When I wrote the short story that became The Sad Girl back in 2005, I needed a reason for a girl to get kidnapped that didn’t involve ransom. I thought about it briefly, and decided she’d been kidnapped by a white slavery ring.
When I look at that phrase now, I cringe. I was so naïve.
I think I might have pulled it from a 70s-nostalgia-induced moment, when that was the danger du jour on shows like the original Hawaii Five-O (and I HATE having to write “the original” like that!). Then again, when I was watching TV in the 70s, I didn’t really know what some of those things were. I understood “slavery,” and the shows that had episodes about “white slavery” always had pretty white girls playing the damsel in distress, so even as a pre-teen watching 70s vintage family-friendly shows, I had a pretty good idea what it was all about.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how horribly inaccurate those shows were.
Was it because the writers really didn’t know what was going on even then? Or were they trying to avoid raising too many eyebrows and getting dinged for violating public decency?
I wrote that short in the middle of writing another novel. When I finished that one, I gave the short another look and thought, “You know, this could be a great first chapter of a thriller.” So I changed the setting a little bit and started writing some more. Then I realized I needed to learn more about this whole slavery thing.
Then it got ugly.
I had a friend in Canada who worked in the victimology field, and reached out to him for some ideas. His information made my story more accurate, but I almost wish I had left it alone.
The numbers are staggering.
Between 2008 and 2010 alone, federal task forces investigated over 2,500 human trafficking investigations. That’s just two years, and just on the federal level, and just in the US.
Human. Trafficking. Buying and selling people, in the 21st century.
I saw a number in my research that said there were more people being bought and sold today than were ever enslaved back in the 17th and 18th centuries. And prices have dropped, too. A slave that cost $40,000 in 1809 (adjusted for inflation) now costs $90.
Even at those prices, it’s a $32,000,000,000 industry. 32 BILLION dollars. You could do an awful lot of good with that much money.
There are over 29,000,000 people in slavery today, doing everything from farming to building electronics to making clothes to selling their bodies over a dozen times a day.
Half of them are under 16.
Survivor’s Ink in Columbus, Ohio, a non-profit that helps former sex slaves cover their tattooed brands, just helped their first minor. She was 10 years old when it started. Ten. I wanted to cry when I read that post.
Usually, the traffickers don’t have to work hard to find their victims. They’ll place an advertisement offering guaranteed employment with a place to stay and good wages, all in an exotic locale. You just get here to us, and we PROMISE you’ll have a job.
Once the victims arrive, the traffickers provide everything: a place to live – with twenty other people. A place to work – in horrible conditions for less than the advertised pay. A paycheck – that doesn’t cover the extra fees for things like food, rent and clothing that the traffickers have provided for you. And you can’t leave, because they’re holding your passport, and you don’t speak the local language anyway. And now that you’re behind on the rent, you need to do something extra to pay your debt…
I thought I knew how horrible the world was. I was a cop for a while, and I read a lot, so I thought I knew how depraved things were.
Oh, was I wrong.
So now what?
Rachel Thompson has a great guide for writers looking for blog topics, and in it, she talks about your voice. “What are you passionate about?” she asks.
Writing The Sad Girl series has allowed me to discover a new passion. I’ve found something that horrifies me. Something that I want to work toward eradicating.
I’ve found my voice.