Minh, 29, is a human trafficking specialist who is working to help children who are being sexually exploited and at high risk of HIV.
It was Spring, 2013, and I was frantically trying to finish my Masters in Social Welfare at UC Berkeley. I was writing a thesis on the question “is human trafficking equivalent to slavery?” During my research I came across this passage:
“Siri is very frightened that she will get AIDS. Long before she understood prostitution she knew about HIV, as many girls from her village returned home to die from AIDS after being sold into brothels. Every day she prays to Buddha, trying to earn the merit that will preserve her from the disease.”
Siri was a young child enslaved in brothels in Thailand at the age of 14. She was sold by her parents to the brothel and raped by at least 15 men a day. UNAIDS estimates 200,000 “women” over the age of 15 are living with HIV in Thailand as of 2012. I put women in quotes because in the USA, a 15 year-old is a teenager, a child. Moreover, over 29 million people are enslaved worldwide.
Children all over the world are being sexually exploited and they are at high risk of HIV infection. Girls like Siri cannot force the men who rape her to use condoms. The people who are willing to treat girls as commodities are in no way concerned with the girls’ wellbeing. I’m all too familiar with having my life put at risk of HIV.
I’m a US citizen and a survivor of incest and sexual slavery. My parents raped me and sold me in brothels and on the streets in San Jose, California. When I read Siri’s story, I began to sob. I, too, prayed to Buddha to protect me. My mother taught me to pray each night in Vietnamese, “Dear Buddha, please keep me strong, healthy, and free from disease.”
Learning about girls in Thai brothels was painful. I learned that once they contracted HIV, they were often kicked to the curb to die and shunned by their families. Moreover, younger and younger virgin girls are being sought after so that they are less likely to pass on HIV to their rapists. These girls have little access to treatment or even know they have the disease. They are treated like throwaway people, meant to carry shame for others. While the number of support services has increased, there are still many young people who aren’t accessing services and their lives could end at such early ages.
As a survivor of incest and commercial sexual exploitation, more aptly called sexual enslavement, I’m so lucky I never contracted HIV. I have had to deal with other sexually transmitted infections, though I have been privileged with access to decent health care in the USA.
I have always felt strongly about the injustices that surround HIV/AIDS, but I could not articulate why until I read Siri’s story. To raise awareness for children like Siri, and children in the United States who were sold like I was, I have decided to ride 545 miles for the survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
What more can be done to end modern-day slavery?
To find out more about human trafficking, visit our friends over at MTV EXIT