How I feel about the campaign to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, and why I won’t simply call this post “Kony 2012”

I know people thought I’d be all over this the second I became aware of it, but I needed to think about it for awhile. Something in my heart doesn’t sit right about “making Joseph Kony famous.”

If you’re reading this, then you obviously have the internet, and have therefore come across some reference to Invisible Children’s campaign to raise awareness about Joseph Kony and the LRA. If you’ve just seen “Kony 2012” in a comment on some unrelated YouTube video, and don’t actually know what it’s about – a charity has started a campaign to raise as much awareness as possible about a man named Joseph Kony, who has lead the Lord’s Resistance Army and commited unspeakable crimes against men, women and children for 25-odd years (this is going off solely what I already knew about him, as I can’t Google it without 10 pages about this campaign coming up). The theory is that if heaps of people know about him, something will be done to stop him.

When I first saw a reference to this campaign come through my news feed on Facebook (or whatever the heck it’s called now), I honestly was just a little bit suprised that there were people who didn’t know about Kony and the LRA. I see a lot of people acting like it’s something that we’ve not known about until now, a lot of comments about how good it is that we have so much communication technology because now we can act to stop stuff like this. It’s been 25 years, guys, and it hasn’t been a secret. Ever seen Casino Royale? The music video for Fall Out Boy’s I’m Like a Lawyer with the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off? The episode of Law and Order:SVU entitled Hell? I know we all reach a stage in life where we become aware of issues like this, and I know that if you’ve never been exposed to something then you can’t really be expected to know about it. But at some point, you’ve got to realise that the world outside of ourselves is huge, and you’ve got to educate yourself about that world. If this is your first exposure to international politics, then please, don’t be one of those people who just jumps on the bandwagon of every sensationalist campaign and thinks that, therefore, they’re educated and political. Yes, it’s good that communication technology is now of such a standard that we can so easily find out about issues such as this, but 25 years is far, far too long. If we don’t start taking responsibility for the world around us of our own accord – and not just because a celebrity tells us to on Twitter – we can never expect change to happen as quickly as it should.

This whole thing kind of reminds me of that status that comes up all the time on Facebook, saying something like “Cancer is awful. If you know someone who has fought cancer, repost this to raise awareness. If you don’t repost it, it shows that you like cancer.” It just seems like something to repost because it shows that you care about stuff. Like typing “Kony 2012” every chance you get on the internet makes you seem really with-it and involved. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of my friends who wouldn’t usually get involved with issues such as this educate themselves about it, and that’s a really good thing. However…

I just feel that this campaign is somewhat insensitive to those who have suffered at the hands of the LRA. Yes, it is good that awareness has been raised. But I feel that the sensationalism and intentional marketing that is happening cheapens what has been done. The best way I can think of to describe it is to invite Americans to imagine, shortly after 9/11, a campaign coming out that involved t-shirts, bracelets, status updates, etc declaring “Bin Laden 2001” and “Make Bin Laden Famous.” Offended because I made reference to an extremely painful part of American history and cheapened it with sensationalism? Then I got my point across. Suffering should not be used as a marketing campaign.

I’m also concerned that making Kony famous perhaps isn’t going to have the positive effect people are expecting it to have. In fact, I think that it will probably cause more suffering. It’s as if people actually think that Kony is going to go “Oh, now everyone knows about me, I guess I’d better stop it,” or that the American government is just going to go and arrest him and execute him and that will be it. This isn’t a schoolyard bully and you just need to tell the teacher on him. I don’t know for certain, but I’d hazard a guess that if I knew about Kony and the LRA prior to this campaign, then Obama probably did too. And I’m fairly sure that the world governments know a little bit more about how to deal with this kind of stuff then we plebs do. The consequences of this campaign could potentially be quite… negative, I guess.

It’s so hard, because I agree with raising awareness, but not necessarily with how it was done in this case.

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Very Young Girls

This week, I watched a documentary that broke my heart. Very Young Girls follows several American teenagers and an organisation called GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services – coolest acronym ever).  Essentially, the umbrella fact is that the average age of entry into prostitution in America is just 13 years old. I teach 13 year olds how to dance. They are babies. It is sickening. GEMS is an organisation working to help those already involved in commercial sex eploitation, as well as to prevent it. Founded by a young woman who herself had been exploited in this way as a teenager, GEMS love on these girls with all they have. There are several streams to this documentary. Some of the girls who have come out the other side of prostitution share their stories right from the beginning. Intertwined in these stories is actual footage filmed by pimps who were arrogant enough to think that their lives would make a cool reality TV show. Alongside this is a mother desperately trying to find her daughter with very little help from police. And then there are GEMS and the girls they’re currently trying to help. My favourite was Dominique, who I wept with joy over. Oh, how I wish you would watch it so that you could see why. I can’t stop telling people about this documentary. It was amazing.

But the thing is, so often we watch documentaries like this, and we get on little tangents about the issues raised, and then we forget about it and we never do anything about it. Now, there’s very little I can do about child prostitution in America, except to say this: If you are American, watch this documentary, and then do something about it. Go to http://www.gems-girls.org/get-involved, or http://www.wellspringliving.org/giveyourtime.php, or http://ecpatusa.org/take-action/, or any of the other places that work to end child sexual exploitation in America (just Google “end child sexual exploitation in [your area]”). Because you can never say again that you did not know.

For me, this film made me wonder, as I have so many times, what the situation is here in New Zealand. Because prostitution has been decriminalised here, there’s very little literature on it. But I know that girls as young as 9 do prostitute themselves of their own accord here in New Zealand. I know that we have poverty and abuse, and children who are desperately needing love and affection (the girls in the documentary called their pimps “daddy” – that says all it needs to). So the problem must be bigger then I think it is. A report by the Ministry of Justice in New Zealand calls child prostitutes “young sex workers.” Way to minimalise the horror of what it actually is, New Zealand. According to the ECPAT NZ website, there are approximately 200 children involved in prostitution in New Zealand. That might not seem like a large number, but remember that New Zealand only has just over 4 million people. But the problem with that number is that, without being able to read the source, I don’t know if that counts children under the age of 18, or just under the age of 16. How many 16 and 17 year olds are prostituting themselves and are just being passed by because they’re in that gray area of being old enough to consent to sex, but not being legally adults? On that note, don’t even get me started on wondering why it’s suddenly okay on a young girl’s 18th birthday for men to pay to have sex with her.

Prostitution is that thing we don’t like to talk about. I was a little naive, and thought that prostitution was a rather rare thing that no one was involved (in terms of being a customer) in except a really gross few. But then I met a guy who had become a Christian shortly after finishing university, and he told me that actually it was quite common. Lots of men, of all different ages and lifestyles, pay women for sex. Tonight I find myself wondering how many of those women are actually teenage girls.

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do about the fact of child prostitution in clean, green New Zealand. Part of me wants to say “No, I’m doing enough. We’re doing enough,” because almost everything my husband and I do, from our full time jobs, to the charities we support, to what we do with our free time, is for the betterment of young people, especially those living in our area. But my heart has been beating too fast and too hard for too long for what we’re already doing to be enough.

“Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
– William Wilberforce, speech to Parliament, May 12, 1789

Whisper words of wisdom

“There’s a road, we must travel. There’s a promise we must make… The riches will be plenty, worth the price we had to pay.”
– I Know Where I’ve Been, Hairspray

I was watching Hairspray last night, and I know it’s not very often that a cute little musical inspires action against injustice, although, admit it, I know you tear up a little when Motormouth Maybelle sings “You can’t stop today, as it comes speeding down the track. Child, yesterday is history and it’s never coming back! Tomorrow is a brand new day, and it don’t know white from black (Yeah!)”

But during the march scene, the emotion that built up inside me was so strong I just had to get up and dance. This isn’t unusal, dancing is often what I do with pent up emotion. It meets with the music and flows out through my body until I have nothing else to feel. 

I felt sorrow. Sorrow for all the people I know are out who there suffering. Sorrow for the hearts of young girls who don’t know that they’re worth dying for. Sorrow for the millions dying each day without having ever lived. Sorrow for the least of these.

I felt anger. Anger because we’re not doing anything about it. When the African Americans were fighting for equality, it was not enough for them to stand up. It took for them to scream. But when they did, they were heard. The young men, women and children trafficked into sexual slavery do not even have legs. They are hidden without a voice and without hope. They can’t fight. But I can stand. I can speak out. I can shout. I can scream. I can fight. And I don’t. I always say that I’d like to think that if I saw some injustice, I’d do something about it. If I saw somone hitting their wife or child, for instance, I’d step in and help that woman or child. But I know I wouldn’t. Because I see injustice every day, and I ignore it. 

I felt despair. Despair because sexual slavery is such a huge problem. Certainly too huge for one person to have an influence. But we’re all one person, and if each of us stood up and screamed for this injustice to stop, the problem wouldn’t seem so big. It is overwhelming, but it is not bigger then my God. And I have a responsibility to do something about it.

What will I actually do about it? That’s up to God, and my prayer is that He would show me. Because I can not ever say I did not know.

Someone like you

A woman born in South Africa is more likely to be raped then to learn how to read. A survey found that 60% of school children think that it is not violence to force someone you know to have sex. Damage from the rape of babies can be so severe that surgery is needed to rebuild even the respiratory system.

During the recent war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape was used as a weapon against hundreds of thousands of people, especially women and children. Many women now live with chunks of flesh torn out by bayonets or sticks, urine and blood continuously streaming from between their legs. Most are too poor and ashamed to seek help, and too afraid of backlash to report the rapes.

The estimated number of people trafficked into slavery of various forms is more than the population of New Zealand, several times over. In many places all over the world, children are sold into sexual slavery by their parents or another relative to pay off debts. It’s not that these children are unloved, it’s that their families often have little other choice.

I am not the norm. My life is not representative of any other life out there. I am unbelievably, unfairly privileged. Yes, I have had moments of intense darkness and pain in my life, but I do not have a vaginal fistula due to gang rape or lack of medical care after childbirth. I don’t have enough money to buy everything I want, but my body is not paralysed by hunger pains. More people are in need then are not. More people are suffering then are not. How did I ever get to be one of those fortunate people born in 1989 in New Zealand? Why is this my reality? Why do I get a house, a bed, food? Why was I allowed to live without terror? When the odds were so slim, why me?

There are generally two statements that will be made when discussing the holocaust. The first is “How could the world have let that happen?” and the second is “That would never happen these days, because information is far more easily gained now. People would know about it and stop it.” We’re lying to ourselves. We let it happen. We sit around and say “Oh, that’s so sad” and don’t do anything about it. It does all seem so huge. What could we possibly do to stop it all? We could never eradicate human trafficking. We could never stop anyone from ever being raped. There is so much we could never accomplish in our lifetimes, but we must try. How could we not even try?

I must admit, I do not want to go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the place that haunts me most, but I do not want to go there. If there is a way that I can help, while sitting safely in my lounge, I would gladly do it. But God, please, do not send me there. I am too terrified of being raped by 10 soldiers. I am too scared that one will rape me with a rifle, and then shoot me from the inside. I do not want to be one of them. I can barely grasp just how fortunate I am, but I do know that never would I ever want to know the suffering they have experienced. Just knowing that so many of the crown of creation have suffered in this way tears me up. I feel physical pain in my sympathy for them. But I am not as brave as they are. I could never live through that.

The thing that scares me most is the thought that my good fortune will not last. Any second, any day, I could become one of those statistics. A war could break out here, or a natural disaster could occur. My freedom could be lost in seconds, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I guess that’s where it really hits me. These are women just like me. The 9 year old Cambodian girl who was sold into prostitution today, was just like me at 9 yesterday. Apart from the fact that I am unbelievably privileged, and they are not, young women in countries terrorised by sexual violence are just like me. She could be me. I could be her.

Oh, thank You, Lord, for Your unexplainable mercy. Don’t let me forget just how lucky I am. Don’t let me go through my life without doing something with what You have given me. I know that You have made me so incredibly blessed for a reason, and I know that I only have too much to give too much. Don’t let me forget, Lord.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”
Dr Seuss