Les Miserables, human trafficking, and a book nerd

If you are the kind of person who lives under a pop culture rock, you may still be hearing about the movie Les Miserables from friends, family, coworkers, and commentators. This post IS NOT a spoiler, because I haven’t seen it yet. I’m one of those nerdy book worms who has to read the book before I will even think about seeing the movie. So, yes, I did start to read the book—which almost rivals War and Peace in length—and will probably see the movie sometime around next Halloween. I do know that there are lots of folks just gushing about it already. It’s not just because they loved the music, or they have a crush on one or two of the leading characters (author may be guilty here too). They’re coming back gushing because it’s a moving story about social ills.

Two months of reading in my spare time and barely more than 10% through this novel, I came across a statement that resounds with me:

“…it is said that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. This is a mistake. It still exists; but it weighs only upon the woman, and it is called prostitution.”

Now take the word “prostitution” and substitute the words “human trafficking.” Our language may have changed, our perspectives may have grown, but the sickness is still there. These words, written by Victor Hugo and first published in 1862 still chill me. We are still dealing with the same ugly, unbalanced social issues that plagued a newly industrialized French countryside in the 1800s.

We know now that people of all genders experience human trafficking. We know that even the youngest members of our world are taken into this dark sexual slavery. We also know that social factors like homelessness, mental illness, or poverty can often lead to survival sex when someone has nowhere else to turn. It’s really not so different now as it was hundreds of years ago. Why haven’t we changed this yet?

I’m going to keep reading my book, and I’ll probably see the movie in time. I’ve been warned that I’ll need a bunch of tissues and a caring friend to make it through the whole thing. In the meantime, I’m going to pause tomorrow, on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, to join the globe in reflecting on the tragedy of this sexually violent institution. If you’ll spend January 11 in the same way, consider taking the time to read up on meeting the needs of people surviving human trafficking. From there, join me in changing this world so that 200 years from now, folks aren’t looking back and mourning the unchanged status quo.

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