Human trafficking, in which a person is forced to work for others, is one of the worst realities in the modern world. Whether it’s for cheap labor or sexual exploitation, the practice is perhaps most heartbreaking when you consider the number of children involved.
According to a 2002 report by the International Labor Organization, about 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. The U.S. State Department says that sexual trafficking comprises a significant amount of the overall issue. Many organizations exist to rehabilitate the girls trapped in the inhumane industry, yet, according to Blackbox International, few help the estimated 400,000 boys trafficked annually.
Blackbox International is a U.S., faith-based, nonprofit devoted to caring for and rehabilitating boys rescued from sexual trafficking in the Dominican Republic, most of them under the age of 16. Many have been rescued from a tourist industry where foreigners arrive in the country purposefully to exploit the children and teens. Most have been tricked, kidnapped or even sold into the industry.
Named for the black box that usually conceals the pictures and identities of rescued children, the organization believes that just as divers go to the bottom of the sea to find a plane’s black box, they will go to the ends of the earth to rescue these boys.
Blackbox International’s story began seven years ago when now executive director Wade Landers saw a boy being trafficked for sex in Southeast Asia. Devastated, he began asking local people where a trafficked boy could go for help. No one knew. As he continued to travel around the world, he found similar situations wherever he went. Though organizations existed to care for girls, this was not so for boys rescued from abuse.
“It became painfully obvious that there wasn’t even a model for how to care for a boy rescued from sex trafficking,” Brian Jennings, one of the board members for Blackbox International, said in an interview with Everyday Heroes Radio. “We wanted to write a holistic plan for how to do this.”
Team members chose the Dominican Republic, a country of 10.5 million, to begin their project. The island has an estimated 15,000 boys trafficked for sex, Jennings says.
They help the boys through a holistic model in which the organization provides safe housing, foster parents, specialized therapists, faith education, academic training, medical care and recreational opportunities for the boys. They advocate for and share the stories of the boys, when they are ready, to raise awareness of the horrific tragedies that occur every day.
Their home in the Dominican includes couples who act as loving parents to the boys. They also have an abuela, the grandmother of the family, whose rank is one of high respect and love within the country’s culture.
Jennings tells the story of witnessing how the house’s love transformed a boy who had been trafficked that very morning:
“He got out of the car and all of the boys come out of the home to see who their new brother is. There’s this quiet, awkward moment. I look back to see if he forgot his bags and it hit me, that he doesn’t have anything. It’s just him and what he was wearing just then.
“He was feeling very ashamed and embarrassed and probably just wanting to hide and completely unsure of what was happening to him, even though he’d said yes he wanted help, he had no idea of what he was walking into because he had been taken advantage of his entire life.
“His head is down and he begins to walk to the place where he will be sleeping and walks through the crowd of 11 boys with his head down in a kind of defensive position. Abuela positioned herself in front of him so he couldn’t get by her and she just threw her arms around him and hugged him and didn’t let him go.
“Then she put both of her hands on his face and just began whispering to him. I don’t know what she said but I just saw his shoulders relax. It struck me at that moment his whole life changed, that everything changed about his story, which 24 hours ago you would have said that this boy is destined for an early death, to be abused his whole life or to turn into a perpetrator. Just 24 hours later, he had the opportunity of a future, of an education, and to have a loving family. These things were never a possibility before.
“He still has a lot of obstacles he has to work through, but now he has a whole different book to be written about his life.”
If you want to support the amazing work Blackbox International is doing, please visit the organization’s website. You can help transform the lives of other boys in the Dominican Republic and, ultimately, the world.
Click here to hear the full interview on Everyday Heroes Radio.