"When was your conversion moment"?
We tend to ask that question a lot around the Love146 office. It basically means, "What happened that caused you to really get engaged with the issue of child sex trafficking?" I know "conversion" can be controversial language, but it seems to be the only word that can best describe what happens. It's that point at which you are rocked & changed by the knowledge that kids are being sold for sex.
Some conversion moments are very dramatic (see description: Rob Morris). Most are not.
Most of us simply find some some point of resonance as humans with these stories of slavery and trafficking and are just compelled to do something.
THIS IS MY CONVERSION MOMENT:
I have been in the non-profit world for most of my life. My parents run a small non-profit that they started when I was 3. They did most of their work in the poorest areas of Mexico. I would spend months between suburban Colorado and Juarez Mexico. When you spend that kind of time in poor areas you run into about every problem this world has to offer, including sex-trafficking. We would periodically run into kids, often in orphanages, who had been sold for sex in their towns. Many times by their own family.
This type of childhood carries with it a certain amount of desensitization. It is hard to rock me. I'm not saying that I'm off to OZ to ask for a heart… I cry sometimes… and stuff. What my childhood has given me is a consistent drive to want to do social good in this world, but it has taken from me the ability to be as easily emotionally shaken by injustice. A trait that I think is valuable in this world.
So when I first started with Love146 in 2007, I didn't have this amazing initial conversion moment. My heart was moved by the issue, but I really just found a group of people that wanted to change a social injustice in the same way that I would want to change it. They were of the same cloth as me.. the same tribe. But I'm not sure that I wanted to be an "abolitionist". I just wanted to help.
My wife and I had our first baby girl in 2008, Stella. From day one she had my heart. She is my beautiful little lady nerd, and I would totally punch people for her....if that's what she wanted.
Having a kid is that crazy mixture of insane love and insane terror. Terror that some type of harm could befall this perfect creature and that you might not be able to do anything about it. Even the smallest of her hurts can feel crushing.
In early 2009 my wife and I were watching the news and a story came on about a horrific rape that happened in New Haven CT, the town where we were currently living. The victim was a young woman that worked as a waitress in a restaurant. A restaurant that was actually two doors down from the Love146 office.
The details emerged that late one night, after work, this young woman had offered to give a ride to one of her co-workers. On the way to his house he beat her in the car and took her to a local park. There, he raped her and tried to kill her. The details were hard to hear. The young woman survived by playing dead and then crawled a 1/2 mile to a nearby home. The story garnered some national attention, and thankfully they caught the perpetrator some time later.
Around the time the news hit, my sink broke.
And for the longest time I couldn't get a hold of our landlords to come and fix it.
Our landlords were a sweet couple, probably in their sixties. The husband Jon (not his real name) was a kind, quiet man, who always came promptly when we needed him, and was always incredibly helpful.
Two weeks later, Jon got back to me and came to fix our sink.
As usual, Jon quietly fixed our sink and then packed up his tools. He had the door open to leave when he slowly turned around to me and said, "Ben, What do you do again?". I always feel like a bit of downer when I answer this question, so I just quickly reminded him that I worked for an organization that tries to stop child sex trafficking.
He stood quiet for a moment, thinking.
Then he said,
"I wasn't going to say anything, but did you hear about that girl on the news…. the girl who was raped?"
"Yes" I say.
That was my daughter".
I will never forget the look in that man's eyes. Never. Behind the choked back tears was a pain that I am not foolish or arrogant enough to believe I understood. But there was something in it that I recognized. It was a Father's pain, but on a level that rocked the hell out of me.
I don't really remember what happened after that. I think I offered up some shell shocked condolences and offered "to help". Ugh.
What I do remember is how long I held my daughter that night, and I remember the next day I went to work. I think it was the first day that I really felt that burning resolve to do whatever it took to keep others from that type of pain. That was the day I probably started my abolition journey.
That may all sound dramatic, but it really wasn't. It really was just a simple moment of resonance with another human being. I recognized a pain this man was feeling, but it was on a scale I didn't think could exist. And it changed me.
That is what a movement is about. A movement is about the small conversion moments; those simple points of resonance with our fellow humans, building over time, into something that turns the tide of history.
For Fathers, Sunday is a good day to find these moments. And I hope you do. Because we need your stories next to ours.
Happy Father's day.
Father & Abolitionist