What We Don’t See: A Closer Look at Sex Trafficking. ~ Heather Snyder

Via Yoga Modern
on Nov 18, 2011
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 Originally published by our elephriends over at Yoga Modern

With all the time I’ve spent thinking about sex trafficking lately, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I had the dream I did last night. I was in a public space, wearing very little clothing, and someone was trying to buy me for sex. I kept trying to get away from this person but I had nowhere to hide. I woke up from this dream terrified.

Creative Commons License photo credit: TravelRendezvous

For me, this was just a dream. I could take few deep breaths and shake it off. But for millions of young girls in our world today, this is a reality they can’t just shake off and make go away. Sex trafficking is a horror of our modern world.

Girls are being sold across state lines, country borders and across continents all because there is a demand for girls to “have sex” with. I put sex in quotes because that’s what many think is happening in many brothels, but in reality what’s happening is rape. True, there are some age appropriate consensual sexual relations going on in exchange for money.

But most of what is happening in brothels around the world is rape.

I remember the first exposure I had to the idea of sex trafficking was a TV movie I saw years ago called Human Trafficking. I couldn’t get the movie and its images out of my head. I would walk around NYC imagining girls being locked away in some building just a few blocks from where I was teaching and going about my life. Since then, I have wanted to learn everything I could about it and, although I didn’t understand it at the time, I knew it was the issue that I was most called to study and immerse myself in.

In Cambodia, where sex trafficking is among the worst in the world, girls are being tortured and raped and starved every day. They are denied food if they don’t consent to allowing a man to use their bodies as they please. What is happening in Cambodian brothels is not just rape but torture, with girls being put in cages, burned, beaten with hands, guns, sticks, and metal rods.

Like any great atrocity in this world, there must be a root cause. There must be an underlying situation that leads to this. Yoga teaches us that we are all connected, that there are layers and layers underneath what we see at the surface. So when I look deeper at the reasons sex trafficking exists and how I can play a part in ending it, I have to look deeper than what meets the eye.

To put an end to trafficking, we should of course be rescuing girls and prosecuting pimps and men involved. But we have to look deeper than that to understand the reasons it exists in the first place. The fact is there is a a demand for young girls. If there is demand, pimps will continue to find a way to steal and sell innocent children. If there is demand, families will continue to sell their girls for money.

If we want to end trafficking for good, we have to address the issue of demand itself.


Why are men raping young girls, girls as young as 5 years old? How have they become so disconnected them themselves, their own hearts, their own sense of basic right and wrong? How can female brothel owners imprison other women and girls? What has happened to these men and women that make them think it is ok for this to happen?

And what about the fact that many girls are flat out sold to brothels by their families? What does it say about the state of our world that families are living in such dire poverty that they’re willing to sell their children for money?

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist group, terrorized Cambodia from 1975 – 1979, killing and torturing millions of people. A whole generation of people were left traumatized, displaced to the countryside, and poor as a result of the Khmer Rouges’s fatal regime.



According to the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP),

“human trafficking has increased in Cambodia because of a number of factors, including poverty, socio-economic imbalance between rural and urban areas, increased tourism, lack employment, education, and safe migration; poverty being the most significant cause of trafficking.”

And the International Labour Organization says that

“the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime is still felt both psychologically and economically and plays a direct role in labor and sexual exploitation arising from ill-prepared migration.”

Poverty makes people desperate. Sometimes parents don’t know exactly what they are selling their daughters into, and other times they know but are just disassociated from the reality of it because they’re barely surviving themselves. A combination of extreme poverty, traumatization, and repeated cycles of abuse has left a group of men and women so disconnected from themselves that they see no wrong in torturing young girls.

Somaly Mam, a hero of mine, was sold into sex slavery when she was a young girl. A decade later when she managed to escape this life, she went right back into this environment and dedicated her life to saving girls with a similar fate. As part of Somaly Mam’s work, she not only rescue and helps girls reintegrate back into society, but has workshops with men to help them understand what is happening and the effects of their actions on these girls.

In order to stop the cycle of abuse, I believe we have take a look at our own fear, prejudices and anger at the perpetrators and be willing to work with them as well. I don’t expect this will be an easy thing, as I myself have trouble considering the abusers with anything but disgust. However, rescuing girls from brothels is not enough.

We have to be willing to help the abusers heal their own trauma if we want to see a real shift and an actual end to sex trafficking.

Somaly Mam’s workshops with men were doing just that. She was helping them to understand the consequences of their actions on these girls. The last I read, the workshops with men had to stop due to lack of funding. We have to look beyond the horrifying facts and statistics to understand why there is this demand in the first place. When we can do this, I believe, we can begin to address the underlying trauma that leads people to commit such horrible atrocities on others.

So I pose a question to all of you out there: Would you support programs that work with perpetrators in order to eliminate human trafficking? What do you think are the root causes behind human trafficking, and why do you it’s now happening more in the US?


Heather Snyder is a regular contributor for Yoga Modern and Regional Leader for Off The Mat Into The World in NYC. She is a conscious activist, birth doula, and teacher of The Alexander Technique, pilates, and yoga. She brings together communities of inspired, empowered, like minded people to explore possibilities of what a community can create together. Heather is committed to the work of bringing awareness of sex trafficking to the yoga community as well as to mainstream America. In January 2012, Off The Mat NYC is partnering with the Somaly Mam Foundation to launch the Yoga Freedom Project. This project is a monthlong campaign in the yoga community that will raise awareness and funding to put an end to human trafficking. If you would like to get involved, you can read more on the OTM-NYC website or email Heather directly at [email protected]


About Yoga Modern

Yoga Modern is an interactive online space that unites the yoga community in dialogue for global change. By exploring challenging questions through the lens of yoga, Yoga Modern cultivates meaningful conversation that inspires, educates, and connects communities. / Yoga Modern provides engaging, inquiry-based content around the deeper dimensions of yoga. Topics include, but are not limited to: asana, culture, philosophy, science, global affairs, health, and the arts. We invite yoga teachers, students, and notables from various backgrounds to write about universal aspects of our shared human existence. / Yoga Modern content reflects a sense of questioning and discovery. We feature rich, introspective writing that expresses how the yogic ideals apply in a modern world. We encourage writers to move beyond simple solutions, superficial summations, and showers of should’s. Yoga Modern is a space to come for heartfelt inspiration, deep inquiry, and ‘aha moments’ grounded in the joys and challenges of daily living.


11 Responses to “What We Don’t See: A Closer Look at Sex Trafficking. ~ Heather Snyder”

  1. SisterShamu says:

    Thank you for your courage and your call to action. Most would argue that reforming a pedophile is impossible, and there is usually so much contempt for rapists (especially those that rape children) that helping an abuser heal almost feels like a slap in the face to his/her victims. I think you have stumbled upon the only real solution to ending the attrocity of human trafficking. We must end the demand for it. However, while compassion and forgiveness are necessary for healing to occur, accountability is also necessary. Exposing perpetrators publically as they attempt to enter or leave brothels, arresting and imprisoning perpetrators, and not allowing them to hide what they have done from others are likely also part of the solution.

  2. April Ritchey says:

    Beautiful Heather!!! This was great and thank you for making the Yoga Freedom Project happen!!!! This cause and yoga are a perfect match and together we can create healing and awareness….It is easy to not face this problem but more and more with the global economy and poverty on the rise, human trafficking is getting harder to ignore…There is a vast web of complicated issues surrounding HT and all its form. Lines are blurred between what to do how to do it…There are no quick fixes and there are many band aids…but solving the nexus of this issue begins within each and everyone of us…As yogis we know we start with connecting to our truth and then taking this out into our community to serve the highest good…There has never been a time more important then now to stand up and look this problem in the face…Our brothers and sisters need our help to lead them the to freedom, they need our yoga practices, our healing, our strength and our courage….This is a noble cause made for love's effort. Please consider being part of the Yoga Freedom Project in January to raise awareness and spark to hearts to become active int the cause. Join the team at Crowdrise and add you photo and or studio logo… http://www.offthematnyc.com/Site/Yoga_Freedom_Pro… See it Heal it Act on it!!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you SO much for sharing this brilliantly written article and horrific topic. Thank you for bringing this awareness to Elephant!!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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