I love the saving of the starfish story. I’ve heard several different versions and different authors, so I am not sure exactly where it originated. The Starfish Charity has this version:
An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, saying, “It made a difference for that one.”
This story can easily be applied to any of the issues that WomanStats provides data on, such as sex trafficking. Sex trafficking has been on my mind a lot lately. It’s my topic for a project I’m working on this semester, at the Clinton Global Initiative President Obama recently gave a speech against modern slavery, including sex trafficking, and it’s discussed in the Half the Sky documentary which has just been shown on PBS.
There are no reliable estimates for the number of women and children who are victims of sex trafficking. This is partly because of the underground nature of sex trafficking. It is also partly because several prostitutes are in a grey area between the extremes of being a completely voluntary prostitute and a completely forced prostitute. Often, discussions about how to stop sex trafficking get hijacked by the argument that several prostitutes choose to sell themselves for sex as well as opposing ideas regarding the morality of prostitution.
Critics say that anti-trafficking groups inflate their estimates. It’s very possible that some do in order to gain more attention and funding. This is sad. Sex trafficking and forced prostitution are so horrendous that efforts and funding should be put forth to help any and all victims, regardless of the numbers. I believe that just making a positive difference in one person’s life is worth it, just as the little girl knew that her time and effort made a difference to each starfish that she was able to save.
We need to help the survivors of sex trafficking and forced prostitution return to society and realize their self-worth. We also need to look at the other side of the problem, which is the demand. Men who pay for prostitutes need to be educated about sex trafficking and forced prostitution. Women need to be valued for more than just their bodies. Men need to be thought about as more than just animals with uncontrollable sexual urges. Simply reminding people by your words and actions that women are humans with intrinsic value and that men are humans with the capacity for self-control can make a difference. Even though problems such as sex trafficking encompass thousands of people, just one person can make a big difference. You can find your own unique way to gently place starfish back in the ocean.