The following writings are excerpts from the Women Like Us most recent book in support of women-led initiatives for changing the world.
I set the alarm for 12:30 a.m. I really hadn’t been sleeping. Just mostly trying to rest, and to anticipate and be open to the mission I was a part of that cool November night in Los Angeles. They told me to be sure to bring a jacket, as the windows will be open a lot.
The familiar ping of a text arrived on my phone: “We’ll be there soon. Want a Starbucks?” I indulged in my favorite vanilla latte…kind of ironic based on the activity I was about to experience. That latte became a symbol for me that would be remembered for years to come.
A white SUV with tinted windows pulled into the drive like a white charger in the dark of night, ready to begin its work. I was invited to go along.
There were three women waiting for me: Kyla, Monique and Monica. Kyla and Monique were the leaders, the experienced ones, the women who would teach us a lot about sex trafficking in Los Angeles in the next five hours. Monica and I were the newbies. We sat in the back seat.
When I climbed in the vehicle I gratefully accepted my latte. I was told to be careful with the 32-cup stainless steel coffee urn sitting between Monica and me. It was full of hot water…eady to go for the hot chocolate we’d be handing out to the girls.
We were also handed small bags, each filled with one lip gloss with an 800 number on it, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes. In the front seat, Monique had a bag of mittens and gloves to keep hands warm against this cold night.
We turned south on the 110 and headed toward Long Beach, then on to Santa Ana/Anaheim. The Orange County area. I asked Kyla why we were leaving the inner city of Los Angeles and heading toward the suburbs. We were headed toward Disneyland, for heaven’s sake. She told me I’d understand when I got there.
It was now nearing 1 a.m. Driving along a busy street in Santa Rosa we saw a few young girls dressed like they had been out for a night of “clubbing.” Were they on their way home? They walked across the busy lanes of the well-lit retail area and into a residential neighborhood. Kyla stopped at the light and we watched them disappear into the darkness.
“Look ahead; see all those cars down going into that neighborhood? Do you see their taillights? Do you see how they are all turning left? Those are johns.”
We pulled across the street and took our place in line with them. It felt like we were in the drive-thru at McDonald’s, waiting our turn. And when we made our left turn into the neighborhood, we became part of a mass of cars, all with one driver; some old, some young, some Mercedes, some rusty old trashy cars…all sharing the same common denominator of seeking sex for hire. It was a mid-month Friday night. Payday—when not so many bills were due, when child support had been paid, rent and utilities already taken care of. So, extra money meant more to spend on sex.
Monica and I were told not to speak to the girls. We were instructed to be quiet in the back seat. We were told to make them hot chocolate if they wanted it, to make no comments, to let them be them.
It’s not that I didn’t understand sex trafficking or that I didn’t know the data. It’s not that I didn’t understand what the statistics were on DMST (domestic minor sex trafficking) or the realities of how women get trapped into this work, are abused by their pimps or by the johns, and treated as criminals by the police. I had studied the subject, had even spoken to hundreds of people in the Midwest and my home state of Indiana, about how it is a problem in the U.S., in our communities, and we must do something. I helped dispel the myth, or should I say the blindness, that permeates our daily, safe lives, that these things only happen in third-world countries.
They call it “the game.” The game of pimps owning girls, pimps competing with one another to steal their girls, pimps patrolling the streets to make sure the girls don’t talk to the competition. If the girls talk to the competition, it can be dangerous. They can be abused, cut, made to pay in a number of ways.
Sophia was the first girl I met. She was standing by herself at the edge of the street, waiting for a car to pull over and invite her in. Dressed in a red mini skirt, a black faux fur vest with a black bra underneath, and spike black and silver high heels, she walked over to us when we rolled down the window. “Hi,” said Monique. “Would you like a gift?” How about some hot chocolate? Pretty cold out there tonight, isn’t it?” “Oh, yes, thank you,” said Sophia.
Monica made the hot chocolate and handed it through to the front seat. Sophia peered in the back where we sat, hidden from the outside by the tinted windows. She fearfully said, “Oh, you have friends?” She pulled back a bit. “Yes,” replied Monique, “They’re helping us with the hot chocolate. By the way, we know about the game. You’ll find a lip gloss with an 800 number on it in the little bag.” Sophia said, “OK, thanks. And thanks for the hot chocolate.” She moved back to her spot on the street. Back to work.
There were 13 girls on that block that night. Some young, some older, some dressed scantily, others dressed in sweats, some Caucasian, some African American, some Hispanic…a mix of nationalities, but where we were…mostly African American. Some were boys, but mostly women…
The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book
Women Like Us- Together Changing the World
Making a Difference for Victims of Female Genital Mutilation
Founder Olmalaika Home
“As a child I had been exposed to the ways of the Masai Tribe.”
…As a child I had been exposed to the ways of the Maasai tribe—their nomadic, pastoralist [*] lifestyle, polygamy, female genital mutilation (circumcision) on their young girls, and childhood marriage. They were steeped in tradition and un-wanting of the Western ways that were creeping in around them. I had attended a girls’ circumcision ceremony. I remember being separated from my family and led into the center of the women and girls, later being returned with the red ochre painted on my face and beadwork hanging around my neck. I had no idea at that age that all the singing and dancing was really covering up a terrible deed: female genital mutilation.
Years later, I found myself fascinated by the ritual. I wanted and needed to know more to understand it. I began reading articles and books, I talked to Maasai friends. It was not long before the harsh reality sunk in. Hundreds, if not thousands, of little girls all around me were enduring female genital mutilation between the ages of 6 to 16. My heart filled with an overwhelming desire to make a difference. How could I stand by knowing that it was going on around me and do nothing?
I listened to little girls’ stories of how a piece of tin had been sharpened and in the morning hours their legs had been tied and stretched apart, their hands bound so they could not fight back. A small basin of cool water was splashed on their vaginal area and while crying out in pain, their clitoris, labia majora, and minora were slowly sliced off. I held a little girl who had escaped—she had watched her sister bleeding to death while her family stood by helplessly. Her heart was gripped with fear and she fled looking for safety, as she knew the family would now turn to her as the next child to be circumcised and married off….
The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book Women Like Us-Together Changing the World.
If You Put Enough Steps Together, Change Happens
Designer and Philanthropist
“I’ve always felt a responsibility to give back and to give a voice to women and children who do not have one.“
Changing the world. It’s a big statement. It’s a bold idea. It’s an idea that can scare a lot of people because of just how massive it sounds. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the thought of it. Where do I start? Will anyone listen to what I have to say? Can I do it by myself? Can I make an impact? How does one really go about changing the world?
Traveling helps shape us.
I grew up with modest resources (some would call it poor) in a small town in Northern California. My father grew up in India. My mother was of Dutch descent. Both knew hard work. Both knew struggle. And, both showed my brother and me the world through traveling. What I have realized as an adult is traveling helped shape us.
Traveling made us become better people and therefore we learned, in part, how to contribute to making the world a better place.
It would have been easy for my parents to keep us sheltered in our little town and just focus on the modesty of our own lives. But, perhaps because both my parents had ties to the world at large, traveling with zero money was something that seemed natural to them. It created a platform for something bigger for my brother and me. We both grew up with the courage and conviction to act. Acting on making our situation better. Acting on becoming the people and doing the things we believed best for us.
Having little growing up, and seeing people with even less in third world countries, we understood we had nothing to lose with bravery and everything to gain. Together my brother and I both began acting on what we saw wrong with the world and we tried to create solutions, one person at a time. Starting with us. We started by changing our situations through hard work. We worked from the age of 14, first in internships and then on college educations. Even if it felt overwhelming or impossible at times, one step at a time in life was doable…