Will You Know it When You See It?

When I picked up the phone I heard the calm yet urgent voice of my daughter, Sarah. “Mom, what’s the number to call when you suspect that someone is being trafficked?” Without asking who, what, why, or where, I rattled off the number that Dr. Sandie Morgan, director of Vanguard University’s Global Center For Women And Justice, “made me” memorize— 8883737888. Sarah thanked me and promptly hung up.

I later learned that as Sarah was pulling into the grocery store parking lot after work, she noticed a girl of approximately 17 years of age walking through the parking lot, or more accurately, she was being pulled along by a much older man. Sarah drove slowly, acting as though she was looking for a parking spot so she could get a better look at the two. She tried to make eye contact with the girl to see if she could sense some kind of a signal that the girl was in trouble, but the girl couldn’t focus. In fact, her eyes were rolling up into her head as she stumbled along behind the man who was pulling her arm.

In Sarah’s words, “They didn’t match. The young girl looked ‘higher than a kite’ and the older man appeared to be totally sober. She was dressed in a spaghetti strap tank top, black yoga pants, and slippers. Her behavior wasn’t right. She kept lifting her top and acting as though she was out of it. The man looked creepy.”

Sarah parked and kept her eye on the two as they continued to walk across the parking lot toward the grocery store. Oddly, they never went in the store. They lingered outside the store, standing around as though waiting for someone. Sitting in the car acting as though she was going over her shopping list, Sarah called the Human Trafficking Hotline and gave all the information to the operator. As she glanced at the girl, she asked that the woman please send someone right away. The operator told her to hang up and dial 9-1-1. Sarah immediately did so, and gave a complete description of the man and the girl and their location. The police were dispatched, but when Sarah looked up, she saw that the man was now nearby looking right at her. And the girl was gone.

We don’t know what happened after that, but we trust that Sarah was at that place at that time to see and report what she noticed. The operative word here is “noticed.” She noticed something that didn’t look right to her. She memorized everything she could about that man and that girl. She was able to give a detailed description of their faces, hair, height, and clothes, as well as the exact location of where the man was, which was the last known location of the girl.

THAT is what’s supposed to happen. We’re supposed to be aware of our surroundings and the humans within those surroundings. We’re supposed to have our "danger radar” turned on and tuned in so that if we see someone or something that could be a danger to us or others, we’re able to take action. Importantly, we’re supposed to have the courage to make the call.

Too often we’re in our own little worlds. We drive with only half a brain on the road in front of us, while the other half is talking to someone on the phone, listening to music or some impassioned argument on talk radio, or we’re thinking about what we have to do before we can finally collapse into bed later. If we are totally honest, some of us can’t recall a single detail about the ride home from work. I’m not saying this to point a finger at anyone. I’m perpetually guilty of this. But receiving that call from Sarah and hearing this story makes me wonder what we’re missing. Who’s being hurt right in front of us?

YOU are the best protector of the vulnerable people around you. You can be a voice for someone who has no ability to speak up. You can make the call that could save someone’s life. Will you know it when you see it? Will you be willing to set aside fears of being politically incorrect and go with your gut when something or someone doesn’t look quite right? Will you be brave enough to make the call when you have only a feeling with no hard evidence? Will you take the time out of the busy-ness that’s your life to memorize the person or people well enough to give a detailed description? Can we all commit to look up from our lives long enough to NOTICE what’s going on around us?