Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To the "rescue"

Since the very first time I met a trafficked child on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in 2005, Blue Dragon Children's Foundation has rescued 292 children from trafficking.

But that word "rescue" is problematic. I've had people tell me it's too emotive; others have said it disempowers the people Blue Dragon claims to be helping simply by portraying them as victims who need us to rescue them.

Meantime, I've been perplexed by the plethora of organisations in Vietnam which claim to "rescue" trafficked people and yet, as far as I could tell, do nothing of the sort. I'm aware of one other organisation in the south of Vietnam which I believe does rescue girls who have been trafficked, but I am constantly hearing of all the amazing "rescues" that different charities here do.

I think I've figured it out. I'm sure someone will tell me if I'm wrong.

The problem, it seems, is in the definition of "rescue." Being a powerful word, and even moreso in the context of human trafficking (which is a highly emotive issue), different groups have adopted the word but also adapted its meaning.

Some use "rescue" to mean "give shelter;" others mean "provide practical assistance." Others use it to mean "offer help during the legal process." In redefining the word like this, "rescue" has become something safe and sanitised. It's something that can be done from a distance, or in an office, or on a timetable.

This concerns me, because there's a real danger in giving an impression that lots of "rescue work" is being done for people who have been trafficked, and therefore implying that no more help is needed: someone is already taking action, so the situation is under control.

For the sake of clarity, I want to explain what I mean, and what Blue Dragon means, when we talk about "rescue."

For us the word means that we find someone who is asking for help to escape a situation which they are otherwise powerless to leave; and we assist them to escape.

In the case of garment factories in Vietnam, this normally means that our staff work alongside government officials or police to find children being exploited as laborers. We search for the children (the location is almost never known), we take the children out against the will of the factory owner but with the consent of the family, and we take the child home. We are physically there, getting the child out of the factory, not sitting in an office far away.

In the case of girls and young women in brothels, so far in every "rescue case" we have responded to a specific call for help. The girl or a family member has made a plea for assistance, and we have traveled to the place where the girl is being kept against her will, and engineered an escape or demanded that the brothel owner releases her. We then bring the girl back across the border into Vietnam, assist her to make a statement to the police, and then offer a full range of services: medical, shelter, education and training, and so on.

In addition the the 292 kids we have rescued, we have given assistance to about 20 more young people who were trafficked and either escaped or were rescued by police; but we don't count them among the people we have rescued. That's not rescue; that's post-rescue assistance.

In light of all this, I don't use "rescue" as an emotive word. I use it as a factual description of getting someone out of an extremely dangerous situation, who otherwise could not escape.

Blue Dragon's "rescue work" is not about bravery and heroism. It's not about combat training and para-military operations. We find the safest way possible to help a child escape. The "safest way possible" isn't particularly safe, but it's about the least confrontation, the least chance of violence, while still guaranteeing a successful rescue.

And I can see that there's a need, a huge need, for lots more rescue work to be done in this part of the world. Post-rescue assistance is of great importance, but there's no real use in expanding it unless there are more enslaved people being rescued from their brothels and factories.

If we want to stop human trafficking, we need to embrace rescues - real rescues - as an essential step of the process.


Unknown said...

Thank you for the clear definition!
I've reposted on the EMpower facebook!

Warmly, Elise

Unknown said...

Hi Michael,
Thank you for the definition!
I've reposted on EMpower's facebook.
Have a great day!

Warmly, Elise