To Protect or to Defend?

To Protect or to Defend?

I’m a French lawyer with an international organized crime specialisation.
I have seen a lot of broken lives effected by human trafficking and seen so many lives protected against such evil.

But I haven’t seen enough criminals facing their just punishment and being put being behind bars.

When you do a job such as mine, you realise that the successful achievement are the moments when we tried to prevent something, not when we tried to heal it.
I’ve travelled in many countries and met a lot of those communities who are vulnerable, those we know that they can be potential victims due to a series of unfortunates events and external factors that made their existence more dangerous than anyone else – even if they are not responsible of it.

After all, who would dare to blame a child for the danger around him?

I thought that I’ve seen everything. Until this Thursday 28th of July when I accompanied HAART’s team to a workshop on human trafficking in a High School in Nairobi.
Wilson, one of HAART’s employee started to teach to a group of teenagers – between 13 and 17 years old – what we can call “basic knowledge” about organized crime :
– What forms could it take?
– What kind of traffic threats their lives?
– Who’s in charge of protecting their rights?
– What are the most common danger they can meet?

That led us to the two moments that I’ll never forget.

First, at the beginning of the class, Wilson asked the children: “What are your rights?” I wasn’t able to avoid a smile and feeling my heart warming up when I heard the answers. Because, in front of me, they were children whom, despite all the difficulties they can meet, have managed to preserve their innocence. “Right to eat”, they said, “right to sleep”, “right to go to school”, “right to play”, “right to have friends”. I knew that in a few minutes we will have to teach them about a new danger threatening their lives, even if they had so many issues to face already. More than I’ll ever have to face for the rest of my life.

Will they be sad? At this point, that’s what I think, neither Wilson nor I cared about it because the bursts of laughter in the room was much more important.

And then, there was this moment, when after teaching them all the forms of human trafficking, Wilson taught the children how to react in case they were victims of this crime. There was a religious silence when he explained that they need to scream, run or try to find help at a police station or in an embassy if they were abroad.

Do these children – agitated a few minutes ago – became aware of the danger that threatened their lives? Maybe, but me, at this moment, I became aware of a whole different thing.

In France we were taught basically nothing about human trafficking. The few classes we have about it were for the lawyers, police officers or the first responders to these crimes. But in all my schooling in France – almost 18 years – I’ve never remembered the visit of someone, in my classroom, who thought me how to protect myself from human trafficking. And after some investigations and researches, I’ve learn that, even in our “dangerous” or “poor” areas, no lessons are given to young children or teenagers about it.

Is it because we have no interest in it?
Or could it be because we feel safe?
Maybe it’s because our laws protect us?
None of it.

By opening my manuals and my books – that I had during my lawyer education – I became aware of an obviousness.

In my country, we learnt how to defend the victims.
In Nairobi, this 28th July, we were teaching to these children how to survive.
France creates more traffickers than victims, this is why we do not teach our children to defend themselves because we think that they are not in danger.
Kenya creates more victims than traffickers, henceforth survival instinct become more important.

The greatest difference between our countries is this: in France we defend victims from other lands. Whereas in Kenya, we will protect our brothers and sisters, our neighbours, our friends, our children because each one of them has the unfortunate chance to – maybe one day – become a victim of human trafficking.

“To defend” and “to protect” are two very different things. In one case, you heal something, in the other one you prevent it.

This is why HAARTs job is essential. Healing is not a satisfaction because evil has been done. But there is nothing stronger and alive than this moment when we protect someone. In my job we only search for the surprise when it carries hope and light.
And I have never met so much hope than this Thursday 28th July, with those men and women. They’re ready to say to the entire world that Kenya is not doomed to become an inexhaustible resource of victims. But in the contrary, it’s a country carrying a young generation ready to say “no” to human trafficking, with courage and hope.

By Sarah Benhammou

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