Last night was the second night of Passover, which for Jews is the holiday that celebrates our exodus from slavery in Egypt. The holiday involves a lot of unique customs to make the night different from all other nights and to teach children the importance of remembering that we were once slaves, but now we are free.
We have a number of customs in my house, such as cups that we only use on Passover (which were gifts from family friends), we give our guests Matzah bags for use in their own houses, and have cute ways (including visual aids) to recite the ten plagues that G-d inflicted on the Egyptians to persuade the pharaoh to let the Israelites escape bondage and leave Egypt. If you don't want to read the story (which is in Exodus), you can watch The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt and you'll get the gist.
While I love the classic story from the holiday, as I've gotten older, what I think about the holiday has developed. And no theme is more significant on Passover than the affliction of slavery. Almost everything during the holiday is a symbol to remind us that we were once slaves and now we are free.
When I was younger, I was under the incorrect impression that slavery had been abolished. Certainly, I was aware that the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits involuntary servitude and I wasn't aware of organized slavery anywhere else.
As I've gotten older, I've realized how naive this was.
The fact is that there are women and children every day who are sold into sexual slavery and sexually exploited throughout the world. This practice is rampant and has been referred to as human trafficking. One woman's story was recently featured on PBS's investigative show, Frontline.
Katia lived with her husband, Viorel, and her son in Moldova. Moldova is one of the poorest nations in the former Soviet bloc. In order to find work to make money for her family (work such as maid work or other unskilled labor), Katia went with an acquaintance, Vlad, to Odessa in Ukraine. There, unknowingly, Vlad sold her for $1000 US to a slave trader, Angela. Katia, obviously was not told that this was why she was placed on a ship with a number of other women or why her money and passport were given to the slave trader for "safekeeping."
Nevertheless, Katia was taken to Turkey, with these other women, each of whom were sold to a "pimp." Katia was sold to a pimp with a ruthless reputation, Apo. Apo's wife, Tanya, told Katia that she would work as a prostitute for Apo. Katia was given some water and in about 15 to 20 minutes started hallucinating. At that moment Tanya explained to her that they bought her to have sex with their clients. When Katia started to resist, Tanya told her, "You're not the first. We already had girls like you. Those girls that didn't want to do it at first, work and enjoy it now." Katia told her, "If you like to f*** Turkish men, then you f*** them." Tanya slapped Katia and left.
This was the beginning of Katia's attempts to resist, which led Apo to "break" her. Katia was incessantly beaten and raped until she would no longer offer resistance.
Katia was then locked away and forced to service at least two "clients" a day. Katia, like may of these women, was told that she would have to "work off" her "debt" to her pimp. However, for each client, the women are paid almost nothing, the vast lion's share going to their pimp. And if there are any problems, such as a complaint from a client, the woman's debt is "increased," or the woman is sold to another pimp and given a new "debt," placing these women in a unending cycle of exploitation.
Katia's husband, Viorel, persuaded Vlad to give him any leads that would help him find Katia. Viorel traveled to Turkey, followed leads, and attempted to gain the trust of Tanya and Apo in order to find Katia. Viorel's attempts to have the Turkish police aid him either led to a series of problems or went without a response.
Ultimately, because Viorel sought Katia so intently, Apo and Tanya were concerned that Katia was more trouble than she was worth and let Katia go. They gave her $20, dropped her off at the airport, and sent her back to Moldova. Katia walked to her home and showed up on her doorstep where Viorel found her.
Katia, however, was in the first trimester of a pregnancy when Vlad sold her into slavery. After her ordeal, Katia's pregnancy miscarried.
For selling Katia into slavery, Vlad received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation.
Sadly, Katia's story is as happy an ending as these stories get. According to the US State Department, 700,000 to 2 million people, the majority of them women and children, are trafficked each year across international borders. Thirty-five percent are under the age of 18. Most women and children who are sold are never heard from again. They are stolen from former Soviet republics, India, or other poor countries and spend their lives in Turkey, Japan, UAE, Israel, or any of a number of other countries doing nothing but servicing clients.
They are slaves, plain and simple.
And, for that reason, Passover must serve as a reminder not only that my people were delivered from slavery, but that too many people are not.
To learn more about Human Trafficking, go here or here or here.
To learn more about Katia's story, go to this Frontline website.