If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know that ending human-trafficking is a cause I am passionate about. Perhaps you wonder why this cause haunts me. Today seems like the right day to share what I have witnessed.
My family moved to Kerrville, Texas in 1984. I was about to be a sophomore in high school. A few months earlier, the Texas Rangers uncovered what would be known as the Texas Slave Ranch, owned by the Ellebracht family near Mountain Home, TX. Many members of our church were Texas Rangers and Texas State Troopers who were responsible for collecting the evidence. I first heard of this in the local news, but got more intimate details from my friends at school and youth group whose parents were among the law enforcement tasked with searching the ranch.
The trial was took place in Kerrville, in 1986, the summer before my senior year. All through high school I planned to become an attorney. It took a lot of explaining and debating on my part, but my parents finally agreed to allow me to spend my summer–when I wasn’t working at the local HEB grocery store or insurance agency–attending court. I had sat through other criminal court cases, but nothing could have prepared me for this experience.
You can google the facts of the case if you are interested, but here’s what has stuck with me for thirty years:
- Testimony from young men who thought they were accepting paid work or hitch-hiking, and found themselves enslaved on the ranch.
- Broken young men recounting what it was like to be chained at night in a metal barn and sleeping on the dirt in their own filth.
- Listening to cassette recordings of the torture.
- Tearful tales of being forced to work faster and harder by whippings and a cattle prod.
- One young man, who looked like he should have been my classmate, described being chained to another who had been so brutally beaten that day that he died in his sleep, having to spend the night next to that corpse, and then being forced to dig a grave, set fire to the body, and bury his friend.
- Photographs of burnt bodies and shallow graves admitted into evidence.
- Thirty years later, I have sons of my own who are now the age that these men were, and I am haunted by the remembrance of their mothers, sitting less than 50 feet from me, stifling sobs as they listened to the cross-examination of their sons, the victims, survivors. At the time I wondered which mothers got their sons back, and which mothers were learning how their sons died.
- Today I wonder if any of those survivors or their families were able to heal and recreate a normal life.
- Courtroom recesses for lunch, and visiting with reporters who were sitting a few rows in front of me, and then later those nights watching those same reporters on the San Antonio 10:00 p.m. news broadcast. I often wondered what the reporter was doing while I was listening to the case unfold because the TV report bore little similarity to what had actually occurred that day. The general public did not get an accurate representation of the events.
- Listening to the gallows humor of people in the community who knew the least details—I was heartbroken then that so many took this tragedy so lightly. Now that I am more mature, I realize that many people use humor to protect themselves from the incomprehensible cruelty humans are capable of.
- Hearing my friends ask for prayer for their fathers, the law enforcement officers who had to unearth bodies and document the barbarity, as they still suffered nightmares from their experiences on that property.
- Years of knots in my stomach whenever I hear of a case of a missing child, knowing that slavery is still alive and well.
Today is the fourth annual #EndItMovement day to “Shine a Light on Slavery.” I have listed many organizations, and cheered the many positive reports, on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Per the #EndItMovement website this morning, they have raised over $4M to support efforts to end human-trafficking. Please check out their website to learn more about this evil that currently enslaves an estimated 23-45 million people globally. There is still so much work to do on behalf of those enslaved and forced into labor or the sex trade. What if it was your child?
We now call it human-trafficking rather than slavery, as if giving it a cleaner name makes it more humane. This plague is not limited to gender, ethnicity, demographics, education, or country of origin. Human-trafficking, modern slavery, is an epidemic in our neighborhoods, our country, and internationally.
Please do your own research, be aware of your surroundings in school, in airports, in hospitals—the clues are all around us. Too many people in Mountain Home realized what was happening on that ranch, but too late for so many young lives, too late for their families.
“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” ~~William Wilberforce