During Lent I was trying to be mindful of the word “compassion,” tracking how many times it appeared in a month. At first I was disappointed because the word showed up only once or twice a week. Then I realized that I am surrounded by something greater–acts of compassion. An instance of this is David S McCabe who lectured at my writing club about his novel “Without Sin.”
In 2007, David McCabe read an article about sex traffickers setting up “shop” in rural San Diego County. Curious, he decided to research the location where the police raid happened “the Reeds” six years earlier in 2001. One clear morning he set off on a hike through an estuary. He saw birds. He met a homeless person. Then he found a circle of empty huts made out of reeds. At first he thought homeless people built them, until he noticed plastic bags outside each hut. They were full of used condoms. The sex slave camp was still operational.
How could that be?
Human trafficking is a flourishing business. Even President Jimmy Carter has a book about it and is discussing the problem on NPR and the Colbert report. There are more slaves today than ever before. In the United States, 80% of the slaves are used for sex (of which half are American citizens), 19% percent for forced labor and 1% for organ theft. Trafficking humans is a lucrative business. Drugs have a one-time use, but a sex slave can be re-sold several times in one day and make $200,000 a year—for their managers, not themselves. This predatory activity is happening in a Southern California neighborhood near you, between the local strawberry fields and planned McMansion estates. After police raids, the operations shift to alternative outlets and advertise on Facebook and Craigslist. Customers are not fussy about accommodation; they go to motels, deserted riverbeds and secluded lots.
Relocation is what happened after the Oceanside raid of 2007. Six ringleaders were arrested but all were released because the girls were too terrified to testify. American Border Patrol drove girls without legal documentation across the border to Mexico. The van doors opened, the girls stepped out and they were left to their own devices. They had the clothes on their backs, but no identification, no food, no money, and no assistance contacting relatives. The youngest girl was twelve.
Men recruit girls from Mexican families in desperate situations. They propose marriage, or employment and an enticing life in the States. The Oceanside camp was re-established only a mile away from its previous location with newly recruited “employees.” The story became a media sensation when it came to Oprah Winfrey’s attention. She dubbed Oceanside “a Hub of Human Trafficking.” To avoid negative publicity, the Mayor of Oceanside bulldozed the estuary. No more birds, and no places for humans to hide.
But why is David McCabe, who started his career as an elementary teacher, so interested in sex slaves?
McCabe has taught children of migrant, undocumented parents. Cautioning these vulnerable students about “get rich” schemes and directing them through education has become his personal narrative. He originally envisioned writing a piece of creative non-fiction but decided that a novel would reach a larger audience.
McCabe researched the article and interviewed Border Patrol agents to braid two compelling perspectives together. American Border Patrol Agent, Garrett, falls in love with a prostitute from Mexico, Angelina, and struggles to release his girlfriend from many layers of exploitation. The book does its job. It will increase awareness about the realities of human trafficking. A disturbing topic, but beautifully written, the novel was a 2011 semi-finalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition. The book took two years to finish and by writing this story McCabe hopes to generate discussion, change opinions, laws and lives.