ometimes, we have an opportunity to be a hero in the life of a defenseless person.
A story of someone who failed to do so and is haunted by his passivity (originally on Reddit
I’ve only told this to one person, but I guess this is the Internet and none of you know me, so here it is. It turned out to be pretty long, sorry about that.
I was flying from Manila to Bangkok.
I was settled in, listening to my ipod, when a beautiful young Filipina girl took the seat next to me. Like, smoking hot.
She sat down, placed a small black purse on her lap, and stared dead ahead. I tried to sneak a few more glances at her face without being creepy, but it was too obvious, so I turned and watched the runway crew as they ran around in the humid Manila night, doing whatever is it that they get paid to do.
After the safety instructions were over, I noticed the girl still didn’t have her seat belt buckled. The flight attendant told the girl, in Tagalo, to buckle her seat belt.
The girl had the two ends of the belt in her hand, but after watching her for a moment I realized she didn’t know how to operate it. I offered to help her, and she accepted and thanked me in broken English. I connected the two ends, but when I moved in to tighten her waist-strap, she reached out and grabbed my wrist, probably afraid that my intentions were to defile her rather than help her. When she grabbed my wrist I noticed that her hands were shaking. I explained how to tighten the waist-strap and asked her if she’d ever been on a plane before. She hadn’t, and I could tell she was not enjoying the experience, despite the fact that we hadn’t even left the gate.
I explained, in simple terms, what she could expect, and at the end of my little instructional speech, I told her that she could hold my hand if she got scared and wanted someone to grab onto. Then I went back to my music.
My reassurances didn’t seem to help; I looked over at her as we shot down the runway during takeoff, and she appeared as scared as a person could possibly be. She never reached out for me, instead clinging to the ends of the armrests with such ferocity that I thought her little hands might break into pieces.
When we reached cruising altitude, my drunkenness and curious nature got the better of me, so I decided to interrogate this poor girl. She’d found a job placement in Bangkok as the nanny/housekeeper for a rich Thai family. The story sounded a bit familiar and suspicious, so I asked her where she’d found such a lucrative position.
She told me of “employment agents” who had come to her village looking for teenage girls to fill such roles. After being promised an unbelievably high salary, she and her parents agreed that it was a great opportunity.
What she didn’t know then, but most definitely knows now, is that the “rich Bangkok family housekeeper” story is one of the most common ruses used by sex traffickers to convince young Filipina girls to leave their homes. There are plenty of too-good-to-be-true stories pedaled by those who work in the sex recruiting industry, but this one is widely known in South East Asia.
I didn’t want to hear any more, so I put my headphones back in and looked out the window over what must have been Vietnam. I listened to music and tried to hold back tears (I was drunk, remember).
What, I wondered, would happen if I ripped the headphones out of my ears, explained everything I suspected would happen to her in Bangkok, and offered to pay for her $100 flight back to Manila, which I could easily have afforded?
I turned over the possible outcomes in my mind. She might call me a liar. The Thai/Filipino mafia might kill her, or me, or both of us. She might already know she's going whoring and was just feeding me a story so I would leave her alone.
The landing was a bit bumpy, and if this girl was freaking out on takeoff, I can’t imagine the terror she felt in the seconds before the tires screeched in on the tarmac in Bangkok.
But I didn’t want to look at her anymore, so I kept my eyes focused out the window, half hoping the plane would skip off the runway and explode into a ball of fire, killing us all and saving her from a potential lifetime holed up as a broken slave in a dirty Bangkok brothel.
I stood back from the luggage carousel, staring at the split rubber curtain, not really caring if my bag appeared or not. After a few minutes another young tourist walked over and asked me if I wanted to go down to Khaosan with him and get drunk until the next day, or maybe share a cheap room. It was late at night, and that’s what I was going to do anyway, so I agreed.
I spotted my bag slowly moving in and out of the silhouette of Filipino and Thai travelers waiting on their giant boxes and plastic wrapped suitcases. I ran over and grabbed it, then went back to Carlos and told him we’d better leave.
As I was walking out, I looked back to see the girl, looking rather overwhelmed, as she collected a small blue suitcase with a flower design printed on the side. A present from her mother, perhaps.
As I walked away, I almost dropped my bag on the white tile floor and ran back to her . . . but I didn’t. I walked out of the baggage collection area, and I forgot about her.
Or at least I wish I did. But I’ve never forgotten her.
I remember that image of her awkwardly moving in towards her suitcase with the same vividness than I remember the most defining moments of my life.
It’s been more than two years since that happened, I’ve realized that it was one of the defining moments in my life . . . and I fucked it up. I didn’t do the right thing. I didn’t do what I knew to be right. I didn’t help this vulnerable person who I knew needed help. I turned my back and I sent her to the wolves.
Every time I think about it, I wish I could go back and do things differently. It was, without a doubt, the worst thing I’ve ever done.
tl;dr I met a girl who was, unknowingly, on her way to becoming a sex slave. I could have stopped it. I could have helped her. But I didn’t.