Will Henderson feels exacerbated by the election debates, the arguments, the discussions that candidates and the public say are the most important issues.
He supposes that after more than a decade of witnessing sex slaves – young boys and girls forced to prostitute themselves to man after man after man in brothel-infested Asia – some problems are graver than others.
No one is talking about one of the most dangerous industries to human life, human trafficking, where it’s estimated there are more than 27 million slaves around the world; more so today than in any other time in history.
Henderson, a 1986 Fairview High School graduate, the son of Bill and Annette Henderson, said he’d had enough of these crime ring organizations and decided to take action. In January 2011, Henderson and his wife, Cathy, formed Slave Free Earth, a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating sex trade operations and rescuing sex slaves.
The Fairview native spent 12 years in Asia as a missionary, including time in China and the former Soviet Union, mostly working with orphans and conducting relief work. “In spite of all the projects we’ve ever done, the one thing we kept seeing everywhere was illegal prostitution and obviously underage prostitution,” Henderson told the Herald.
Everywhere he went a brothel was nearby, one in every hotel. In China, while walking his children to school, he passed three brothels on route. In Thailand, he witnessed several times boys being sold, some for work, mostly for sex and girls, 12 or 13 years old, forced to serve 10-15 men a day. “I think what we really wanted to do was more than just traditional missions work,” Henderson said.
Rather than focus entirely on eternal well-being, he and Cathy realized something needed to be done now. “We observed so many people in hell now that we just felt we needed to do something,” he said. “I think enough is enough.”
Sex and the oil patch
Human trafficking, considered a crime against humanity, is believed to be a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry: more than $32 billion annually, which is more than the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB combined.
It is an extremely complex issue covered by layers of deception. Every country is somehow tied to it. Some countries are considered “source,” which is where most slaves are taken (former Soviet Union nations are primary sources), some are considered “transient” where it’s easy to herd people through crossings and airports (Israel and United Arab Emirates) and others are “destination” countries where demand remains constant. Famous destination countries include the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal, Thailand, Cambodia, Brazil and the United States. Las Vegas, Nev., naturally is where some of the worst sex trafficking takes place.
Then there is the oil patch, right here in the MonDak region; it’s not just strip clubs. “There’s always stuff going on underneath,” Henderson warns. “Wherever you find legal sexual things there’s almost always another layer underneath.”
Henderson, who has friends in the Las Vegas Police Department and Billings, says people are starting to begin focusing on the sex industry in the oil fields, even though it’s difficult to believe that such things could happen in a primarily conservative, remote area. But it can happen and likely does, he said.
So this week, Henderson will speak at a public forum, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Sidney Middle School auditorium, to raise awareness about sex slavery and prostitution, the most dangerous profession with the average life expectancy at 34 years. During the forum, Henderson will conduct an industry overview, answer questions and encourage the community take action in their hometown.
“What I encourage towns like Sidney to do is start a sex traffic task force that would include businesses, churches, maybe someone on the police force to come together and say what can we do, what are the signs and what can we look for?” he said. “I wish the forum could be more, but it’s really just the beginning.”
Henderson conducts investigations in Asia frequently, usually finding that the deeper a person digs, the more he uncovers, the younger the people involved, children whose lives are threatened, men and women whose families are also threatened if they don’t cooperate.
His organization, Slave Free Earth, will be based permanently in Thailand, one of the worst countries for human trafficking and where the vast majority of customers are Westerners. “There are millions and millions of Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians who go to Thailand only for sex,” Henderson said. “In fact, there are sex travel agencies that will help you book a sex tour.”
It all comes down to an addiction to sex, “and pornography is connected to all this.”
While there are hundreds of non-profits working to end human trafficking, what sets Slave Free Earth apart, he says, is its focus on men’s addictions; not only does the organization want to rescue underage girls, put them into safe houses, and educate them so they can work and live on their own – a duty that Cathy will take on – Henderson will conduct under cover investigations into sex trade operations and work on addiction recovery with men.
“I’ve been doing this for a while, and I would say probably 60 percent of guys that I come in contact with that I actually have a conversation with I find that they’re incredibly lonely and incredibly frustrated with life, and angry,” he said.
What to do
Slave Free Earth carries lots of information on its website, www.SlaveFreeEarth.com, about the sex industry and opportunities to get involved. One way is to join the “7community,” people who want to “take the first step behind just giving money.”
“7community” members commit to praying seven minutes a week, give $7 a month and challenge seven people a year to become a “7.”
Those who are interested can also attend the Tuesday secular public forum in addition to two others; one on Monday at 6 p.m. at Ebenezer Congregational Church, a talk to Christian men about pornography and how to help friends who have an addiction, and a Christian youth forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Sidney Middle School auditorium, where Henderson will encourage youth to make positive choices when it comes to sexual activity.
Slave Free Earth is Richland County
Henderson said that while his organization will focus mainly on Thailand at first, it remains a Sidney-based organization; the financial headquarters located here.
He also credits forming the organization to having been raised in Richland County, with “full credit” to churches, pastors and his Fairview teachers who influenced him by motivation or an encouraging word. “I see it as a Richland County thing,” he said.