Posted by Joe Woodard. Taken from: My “Face” for Human Trafficking.

Please share. And please pray for the woman who was kidnapped 12 years ago.

In 2005-06, I was living in Wenzhou, China, teaching English. I lived there for a year, and had a pretty positive experience of the area. I felt safe, and sensed no danger walking anywhere, day or night. Honestly, it’s a rather nice, peaceful place.

Early in the spring of 2006, on a day off from work, I was going across the river to go downtown (I think to go to McDonald’s.) I went to the ferry dock, paid for my ticket, and got on the speedboat ferry.

Ou River, Wenzhou

As I got in the boat, I heard yelling behind me. A young woman, early to mid-twenties, was with two men. They were half dragging, half carrying her to the speedboat. She was yelling, and fighting, and trying to get away. And everybody in the ferry and outside the ferry heard and saw everything that was happening. And shortly after they walked onto the ferry, right beside me (the girl still fighting and screaming), the ferry took off. I didn’t know enough Chinese to try to intervene or ask someone what was going on. And the ferry crew members didn’t do anything. I think they just told us to get off the deck and go inside and sit down.

I sat in the seat right in front of the two men. This girl was still yelling, and being treated roughly by the men. Nobody else was looking at them. And I sat there, totally at a loss what to do. At this point, I still knew almost no Chinese. So, I just stared at them, and asked (with one of the few Chinese phrases I knew), “你们在干什么?” (“What are you doing?!”) One man had his arm around her, with his hand over her mouth, and said that he was her boyfriend. And I looked at the people sitting around me, and just said, “喂?你们好!喂? Hey! Hello?! Please look here!”. I knew nobody wanted to help, and that what I was doing was annoying, and possibly dangerous. But I was desperate to point people’s attention to the situation right behind their backs. I figured that eventually, if I kept urging people to do something, somebody would have to do something. Right?

Nobody did anything. Or said anything. Or even looked.

Finally, while I was just sitting there, outraged at everyone’s silence, the girl looked at me in the eyes. Her face was less than two feet from mine, as she said, very loudly: “Help me! Call the police!!”


I tried to keep my cool, and took out my phone. The kidnappers saw me dial “119”, which I thought was the generic emergency number. In China, 119 is only for the fire department. The two men just laughed. And the girl looked…I can’t describe it. Nobody else cared enough to do anything. And the one person who did care was ignorant about how to help.

We were in the boat for a full five minutes before arriving at the other side of the river. As soon as we docked, the “boyfriend” pulled the girl out, and other passengers exited, while the stronger man stayed back, physically blocking me to keep me inside the boat. He reached into his pocket, and it looked like he had some weapon. Maybe it was a bluff, but maybe it was a gun or an electric prod. There was no way to know.

I didn’t fight them. And I didn’t see any police, or anybody else to ask for help. But everybody saw the “boyfriend” carrying the screaming girl over his shoulder, as he walked through the crowd—all the way to the main street. He hailed a taxi. He put her into the taxi. He waited for his accomplice to get in. And the frightened cab driver drove away.

And I tried to figure out how to contact the police. But, I didn’t see the taxi’s license plate number. And, I thought that it was probably too late to do anything. And that, they probably wouldn’t care, either.

Of course, I couldn’t do anything else that afternoon. I just went back home, totally broken, and I wept. And I re-played the scenario in my mind so many times…what could I have done differently, to make a difference, to stop these men from kidnapping this girl?  Should I have fought them? And why did no one do anything?  And I thought about why she was kidnapped…was she being trafficked as a mail-order bride, or a prostitute?  Would they maim her and turn her into a beggar?

And, I couldn’t get her face out of my memory. Her big, horrified eyes, just 18 inches away, and her loud pleading: “Help me! Call the police!!”

I don’t know why this happened to her. I know that it should not have happened. And I can only hope and pray that she will be rescued, and that because of the loss she experienced, many others will be rescued. And I know I don’t want to miss another opportunity to save innocent victims, just because I’m uninformed or unprepared.

So, if I ever need to remind myself why I’m engaging in the fight against human trafficking, for me, it’s easy. I just remember her face, right in front of mine: her eyes, her pleading, and her screams.

As you engage in the fight against human trafficking, amidst all the legal research and discussion, don’t lose sight of the “face” of the people we want to rescue.

There are more and more ways to get involved in fighting human trafficking, and several Hong Kong organisations
are helping lead the way in Asia, to raise awareness and find solutions.
If you want to know more, email joe@www.asiaforlife.com.