited about. Most of us desire to do great things. But the journalist’s call is to be a voice for the voice­less — not to use them as an amplifier to shout our own names loud.

In the end, I never did get Amanda’s story. Af­ter all of the fighting that night, everyone was too on-guard to talk. Forty-eight hours later, I was on a plane headed back to the States. I would never be able to sign my name to that story, to say, “Look what I did!” But be­cause of that, I was able to step back and examine myself, see where I was heading in the wrong di­rection, and reform.

Most aid organizations estimate the number of humans trafficked across borders to be somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 annually, with about 80 percent of those destined to land in the sex industry. Half of all trafficking victims are be­lieved to be children. As I sit writing this, a friend from South Africa tells me two of the young girls I met there had been sex­ually abused in the past. She was also a victim of abuse.

These are issues that matter. They are stories that matter more than me, and certainly more than my career. And I hope one day I get the opportunity to tell them again, not for me, but for those who need to hear, and more so, for those who deserve to be heard.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.