I’ve faced more than my share of evil in my lifetime and understand how numbing it can be. There is a slow uptake, like you can’t really believe what you are experiencing. Then there is a moment of sheer terror – fight, run or fall down and die. Then you come back to lucidity and your mind starts to work. That’s the worst of it. You reason, how could this be? Then you find a way out and eventually start to cope. It’s a step-by-step process. Recovery depends on many things, and it’s harder for some than others. Many don’t recover at all and become… statistics.
Omaha seems to most a quiet, little conservative city in the heart of America. There aren’t many visible extremes here most of the time. Real evil doesn’t even seem possible. We’re all so nice. Of course, we all know bad things happen. We’ve read the stories and seen the movies, but it isn’t really that common. Right?
One of the great things about serving on the City Council is the opportunity you get to meet new and interesting people. Last week I had the opportunity to meet with Gene Klein of Project Harmony. They’re in my district. You may have heard of them. They got their start about 25 years ago with a mission “to protect and support children, collaborate with professionals and engage the community to end child abuse and neglect.” Their war is with genuine evil, and they fight it every single day.
When you walk into the place, you get the completely correct impression that the facility is all about kids. There is colorful and fun art, and toys and stuffed animals. There is even a loving service dog named “Woody.” The facility has been intentionally designed to make children feel safe, secure and loved. Everything has been carefully planned to take them out of their nightmare and give them the professional legal, social and medical infrastructure to start their journey to recovery. Project Harmony was created to face a horrific reality, and it has taken on that challenge with such professionalism and love that every Omahan should feel an overwhelming sense of pride.
I think my greatest misconception about Project Harmony was that they faced a relatively common variety of child abuse – something that was terrible but something I could fit in my upright sense of the world. I could not have been more wrong. Of course, they deal with a wide variety of child abuse all day, every day, but the worst it seems is the problem of Child Trafficking. Now in my mind, Child Trafficking was something like groups of abducted children smuggled into the country from Mexico, South America or other Third World nation to be prostituted by gangs or cartels. My mind processed it in some kind of watered-down movie version masking the truth and the horror.
The truth is that Child Trafficking in Omaha is not a problem created by outsiders. The children come from Omaha – all over Omaha. They are abused by people – again from all over Omaha. The children's average age is less than six years old, and they are most often sold into the sex slave market by a family member. You think, that’s an incredibly rare occurrence, right? No, Project Harmony deals with a new victim of Child Trafficking almost every day. They are sold by their parents, aunts, uncles, brothers or sisters for money or drugs. They are tragically betrayed by the people who should be protecting them.
I know, it’s hard to process this. It’s evil in its most vial form. How could someone be involved in such a thing on any level? I don’t have any answers. All I can do is share my awareness, and for that I feel as though I should apologize. It hurts to know these things. But what we all can do is drop to our knees and pray. Pray for the victims. Pray for the people at Project Harmony for the work they do, for the lives they are trying to piece back together and for the courage it must take to go to work every day. And one more thing. You can go to https://projectharmony.com/donate/ and send them a contribution. I just did, and you should too. This is a fight we have to win.