Be the Nosy Neighbor
"The best defense against modern-day slavery is a vigilant public. Be the nosy neighbor."
That's what anti-human trafficking activist Kevin Bales wrote in his book, The Slave Next Door. He had to instruct us to be nosy because these days, we won't do it on our own. As neighbors, we mind our own business. We may not know the names of people who live across the street or recognize the faces of the tenants down the hall. We don't know or care enough to speak up when something's wrong. We have become very bad neighbors.
Last week, three kidnapped girls were found alive in Cleveland, after being held captive for more than a decade, in their own hometown, just miles from where they were abducted. That haunts me on what being a "good neighbor" looks like.
As we follow the news, we listen for individuals to come forward with past suspicions about the suspect, Ariel Castro, who captured the women as teens and beat, bound, and raped them over the years that they were kept locked in his house. Castro lived in the city. He had neighbors. He had family. Someone must have suspected something, and indeed, a few stories have surfaced. According to one story, children living nearby saw a naked woman in the backyard and told their mom. Another neighbor said he saw a little girl's face from the attic windows several times.
On CNN, people living nearby wondered how they could be so oblivious to Castro's crimes. In his neighborhood, like in many others, people avoided getting too nosy, were willing to live and let live. "People here say they are neighborly, but cautious -- of authority and, sometimes, of one another," CNN said. "They socialize, but they never pry."
On top of our societal expectation to keep this socially appropriate distance from our neighbors, we also are naive. We don't imagine sex slavery taking place in American cities and suburbs. We see it as a distant problem happening in dark, sordid corners of Cambodia and Indonesia. And if it did happen in America? Well, it's not our neighborhoods, not on our streets.
We are taught to keep to ourselves. We are programmed to not judge. As long as they are not bothering us, we won't bother them. But that mindset puts our own comfort, our desire to conform to social norms, above the Christian call to know, love, and care for our neighbors, especially the ones who are victimized, vulnerable, and need our help. As women and as Christians, we must wake up to the reality of modern-day slavery. This criminal entity and network is alive and well in our midst. As it has been said, "We must get thick skin, yet keep our tender hearts."
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