Blue Dragon’s first rescue of a girl from the sex trade was almost our last.
It was 2007, and we had some experience already of finding and rescuing children from sweatshops in Vietnam.
When a 16-year-old girl we knew went missing and made a call for help from a brothel in China, we dispatched a team to find her.
They were meant to simply locate her and report to police, but things got out of hand very quickly and soon they were running for their lives. It was a terrifying day.
This venture resulted in the rescue of 6 Vietnamese girls who were being held against their will in a Chinese brothel, but still we vowed to never do that again. And it was fully 3 years before we conducted another rescue.
We’ve since rescued over 550 girls and women from sex trafficking: mostly in China, but also a handful in Myanmar and within Vietnam, as well as another 400 children from forced labor.
Blue Dragon’s decision to do this is not because we enjoy the adrenaline of a rescue. It’s not because we see ourselves as heroes out to save the world.
We do it because there are people desperately calling for help, and we know how to help them. The stories on this blog, of lives saved and families reunited, show the impact of these rescues.
It’s easy to think that a rescue is exciting and dramatic. Sometimes they are, but mostly they are hundreds of hours of tense planning and exhausting travel, followed by a few quick minutes of panic as the actual rescue takes place and then a long, nerve-wracking journey back to safety.
Blue Dragon does not confront traffickers, or use violence or threats. Our goal is to get the victim home without any harm or danger to anyone. And once they’re home, the most difficult work of all begins: healing.
The survivors of trafficking we bring home have been through deeply traumatic experiences. Setting them free would be near meaningless without offering the months and years of intensive follow-up that they need: counselling, legal representation, education and training, job placement, medical assistance. These are vital to the final success of the rescue.
We take what we learn from these operations and feed them into policy development and law reform initiatives; we want to enact broader change, so that there will be less trafficking altogether.
This week a friend sent me a link to a movie trailer: Sound of Freedom. It’s about people rescuing victims of trafficking and slavery, and is evidently based on a true story.
It looks like an exciting movie – I’ll be watching it for sure. And I know it will create renewed interest in the issues of trafficking and slavery, which will surely help all of us who are involved in this fight.
But there’s something that worries about it. I fear the film will create a glorified view of rescues; a view of the white savior rushing in to help where nobody else can, saving the day in a dramatic, life-and-death battle.
I have no doubt that some rescue operations are like that. As with Blue Dragon’s first rescue in China, we’ve had our share of drama and excitement. But that’s when things go wrong, rather than how they should really be.
Rescuing people from slavery is a critical part of this work around the world to end human trafficking. It’s life-changing and it leads to the downfall of trafficking rings. We must continue it.
But at the same time, it is a part of Blue Dragon’s work that I would never want to glorify or dramatize. We rescue because it’s essential, and we wish that every operation could mean that there are no more people in slavery.
The day that we don’t need to conduct one more rescue operation will be the best day of all. We don’t need more heroes. We need a world that’s fair and free for everyone.
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescues kids in crisis.