“Khru Ball,” as he is affectionately known by students and staff (“Khru” means teacher, and Ball is his nickname, pronounced more like “Bon”), has been with The Freedom Story almost since the beginning, when he was fresh from school himself. He started by running some of the activities for the kids, and has gradually taken on more responsibility, until he was fully managing our afterschool programs. His leadership is not just in the formal aspects of his job, however. It’s also in the growth and deepening of his relationships with the students, developed over years. His impact is not just in the day to day, but in the stability he has helped provide for them over the years. He has seen them through changes in their own lives, as well as changes in how risk and exploitation manifest themselves.
Anti-Trafficking Work Changes Over TIme
Because he comes from the community and has been so close to the community for so long, Khru Ball has an incredible depth of knowledge about the struggles families face and perspective on how things have shifted and changed over the years. When The Freedom Story first began working in Northern Thailand, child sex trafficking mostly happened in red light districts. Trafficking happened through the influence of family members or close acquaintances. But now, Khru Ball says, it is primarily being done online, through the influence of strangers that children connect with and learn to trust. He says, “there are so many different platforms and methods for grooming. It happens much more online; through Facebook, Line App, messaging apps, or online games. The traffickers will play online games and develop relationships with children because they know some children play the game and some are not being monitored by their guardians.”
This means that because the method of trafficking has changed, the nature of risk has also shifted. “I used to focus on those without education and in high levels of poverty,” he says. “And while those are good indicators for being at-risk, we are noticing that online behavior and having a family that is not supportive in any way is a very big risk factor in the new age of trafficking.” For Khru Ball, the lack of parental awareness and oversight is a really important new dimension. Families who have limited literacy skills feel ill-equipped to guide their children’s use of smartphones and other technology. Many do not even try. Even if they do sense there may be some danger, it can be hard for them to pinpoint what exactly the risk is.
On Generational Changes
In his 10+ years working in the field, the deepest change for Khru Ball has been in his understanding of the importance of changes in people’s mindsets. Belief systems and awareness are such an important part of vulnerability–and yet so much more difficult to quantify or track. He has come to believe in the value of a more holistic approach to prevention–not just working with the child, but also working with the family and the community.
It’s not easy changing mindsets. There can be a lot of resistance to change, especially if people believe there are economic benefits to trafficking. They may show their resistance in their face, or not cooperate with the activities. However, he says, “most people see what we are doing and begin to change their attitudes and mindsets. The most positive result is seeing a group of people who came to seek help and counseling. Changing mindsets can really help us create generational change.”
Even in the face of resistance, Khru Ball maintains a lot of hope in the possibility of both individual and generational change:
“In Nan, we work with a girl who is probably the most at-risk child we have worked with. She has a lot of health problems, access to the internet (unmonitored) where she talks to a lot of strangers on chat, who already send her money to send nude photos. We have worked very hard to earn trust with her and her family, many of whom have been trafficked themselves. In this family, there is an expectation that the girls in the family will leave the house at 15, so they can work in trafficking, to help support the family.
Because of our gained trust in the family and community, we have gotten her counseling for about 2 months now, that helps her have greater understanding and helps her process her struggles.”
Prospects for the Future
While Khru Ball is skeptical that we will ever see an end to human trafficking, primarily because it’s ever-changing and traffickers are always quick to adapt to new technologies in surprising ways, he remains optimistic that it’s possible to significantly reduce the problem. He believes strongly that prevention rests in: poverty reduction, educational opportunities, addressing online sexual abuse, and a holistic approach to alleviating family problems and promoting support and communication.
It’s a collective effort. As he says, “It is everyone’s duty to become more aware and value the fight against human trafficking. In order to create more change in this field, I think we need everyone to get involved. Everyone should be confident that they can positively impact the fight.”