Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Why I Wrote About Human Trafficking?

 

Defiled

What happens when family ties become deadly bonds?

This week I’ve decided to address a question many readers of my novel Defiled have asked me: Why did I decide to write a novel about the horrors of trafficking children for sex?

The Quick and Public Answer about Human Trafficking

When asked at a dinner or party or lit conference why I was motivated to write about this topic, I say human trafficking, child sex trafficking in particular, is a horrific problem in the world. There are around 1 million children—from infancy to young teens — enslaved each year.

I wanted to bring awareness to the problem.

And I wanted to know why and how the world got to a place where it can ignore such a pervasive horror. How have we become so calloused?

Not because those answers aren’t true …

Those answers are true. I do believe I am raising awareness of the problem, and as a society we do need to ask ourselves how did we get here?
Yet, as I give these answers, I know this isn’t the whole truth. Whenever asked, I still become nervous as if I’m going to be caught in a lie, without knowing what the lie is.

But Then What Could My Personal Motivation Be?

Lofty notions of public service or philosophical curiosity about human motivation could not have sustained me for the twelve years it took me to write Defiled. There had to be something eating at me to keep me motivated.

Yet the only seed event I could find leading me to this topic was the arrest of a man in 1990s Rhode Island for harboring a stash of child pornography. He was from my town, I knew who was, and I began to wonder why.

Writing about child sex trafficking, bringing those horrific scenes to life was difficult. I could endure five or ten minutes at the computer before jumping up and pacing the room. Then sadness filled me. Gloom descended. During research I felt someone watching over my shoulder, ready to turn me in for my perverse pursuit. It was depressing: the UNICEF statistics, the alleged legal websites where underage kids were sold via MasterCard or Visa.

It took twelve years to write Defiled, because of the creepy aura haunting me. Yet I persisted.

Why?

The Truth Found in Two Instances from My Own Past

Both the following events happened between fourth and sixth grade, when my father was stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany. For a picture of the building where they happened and a blog post on what it was like living there, see Kaiserslautern.

The Janitor

The building was four stories, divided into three sections of eight large apartments each. The storage bins and maid quarters (yes, this was at a time when the dollar vs. Deutsch mark exchange permitted even Army Sergeants to have maids) were in the basement. Also in the basement was the large room with the furnace and the janitor’s quarters.

The janitor — I don’t remember his name — spoke little English. I, from my drills at school with German lists of nouns, could speak a little German. Friendly, funny, he took a liking to me. I got to know when his breaks were, when he’d have a hunk of bread and sausage and coffee from a thermos. He always offered to share; polite boy I was, I always refused.

He soon, in his pidgin English, began to ask what I knew about what men did with women. I sort of knew, wanted to know more. In time, we had a ritual. A ritual which frightened, but hypnotized me, and I visited daily for weeks, to watch him officiate.

He’d start with a lurid story of some conquest. He sat me on a cardboard box after locking the door to his small room. He’d drop his pants, insist I watch, then masturbate. When done, he unlocked the door and I ran out. I ran down the long hall of the basement, up the stairs and out into the street. I ran until I was out of breath. My face burned with shame, yet I knew I would be back the next day. He never touched me. Never. I never saw or remembered this as abuse. But I was ten, maybe eleven. Abuse it was.

The Redhead Crazy Mom

A large well-kept lawn surrounded each of the apartment buildings. There were about ten boys around my age who lived in my building. During the summers, at Germany’s higher latitude, the sun went down as late as eleven. We boys would hook together our army-issued pup tents into a long train and camp out on those hot bright nights.

We were in the same boy scout troop and could talk all night about our last troop outing or what we expected from the next. We gossiped: about guys we didn’t like, or did but who had refused our invitation to the sleep out. We talked about teachers and and about the latest Christopher Lee Dracula movie playing at the base movie theater. What we didn’t gossip about, at least with Jack sitting right there with us, was Jack’s mother.

Outside of the tents, with Jack not around, Jack’s mother was one of the favorite topics. We talked about her, our parents talked about her even more. She was the “crazy” of the building. Although, the details of crazy we didn’t know.

The Military Police had come to our building in the middle of the night a couple of times this month alone. I thought it had something to do with she drank too much. Lying in my bed, I overheard my father saying, “she’s nothing but a goddamn drunk. I don’t know why that husband of hers doesn’t put her through the wall.” And my mother, so typical of my obsessed, no my compulsive and obsessed housekeeper of a mother, would answer, “Can you imagine what a sty they must live in? And the smell?” To my Mom, this summed up all horror.

I had only seen Jack’s mother once, from a distance, her red hair flaming.
And it was the red hair I would always remember from that night she came to our train of pup tents, some time late, in the middle of the night.

Most of us were asleep. I was wakened by the two boys next to me crashing into me as they tried to get away. Then the flashlights and two lanterns, used to play cards and Monopoly by, flared and her giant shadow loomed over us.

That lantern lit ablaze in hellish detail the second close-up of pubic hair, the Janitor’s being the first, I had ever seen in my young eleven years.

Jack’s Mom sat within the entrance of the first tent, legs spread, dress hoisted to her waist, whispering, “Come on babies. Want to touch Mommy. Please.” She repeated this mantra over and over.

Some boys stared in fascination, others scrambled towards the back, fumbling with the ties to get out at the rear. I froze suspended somewhere in between curiosity and terror. For how long? Less than five minutes? Until Ray escaped out the back and ran in to get his father.

I remember the scream “you crazy fucking bitch,” and someone yanking Jack’s mom from the tent. Then the sirens. Our parents ended the sleep out and sent us all to our own beds. I remember lying in bed as that red fiery patch blazed in my brain.

Those five minutes have become a lifetime of fantasizing about the “ginger” folk in a mysterious and not altogether wholesome way.

The Advent of Defiled

Soon after, maybe by age twelve, I remember memorizing Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech:

The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

I began to imagine myself on the Stockholm stage and knew all I wanted to do was write novels.

It took so long to write my first published novel, because underneath the story of a young man’s indoctrination into spiritual values, lurked wounds which the long writing process tried to heal.

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