Recent headlines have brought awareness to human trafficking, but Dr. Jeff Brodsky, founder of Joy International, has been living totally barefoot since July 2010 to do the same. Both domestically and internationally, Brodsky has gone barefoot in solidarity with impoverished and trafficked children. Most of the time, he speaks to adults about the staggering statistics of child sex trafficking, but in his first children's book entitled "Why Are You Barefoot?," Brodsky seeks to educate elementary children about the human trafficking epidemic. The book is based on an actual presentation Brodsky gave in person to a school full of children.
"I was asked to speak at an elementary school and I had to find a way to explain to these children why I was barefoot," says Brodsky. "Of course, I couldn't tell them what I would normally share with a group of adults about the child sex trade, so I had to find a way to make them aware of child trafficking by telling them a story in a way they would understand. When I finished speaking the school Principal came up to me and said, 'That was fascinating. What you just showed these students would make a great children's book.' That's what this new book details."
Human trafficking has overtaken arms trafficking to become the second-largest black-market industry behind drug-running. It is also the fastest-growing global industry. According to a recent study funded by the Department of Justice, the average age of young girls forced into the sex trade in America is approximately sixteen years old. Though estimates vary, as many as 21,000 child sex slaves, or children who are trafficked, may exist in the United States alone. According to the FBI, girls that are trafficked for sex have an average lifespan of 5-7 years, typically dying of disease, suicide or murder. It was these facts, along with an encounter at a garbage dump in Cambodia, that first motivated Brodsky to begin his barefoot journey which is chronicled in his memoir, "The Least of These: One Man's Remarkable Journey in the Fight against Child Trafficking."
"I was with a co-worker who had a program feeding impoverished children who lived in the dump. These children are at high risk of being snatched by predators and sold into brothels." says Brodsky. "The smell was nauseating. The children live there because that's where the freshest food is for them. As the group of a dozen or so children were eating a bowl of rice with chicken, I noticed they were all barefoot. I could not imagine walking barefoot among the trash and sludge. I even had a difficult time walking in there with shoes, tip-toeing across the garbage. When I got back to my hotel room that night, I could not get the picture of those bare feet out of my mind. I was also aware that brothel owners would take shoes away from children brought to the brothels to make it more difficult for them to run. I had a talk with God and felt He was impressing on me to go barefoot for one year in solidarity with those children, and with trafficked children around the world."
Brodsky and his team have rescued thousands of children from sex trafficking-some as young as four-years-old- as well as conducted various undercover operations to aid law enforcement. The efforts of Joy International have helped to move Cambodia from a Tier 3 country (no efforts against trafficking) to a Tier 2. The U.S. is considered Tier 1 due to its aggressive laws and enforcement against trafficking. Joy International employs a Director of Global Police Training and Tactical Operations who was trained Special Forces Anti-Human Trafficking Police and SWAT teams. Their training techniques for airport personnel to spot potential human traffickers recently resulted in the rescue of a 9-year-old in the parking lot of an Alaskan airport.
"People often turn a blind eye to human trafficking -similar to the three monkeys," says Brodsky. "They don't want to see it, hear about it or speak about it. It's easier to look the other way. When any society becomes permissive instead of protective, that society is in the throes of moral decay. That is unfortunately America and our world today. Awareness is good, but awareness without action is apathy."
A few years ago, a youth group in Ohio where Brodsky spoke organized a fundraiser called The Barefoot Mile which has since been embraced by groups, churches and organizations around the globe. Brodsky says these events have offered communities a chance to stand with him in solidarity with victims of human trafficking.
"On the one year anniversary of my decision to go barefoot, I was in my bedroom about to put on some socks for the first time in twelve months," says Brodsky. "But God wouldn't let me do it. I mean, the sock would, literally, not go on my foot! I cried out to God and asked Him what He wanted from me after I went barefoot for an entire year. I heard Him speak these words to me- 'Keep going, those children are still out there.' I knew in that moment that as long as my going barefoot could motivate just one person a year to take action in a way that will help us rescue even one more child each year, I'll go barefoot the rest of my life."
About Dr. Jeff Brodsky:
Dr. Jeff Brodsky is the founder of Joy International, a non-profit organization which exists to be involved in, or help to coordinate, the rescue, restoration, reintegration, and prevention of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, teens, and young women, both domestically and internationally. For over 37 years, to raise funds and awareness, he has performed as Snuggles the Clown, ridden a bicycle solo from California to New York City, led ten, 101-mile walks across Death Valley, and spoken in 50 nations. He and his wife, Gail, live in the foothills above Denver, Colorado and have three children and eight grandchildren. For more information, visit http://www.joy.org or http://www.thebarefootmile.org.