‘Facing the monster’ is mission of West Chester’s Carol Metzker
● By J. Chambless
Carol Metzker is an activist, writer and public speaker whose goal is to eradicate human trafficking and sex trafficking. (Photo by Natalie Smith)
Metzker is a fighter.
Although a peaceable Quaker by faith, the West Chester woman is battling human trafficking, locally and worldwide. As member of the Rotary Club of West Chester, her chance meeting during the organization’s 2004 trip to India with a girl who had been a victim of sex trafficking so moved Metzker that she took up the cause, eventually writing the 2012 book, “Facing the Monster: How One Person Can Fight Child Slavery.”
As a consultant with The Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking program and through her involvement with the Chester County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition (CCAT), Metzker’s activities are myriad. They’ve spanned gathering and delivering food to human trafficking survivors to fundraising to writing “fire drills” advising organizations how to deal with diverse trafficking situations. At least once a week, Metzker’s on the road, giving talks about human trafficking.
Metzker, who describes herself as a “writer, activist, author, consultant and volunteer,” was recently recognized for her tireless work by the Chester County Fund for Women and Girls. More information about her cause – and what individuals can do to help -- is available at www.facingthemonster.com.
Q.: What is human trafficking?
A: Human trafficking has a long, legal definition. There are federal definitions, and as of 2014, Pennsylvania has its own law. It involves either sex or labor. It involves a number of means. It can be harboring, recruiting or soliciting. You don’t have to transport someone for it to be human trafficking. Essentially, it is making someone do a sex act or an act of labor through force, fraud or coercion. If someone sells a child or buys a child for sex, that is human trafficking, or sex trafficking.
You said it became law in 2014 in Pennsylvania.
Yes. Act 105.
Did you have anything to do with that?
I spent a couple days out in Harrisburg with a lot of other really committed abolitionists who said, “Wow, Pennsylvania doesn’t have human trafficking on the law books? We’d better do something about that.” Most likely, people thought that this was covered back in the late 1800s with the Emancipation Proclamation, right? So now everyone is free. The answer is no, they’re not. That was a good step. We needed something else. There’s certainly the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is federal and we could – when I say we, I mean prosecutors – prosecutors could prosecute under that, federally. But [Pennsylvania] Act 105 became effective at the end of 2014.
How many years had it taken to become law?
How many years did the senators and other members of the community work [to bring about its passage]? I remember at least two years. That one passed pretty quickly. But there was a lot of work done, a lot of negotiating. Who was going to pay for some of this stuff? What is the definition going to be? But the lawyers and our elected officials really were very smart. They had a lot of good conversations. What you don’t want to do is make it illegal for a parent to tell a child, “You’re going to do chores.” I mean, that’s a little humorous. But if you write a law in such a way that makes that happen, then are you going to have the 17-year-old child suing the parent for labor trafficking? It seems absurd, that particular instance. I use that just for example. But when we do it, we want to get it right. And they did a great job.
People might say they have a hard time believing that human trafficking is happening in Pennsylvania, or that it is even happening in this century. Can you tell me the kinds of things you’ve come across in our state?
Let’s bring it home to Chester County, to West Chester. Several years ago, I had been volunteering for a while with local female survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. We wanted to take them on an outing. I took them to a café that was on High Street, the [now-closed] Three Little Pigs, and at one time it was just an absolute local favorite for lunches. They were closed on Saturdays, but they allowed me to bring a group of survivors [on a Saturday] for lunch. The lunch was just this joyous, festive occasion – one survivor had just gotten her first real job with a paycheck. It was really beginning to dawn on her, the power of getting paid for the work you do. It was great fun. At one point, I was standing at the storefront window and one of the survivors joined me. We were looking out at High Street, and she said to me, “West Chester has changed, hasn’t it?” And I said, “Why yes, it has.” I said, “How do you know West Chester?” I thought that was a simple question. She said, “Oh, I went to high school here.” I learned later that she said she’d been sold for sex by her husband to support his drug habit. The Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking program has clients who are from Chester County. ... Why wouldn’t there be human trafficking here? The average length of life for someone in commercial sexual exploitation – notice I’m not using the word prostitution – is seven years. [They experience] depression, suicide, untold violence, drug overdose. If I were having sex with 10 to 15 strangers every single day of my life, I’d look for something to numb the pain, too. Here’s another statistic that is also horrifying: The average age of entry into commercial sexual exploitation is 11 to 14 years old. We can do better than this as a society. And it’s not just girls and women; boys and men are affected, too. One of the really vulnerable populations in our society are LGBTQ. Human trafficking – what the rest of the world calls modern slavery – is a $150 billion illegal business. Putting that into perspective: That’s more than Coca-Cola, Nike and Starbucks make in a year, combined.
Where is that figure from?
That is a 2014 statistic from the International Labour Organization.
In addition to people who are sex workers …
I don’t call them sex workers. I think that implies that they really want to be doing this. I call them people who are being prostituted. I call them victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
So calling them prostitutes makes it sound as though they went to the career fair and picked that job.
They say that prostitution is the oldest occupation in the world? It’s not. It’s the oldest oppression in the world.
What about labor trafficking?
Typical labor trafficking industries are agriculture, restaurant, food processing and construction. TSA New Day does case management services to help victims of labor trafficking. It’s designed to help with whatever services are needed by the victim/survivor. Does that victim need a place to live and not have any money? Maybe law enforcement has them in a hotel before the money comes in. How do you get the food for the first couple of days? That’s where the Chester County Food Bank comes in. Really, it is an organizational collaboration and community collaboration to get victims of labor trafficking and sex trafficking what they need.
Tell us about your book. It was inspired by your visit to a center established to help survivors of modern slavery when you were on a Rotary trip to India.
It was an international group of Rotarians. One of them was from England, and had recently watched a BBC program about child slavery in India, and had figured out a way to help a particular center, so he took us there. My world flipped upside down. And when it righted, I realized I had a lot of work to do. Now I’ve done projects in India, Nepal and of course here. I believe we can do both. If I can do it, there are a lot smarter, more capable, wealthier people who can do it, too.
Up to that point, was child slavery something on your radar?
Oh heavens, no. It was a pivotal moment for me. Back in 2004, there hadn’t been a cover of Time or Newsweek about human trafficking. We weren’t seeing documentaries about it. But there were some organizations, few and far between, that were absolutely pioneering this kind of work. There were some shining lights out there, some beacons; particularly a lot of women who had been victims themselves, who were shouting to us, working with every fiber of their being, saying this is happening. But to look into the face of Maina, this 11-year-old girl who had been labor trafficked and sold for sex …. We never studied anything like that. We learned about the Emancipation Proclamation. It never occurred to me [slavery] would just move underground in slightly different forms.
Maina was forced not only to have sex, she was forced to perform in the circus and risked her life with every act. How did she end up there? Were her parents told she was going to a better place?
I don’t know what her background was. I assumed that was what it was, based on some conversations. And that is a very typical way in developing areas when you’ve got parents who are perhaps illiterate or certainly under-educated and want desperately for their children to have a better life. It’s so easy for someone to come in and there’s that deception, there’s that fraud – force, fraud, coercion.
After talking to this young woman, a world of horror opens up for you. What were you thinking?
I made it all the way out the gates of the center, and then I cried. I pretty much cried for the next 10 hours. Which is pretty unsustainable; you get pretty dehydrated and wrung out. It was at that point I thought, “I will fight this.” I knew nothing about human trafficking, modern slavery, except what I’d seen, and that was the tip of the iceberg. So I learned. But there weren’t as many outlets for learning back then. Not long after that, a man named Kevin Bales came to speak at Westtown School. He was the world’s foremost authority on human trafficking/modern slavery. I went to the lecture, I read all his books. I kept thinking about how I could do projects. I started out with projects in India.
A Rotarian mission has been to eliminate polio. Is dealing with human trafficking a little far afield?
Rotary currently has six areas of focus [promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water and sanitation, mother and child heath, supporting education and growing local economies]. There are 1.2 million Rotarians throughout the world. We’re all voluntary humanitarians and we’re all there to help each other. While we come from different backgrounds, we have different strengths. And when you all work for the betterment of this world, you can accomplish a lot. So, whether it’s programs to educate the community, writing, actual work with survivors, fundraising, I would say I’d do pretty much whatever it took to end this, within legal guidelines, of course. Have I ended it yet? No. Do I sleep well at night? Sure. Better than the night after meeting Maina when I cried for 10 hours.
Natalie Smith may be contacted at DoubleSMedia@rocketmail.com.