Saving victims of the oldest oppression

MARSHALL?- In 1996, an American woman went to the top of the world as a missionary to work with the Peace Rehabilitation Center, rescuing and rehabilitating young women sold into sexual slavery. On Tuesday night, Carmen Gronewold came to Southwest Minnesota State University to talk about the human cost of human trafficking, not just in Nepal, but in America as well.

“Due to health reasons, I returned in 1998, and now I work for organizations on this side of the world,” Gronewold said. “Every year I go back to Nepal and stay one to three months, to get to know the girls who have been rescued and learn to tell their story. I lived with the girls in the shelter, and now I am their voice in this city.”

Gronewold told the story of young women in Nepal lured to India or China by promises of well-paid work to feed their families, only to be kidnapped, drugged and sold to brothels. She also told of the heroic efforts of the organization founded by her friend Shanta Sapkota, a Nepalese woman and Christian convert, who has dedicated her life to rescuing these women, bringing them home and teaching them skills to support themselves.

According to Gronewold, every year as many as 18,000 Nepalese girls between the ages of nine and 16 are trafficked to India, China and Arab countries. About 20,000 to 25,000 Nepalese girls are taken into involuntary domestic work, and 7,500 children are trafficked internally.

The presentation was hosted by a group of Christian organizations at SMSU and included a Skype presentation by Peter Wohler, a pastor who works with the Annex Network, rescuing women from lives in the coercive sex trade in Minneapolis.

According to Wohler, the average American lives within 19 miles from daily sex trafficking. A homeless youth is likely to be targeted by a sex trafficker within 48 hours of landing on the street. The average age of entering prostitution is 13.

“Minneapolis has the largest per capita percentage of homeless youth in the U.S.,” Wohler said. “Forty percent of kids in foster care become homeless after their 18th birthday.”

The Annex operates transitional homes in Minneapolis for women getting out of prostitution, where they can detox and are given training in life skills and learn about victimization.

“Are women locked up in basements and brothels where they are physically unable to leave?” Wohler asked. “I’d say that was a very low percentage. What you have is a pattern of isolated individuals dependent on a predator, unable to get out.”

Wohler said the biggest myth of prostitution was that the women don’t want to get out.

“Ninety-nine percent want out,” Wohler said.

Wohler said the problem is that the resources aren’t there when women do come looking for help in getting out of the trade. Even law enforcement has to turn many away, or tell them to “take a number.”

At the end of the presentation, Gronewold offered ways for people to get involved in combating human trafficking.

“One thing we all can do is pray,” Gronewold said. “We are a culture of doers, and we aren’t used to thinking of prayer as doing something. Along with that you can do other things. Get involved with the annex, lobby with government. Pray for the cries of the helpless, and that this evil will perish from the world.”