Remedy Drive vocalist David Zach and For Today vocalist Mattie Montgomery both separately and independently got fed up with these stories, changing the course of their band’s paths, dedicating their latest albums, time and energy to the cause, with Zach even leaving the country and spending weeks in Southeast Asia, working undercover in the brothels and strip clubs to help jail the offenders directly. In the main photo of this page, shot by Elena Perlino for Rex Features, a “Nigerian cultural mediator offers condoms and psychological support to some of the younger prostitutes working close to Acerra.” Nigeria was recently named as one of the top eight countries with the worst human trafficking problems. (Perlino’s work goes on to explore the desolate world of female sex trafficking from Nigeria up through Italy.) The Associated Press notes that “traffickers demand, on average, more than $60,000 for travel expenses and accommodation, with the women having to work as prostitutes until their debts are paid off.” In the following feature, Editor David Stagg digs a little under the surface with the two men to discuss the current state of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. If this is the only thing you read, the best way to help is to spread the word. Type “humantrafficking.org” as your Facebook status and make a quick note. A little bit goes a long way.
“There is a system designed to destroy us.”
In certain countries, there isn’t clean water in the same place a family would make its home. In these types of remote villages, like some of the ones in Ghana, someone has to walk far distances on treacherous paths where snakes and baboons are a very real threat. They’ll make this trip multiple times a day from the minute they’re strong enough to carry the water back. If it’s a female, it’s possible she’s traveling alone. When she’s that far away, she can be either permanently kidnapped, or even scarier, go willingly because they were coerced.
In Thailand, women are recruited by middlemen (both male and female). A family friend will get a kickback for offering a “housekeeping” job to willing young ladies they gain the trust of. When they agree to go, they are ultimately shipped to a massage parlor, taught massage services and demanded to perform sexual services.
In the song “Molotov,” Montgomery describes the bleak situation for a whole generation of girls: There is a system, and it’s designed to destroy them. Ever since they were born, it’s all they’ve known. Once you turn eight, you disappear to work.
The more stories I hear, the more heartbreaking it gets. I appreciate Zach and Montgomery’s willingness to go on record about all of this, as we explore the very real situation developing internationally and what we can do to help.
Mattie, would you mind giving anyone who reads this the current state of affairs of human trafficking, for anybody that needs a quick rundown of what actually is going on?
Mattie Montgomery, vocalist, For Today: Globally, the crazy thing is, as modern Americans are well aware or whatever we’re taught in school, that Abraham Lincoln ended slavery a few hundred years ago. The reality is, in the current state of things, there are more slaves in the world today than there ever have been at any other point in human history. I want to say there are about 72 million people in slavery worldwide right now. (Editor’s Note: The number can’t be exact with some tallying it lower at 30-40 million.)
That’s all kinds of slavery, right?
Montgomery: All kinds of slavery. We primarily focus on sex trafficking, but the reality is that people are being bought and sold for any number of reasons. Unfortunately, the global epidemic, the thing that is most devastating and is growing fastest, is the issue of sex trafficking. There’s another statistic that we’ve been preaching that the average age at which someone is sold into sex trafficking is 12.
Oh my God.
Montgomery: Yeah. What happens as Americans is one of two things. Either we’re completely naïve, ignorant to the fact that this stuff is happening to real people, or we are aware of it, but it’s only in a Hollywood sense. We saw the movie “Taken.” We know that human trafficking is happening and think, “Yeah, that really sucks that it’s happening somewhere,” and it seems like it’s a world away.
The reality is, at the end of the day as a human culture, in one way or another we’re all in this thing together. We can plug our ears and close our eyes and pretend everything’s fine as much as we want. The truth is that there are 12-year-old girls that are being drugged up and locked in rooms, and grown men are paying money to come and have sex with them every day.
These people are having their future stolen. They’re having their purpose and identity stolen. They’re having their innocence stolen, their dreams stolen, their youth, their childhood stolen. These people who have been tragically…In the majority of these cases, we don’t know these people’s names. We don’t know where this stuff is happening.
The scary thing is that if we don’t make the effort to know, if we don’t make the effort to say something, and if we don’t make the effort to spread the word, nothing’s ever going to get done about it.
For the sake of these people that are in captivity for the sake of…The fact that we, as a church, proclaim to follow a Savior that the first thing that He said in history was, “I came to set the captives free.” He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for I’ve been anointed to, among other things, to set at liberty the captives or to set the captives free.” If that’s really the Jesus that we claim to serve, then that should be what we’re about, too.
As a Christian, as a leader in the Christian community, it is something that is vital. While most of us might not be able to just pick up a gun, hop on a plane, fly over there, and start shooting up brothels and saving sex trafficking victims, something as simple as a Facebook post, sharing a YouTube video, or telling some friends. To make it a global issue, something that people are consciously aware of, is something that could have a serious, lasting impact on the political scale, which ultimately will have an impact on a global scale.
You’re good Mattie, because you set it up really well for my next question to David, who actually did pick up his boots and go over there.
“Lend me a hand, show me the way back to beautiful.”
David, we heard Mattie explain the state of affairs. If we’re not the hands and feet of the Body, we’re really doing nothing. It’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. For you, David, you made a more extreme commitment when you decided to go work undercover. What did you actually see and experience? What was your ministry while you were there? The things you were doing were pretty incredible.
David Zach, vocalist, Remedy Drive: It’s not as glamorous, Mattie, as picking up a gun. We never carried guns, just for the record (laughs). We’re not all like Liam Neeson. I don’t have a particular set of skills. My particular set of skills is writing a song (laughs). That’s all I’ve ever done. I don’t know how to do that stuff. But I do know how to — I didn’t know what it was going to be. One day we’re looking at surveillance footage of these punks that take these eight-year-old boys around the city on the back of motorcycles by the hour. It’s in Southeast Asia. I can’t be specific about exactly where, but you’ve got American men going over there to spend two weeks or two months on vacation to get away with what would be a lot more difficult to get away with Stateside. We have the FBI here. We’ve got a lot of organizations and government organizations looking out for this type of thing.
In this particular country and in that region, sometimes the guys you think are protecting the people are actually getting a take. To take a girl from the hill country, bring her down from the hills and down into the city — even across international borders — it might cost a couple hundred dollars of bribes and maybe $100 to buy the girl in the first place.
The difference between guns and drugs and a human being is you can sell a human being over and over and over again.
The first day I was in the thick of it, they sent me out to be a trigger for a surveillance mission. They put me at lunch at a place where a guy showed up. He’s sitting 10 feet from me, and I recognized him from the footage I saw the night before. It allowed us to get his location. What’s awesome is this ordinary couple from America ended up tracking the guy he was with and followed him home, so we got both their addresses that day. Then we’ll camp out at both those places, find out who they’re affiliated with.
Here’s what’s devastating about the whole thing. We can’t just take that guy down that day. We want to make sure to cut the head off the snake. That’s the hardest thing, having to leave some of these girls we sat with.. You go to a bar, a dance club, a go-go bar or a brothel, whatever they call it, and the worst thing is—
Zach: Yes, that (laughs). Even last night. I was at a gymnastics thing with my daughter. They put these wristbands around their legs in the gymnastics place. That’s how it was in those clubs. The girls, they put a wristband around their leg with their number on it. They’re reduced to just this number.
Some of the girls are trafficked. Some of them aren’t. To find the ones that are, you have to go in there. It does damage to your soul to see that. To be so close to it and to have a girl sitting next to you trying to sell her body to you, night after night, it wears you out.
Especially because she knows that if she goes back, she’s going to get harassed because she doesn’t do her job.
Zach: Mattie, you mentioned drugs here in the US, especially in the areas around the Russian countries. There, they don’t have to use drugs to sell these girls because they’re just that: girls. That’s the way they look at it. She’s just a girl. She’s just a poor girl from the hillside so she doesn’t really know anything. It’s just expected. “You’re a girl. You’re 13. You’re going to go into sex…”
You’ll see whole communities in the hillside where you’ll show up and there will be no girls between the ages of eight and 20 in the villages.
My God, that’s unbelievable. Think about 20 years from now when a whole generation of women completely disappears. It’s unbelievable what it’s going to do on a societal level.
Zach: That’s what we’re all trying to do here, especially to end with what Mattie was saying, to bring it to a global light. The small things that the people can do are keep it in the forefront of people’s mind. Share the YouTube posts. Make sure that people know what’s actually going on.
“I just couldn’t ignore it anymore.”
David, if you could continue a little bit. Would you tell our readers a little bit more about your background? They’re very familiar with Mattie, but they’re not as familiar with you. I’d like to start off by saying specifically that you are an average guy. You have a specialty in songwriting, but one day you decided this was your calling. Is that correct?
Zach: Well, it’s not even like I decided it. I just couldn’t ignore it anymore. I watched a video on Joseph Kony with his boy soldiers, which are slave soldiers. My daughter, who was six, she said to me, “Dad, why not God protect those boys?” I had no answer for her. To this day, I still have no answer for her.
All I knew to do is start writing. I started writing about these boys. I started writing about these girls. Eventually, we finished a whole concept record. Most of the songs were centered on counter-trafficking. I love the quote, Mattie, that you talked about with Jesus Christ. He was quoting Isaiah and then He goes on to say, “I proclaim the restoration of dignity to the oppressed and to the crushed.”
Isn’t that the beauty of God’s design? God’s grace?
Zach: Yeah. You think that it’s just too big to even make a dent in it. If you only tear a corner off of the darkness, that’s all we’re supposed to do. We’re just supposed to do something. I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Then, here’s the thing. In our world, we play a lot of churches, and I see a lot of Christian musicians go overseas. They’re paid by an organization to do it. They get their picture taken with a kid with different color skin. When they come home, they offer it up and make $100 every time somebody sponsors a child. I just don’t believe in that. I don’t believe in rich Christian musicians making money off of feeding children. I don’t believe in that.
I think it should have a cost. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It’s time to live with dangerous selflessness.” I was so fed up with the whole thing I said to myself I can’t just sing about this. I can’t just put a red ‘X’ on my hand. I can’t just post a couple times.
I believe that recklessness is contagious. I heard about a girl named Amy Carmichael, who painted her skin with coffee and went into Hindu brothels 100 years ago to rescue six-year-old prostitutes. In Abe Lincoln’s day, we all would have had, in the back of our barn, a place for slaves to hide on the Underground Railroad. Therefore, when it’s bigger today, like Mattie said, what can we do today? What’s that modern day equivalent. We can do something significant.
Mattie, if you want to take it from there. You are working stateside. You are touring on Fight the Silence, an anti-trafficking record, right now. What are some of the things that people can do? The people that would be reading this, what can they can do today and tomorrow to help out, not only you guys but maybe mission work abroad?
Montgomery: I think, in terms of practicality, for me something that is always a constant thought in the back of my mind is what’s the end game? If the President of the United States called me on the phone and said, “OK, what can we do?” I would want to have an answer.
People think, “Well, this is an underground crime syndicate. How are we going to fight something that’s not a thing? It’s not like one nation’s doing it or anything like that.” I’m sure you guys are both old enough to remember there was a time that our country declared war on terrorism. Just “terrorism,” in general. That wasn’t just one country. That was a number of countries. It didn’t even represent specific governments in these countries, but it was something happening on the underground in these countries.
The issue became so pressing that we actually did something about it. We moved our military. Our nation began to move and to enforce this standard globally because it hit home and it became an issue to all of America.
I don’t want to just put the issue of human trafficking on the back burner and say, “Well, it happens in Thailand. It doesn’t happen in the United States.” That’s ridiculous. There are hundreds of thousands of people being bought and sold daily in the United States of America.
What will happen is people will get discouraged, because it’s like, “Where do we go? What do we do? I can’t afford to fly to Cambodia and help people who are being bought and sold.” What you can do is find people like David. Or find the organization we’ve been connected with. It is called the A21 campaign. Throw them $10 or $20 or $100 or write them and say, “Hey, do you need an intern? I’m pretty good at graphic design. I can answer phones,” or whatever. Stuff that is super simple and super practical is really what these people need. There are people that have a vision and have a strategy for ways to infiltrate that world and to rescue people out.
If there are any readers who, after reading this, are moved to do something, I don’t want them to get intimidated because they don’t know what to do. They need to find the people that do know what to do, find people that have a strategy and that have the resources or the connections necessary and sow into them.
Give them money. Give them support. Post links to their website. Get attention on this thing. Make it something that is on the forefront of the global consciousness so that, like when the United States declared war on terror, they’ll get motivated enough about this injustice to get up and do something about it on a global scale.
And like you said, when you think about the end game, it’s not necessarily about ending slavery because that’s an impossible task. It’s about saving people one at a time and making the smaller dent.
Voice of the Voiceless was posted on October 20, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.