July, 2022 Monthly Reflection

Land of the Brave? Yes. Home of the Free? Not really.

Theresa Flores

July has always been one of my favorite months. My family always held our annual Family Reunion on the 4thof July in Indiana and got together each year with those with whom we shared a blood bond. It felt safe, you didn’t need to explain yourself and it was fun to find out how similar we all were and what common traits we all held. Not to mention the amazing food like tomato pie, popcorn right from the field, fresh walnuts, pickled eggs (not my favorite) and even homemade wine—all freshly made by our farm family members. But as I sit here reflecting on my own family, so many of them lost in the past several years and knowing that it will never be the same again, I recall all the hundreds of survivors of Human Trafficking who I have met—many of them who have never been to a family reunion. They have never spent time running around a field with sparklers, water gun fights with cousins and crazy uncles, eating homemade ice cream they helped churn, or even going to a parade. Approximately 40% of survivors are trafficked by family members and when they are fortunate enough to escape, many are forced to leave their entire family.

In July, while we celebrate FREEDOM, most people don’t realize that there are still many who have never known what this word means. Victims of trafficking, enslaved to the will of others, including those not being paid for hours of back-breaking work in a tomato field, those being forced to do more than massages in a massage parlor, and children used as objects of gratification—none of them know freedom. Yes, right here in America. Victims and survivors of trafficking are certainly representative of who we are referencing when we talk about the Home of the Brave, but they are certainly not experiencing the Land of the FREE.

As we sit and watch a 20-minute firework display (on which thousands of dollars were spent), chatting with an aunt we haven’t seen in years, going up to the buffet line of the 4th of July potluck picnic, most of us don’t stop to question if the worker who harvested the tomatoes on the table was paid a fair price for his work, or if the shrimp was harvested by an ethical company. We take for granted the word Freedom and believe All are free. But unfortunately, this isn’t true.

My family moto on our crest reads “Justice Will Prevail.” I know this to be true in my bones but there were plenty of times I doubted it. Especially while being sold to men and forced into debt bondage as a teenager. Although my faith remained strong, even during the worst of the times, there were many occasions, even after escaping, that I wondered if this was really true. My attempts to prosecute the traffickers led to dead ends, finding qualified counseling to help me heal the trauma was fruitless, and I had no one to talk to about what I endured who could possibly understand.

So, what does justice look like to me now? To an Irish Catholic, middle aged woman (ok, maybe a little older than that) who once was not free? It looks like this: stronger laws in every state (with law enforcement and judges who will enforce them) to help stop the Demand for sex for sale, tougher penalties against the traffickers but also the perpetrators- the buyers. It looks like services for survivors who need a bed, trained counselors, drug addiction help, being reunited with the children that were taken from them, dental help for the teeth they lost at the hands of their traffickers, programs for gay youth who are kicked out of their homes and are now vulnerable and ‘sitting ducks’, and many good lawyers who will help survivors get restitution and their records erased.

Freedom isn’t Free. It requires a lot. It requires more than us dressing up in an “America is Great” t-shirt, eating our apple pie and going to see fireworks. It requires strong men uniting to fight against this injustice instead of being a part of the problem and being brave enough to call it out for what it is to other men. It means that we will view prostitution as an oppression instead of a profession.

It requires what it once did- fighting a war against what is UNJUST. It requires us to open up our eyes to truly see what is happening right next to us. And then doing something about it.

Let us not take Freedom for granted.