Advocate offers message of hope for women, children at risk
WASHINGTON (March 4, 2015) -- When Rebecca McDonald was 14 years old, living in Pakistan, her best friend of the same age was raped and had acid poured down her throat by others afterward.
At the Pentagon National Prayer Breakfast, March 4, Pentagon Chaplain Col. Kenneth Williams introduced McDonald, who told her story. She is now the founder and president of Women at Risk, International, or WAR.
The event was sponsored by the Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
McDonald said the reason for the acid attack on her best friend was that she resisted being raped. "They told her: 'How dare you cry out? You're only a woman. You have no voice.'
"God used the acid of her suffering to burn a hole in my heart and set me on a pathway of being the voice for the silent woman and child," she said, adding that she's been doing that now for about 30 years.
McDonald said human trafficking and other forms of abuse of men, women and children are growing at home and internationally at a greater rate than most other crimes.
About 50 million women and children a year disappear due to any number of risk factors, including infanticide and honor killings, she said. Besides that, women, children and even men are victims of human trafficking, forced prostitution and abuse, all areas WAR is combating in some 45 countries, including the United States.
"No one talks about this problem," she said, having provided her own testimony to the Department of Homeland Security and congressional committees.
WAR workers have rescued children as young as 2 years old, who were being sold into sexual slavery or in organ "donation" programs, she said.
And while the prevalence is high in many countries, the United States is not immune. About 2,400 minors are for sale at any given time in west Michigan alone, she said, according to Department of Homeland Security officials who contacted her in her Grand Rapids headquarters for assistance. "This is a carnage of the innocent."
It is not just men selling children, girls and women. A lot of traffickers are females. For example, in the United States, there are 15- to 18-year-old schoolgirls recruiting 9-year-old girls to go to parties, where they are coerced into sex and blackmailed. A lot of what happens is too graphic to tell.
WHAT WAR DOES
WAR focuses on three approaches, McDonald said: curative, preventive and supportive.
Curatively, WAR volunteers fan out into red-light districts worldwide, looking for places of captivity, determining if the victims are there against their will and then rescuing them, she said.
But rescue is just the first part of the curative process, she said. Then begins the journey to their recovery. WAR does this by teaching victims trades, treating their physical and mental wounds and filling them with "light, hope, dignity and worth," she said.
A lot of times, a safe house is required for the victims, some of which can hold hundreds of people. While mostly for women and children, McDonald pointed out that there are three safe houses for men too.
In this way, thousands of people have been "rescued, redeemed, restored and empowered," she said. Many of the girls and women who are rescued become WAR members and run safe houses or do other work, while others go on to lead productive lives and fulfill their dreams.
Two-thirds of WAR programs focus on prevention. "If we hear that 90 percent of women in some villages in South Asia or Africa will be forced into working in red-light districts, we take immediate action," she said.
By action, McDonald said WAR will set up a sewing academy in the village where the girls and women can work, or they will place the women in training programs. "We graduated lawyers, doctors, school teachers, cosmetologists, goat herders, you name it."
The reason for doing this, she said, is that women who are rescued and are not provided with livelihood skills will most likely end up getting re-sold into slavery or prostitution. One estimate, she said, is 90 percent of Cambodian women, who get rescued but get no job training and get re-sold.
Support is the third aspect, she said. Support means coming to venues like this and telling people's stories. "We need people like you to volunteer and step up to help in any way possible. Use your voice. Be heard," she encouraged.
McDonald added a personal thank you to the military for addressing risk issues to women and blazing a trail for others to follow. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for doing the hard things, addressing the hard realities and making change."
After her presentation, Chaplain Williams added: "She's made a difference for women at risk. I hope you were stirred to discomfort. I encourage you to get involved and make a difference in people's lives."