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Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Silence of the Lambs

Today at 6 PM, hundreds of Episcopalians will gather with people of many faiths at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC for an interfaith witness to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The event is being organized by The Anglican Observer at the United Nations (Note: Martha Garnder, member of the Standing Committee and Deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Newark also works there).

The Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferst Schori will officiate. The Archbishop of York, the Most Honorable Dr. John Sentamu will be the guest preacher.

Meanwhile, in places like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and China young girls will gather, as they have for centuries, in small lines outside bars and nightclubs in a witness of another kind, one which reveals the human condition in its most base and repugnant form:

Sex-trafficking. That's the "nice" word for it.

The reality is that this is the 21st century version of slavery - the selling of young girls, some as young as ten or twelve, for prostitution. They are "sex slaves" - not the titillating fantasy of porn movies, but the harsh, brutal reality of young girls who are forced to perform "sexual favors" for men - some of them "business men" from around the world - who will use their bodies with cruel, depraved indifference.

Often beaten and sometimes tortured, they are constantly humiliated by those who "own" them and profit from their abuse.

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristoff, has an article in today's paper, "A Heroine from the Brothels," which I urge you to read.

Kristoff writes about Somaly Mam, one of the bravest and boldest of those foreign visitors pouring into New York City this month. Somaly is a Cambodian who as a young teenager was sold to the brothels herself and now runs an organization that extricates girls from forced prostitution.

Now Somaly has published her inspiring memoir, “The Road of Lost Innocence,” in the United States, and it offers some lessons for tackling the broader problem.

The work of Somaly Mam provides a powerful counterpoint to the lethargy which often characterizes the response to the fact that young girls all over the world are living in brothels until they die of AIDS.

What can be done? Prostitution has long been described "the oldest occupation" - as if it were a career path choice. People of good faith often sigh and say that it's inevitable - sad, tragic, awful, but inevitable.

The truth is that sex trafficking is the 21st Century version of slavery, full stop, and it must end. It can end. Somaly Mam offers us a way to understand the clear links between poverty, sexism, misogyny and the sex trade from her own life and the lives of other women whom she has helped to free from the bonds which have held them as slaves to insatiable world-wide appetite for sex and greed.

I'm betting that one will be talking about this at the United Nations this week. I'm hoping that the work of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations to raise this issue will find support and commitment to join them in ending this abomination.

If you can make it to the service, please do. It will be preceded by a "teach in" on the steps of the Cathedral at 5 PM. When you go there, ask questions. Ask about sex-trafficking. Ask about the work of Somaly Mam.

Yes, let's witness to the achievement of the MDG's. Support the efforts in your communities of faith. And, while you're at it, do what you can to raise awareness and stir the consciousness of good people of faith to end the slavery of young girls all over the world.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street. It is easily accessible by subway.

Go there. Be there, if you can.

If you can't, help do what you can to raise the awareness to hear the silence of these young lambs.

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