How many of you love living in quarantine for COVID-19? Having wanderlust and some weird phobias myself, I definitely do not! Now, how many of you think of modern slavery (or human trafficking) in connection to freedom of movement? I’m guessing not many of us, even though the connection is huge! In this post I wanted to talk about what freedom of movement can mean to us as humans.

Blackout Trafficking Elisa Johnston

Lack of Freedom of Movement: The Quarantine Life

The other day this wanderlust girl (me) and my family crew explored my favorite local canyon to get out of the house. It wasn’t just me who was going to kill someone if we were stuck any longer. I felt like it was such a guilty privilege to leave. Maybe I am wrong, but I view my van, Rhonda, as a mobile extension of my house (probably because I’ve lived in it for days, weeks, turning into months over our collective road trips and Kindness Quests). And as long as I can find natural spaces that aren’t closed and we can stay far away from other people, I don’t see how it is breaking the spirit of the shelter-in-place law currently in effect throughout California, that allows people to leave their homes with social distancing for exercise.

As such, we went wandering and exploring on a hike in nature nearby. We found very few people (which we stayed away from), but did find a skull, a secret garden bench, and a dead tree (which Josiah spent 1/2 an hour chopping down). Oh the joys of freedom of movement. We all felt so much better (especially me).

The Extroverted Nomad: Wanderlust is Real

Freedom of movement is one of my most valued ANYTHINGS of the EVERYTHINGS. I am an extrovert and an explorer. I read some science journals, exploring the genetic link to people who love to travel. It is early research, but it supports that wanderlust is real, that it is in our DNA. I believe it.

My Grandpa on one side was a geography professor and explorer. On the other side, my great grandparents were missionaries in India, and grandmother a traveler. My dad used to hide travel magazines under his bed and my brother and cousins on both sides travel whenever they get the chance or live internationally. And, I am the same way, wandering when I can. I’ve learned to live without frequent international trips, but have replaced the far away by plane with far away by car. We are road trip masters, and when we can’t hit the road, we explore a lot locally.

Freedom of Movement: Trapped in Time and Space

But, wanderlust goes beyond just wanting to see the world and new places for me. For me, it is directly tied to needing freedom of movement. I go because if I don’t, I feel trapped, anxious and scared. Maybe it is an addiction, or maybe it is like an internal clock doing what it was designed to do, but if I don’t go, after a few months I start feeling panicky and begin taking it out on my family. It is a real thing I’ve had to work at to overcome.

For starters, I have a hard time extending my lease for a whole year at a time. When we bought our first house, there was a lot of talking down. Anytime we’ve moved, I can’t commit to more than two years at a time or else I just won’t go. I’ve learned that there is great value in being rooted to a community and an area (this is a huge part of my story), but it still isn’t easy for me. I always have back-door options to move hidden nearby in my imagination to keep sane (not to the people, but the place). This is more about time, but there is also the issue of the way the space is arranged.

Freedom of Movement: Phobias

Freedom of movement is especially important to those who feel anxious in response to their space. I am close to people who would be just fine living in a hotel room with one exit, a cave or a spaceship. I, however, feel trapped if I am in a house that is small, without open spaces, natural light, windows, or extra doors.

In fact, I am pretty sure I have at least mild cases of the phobias that make people feel like they can’t escape. Maybe a combo between agoraphobia and cleithrophobia.

I love wide open spaces and public areas, but only if there is a way through it, a promise that we will get to the other side. But if the space becomes crowded enough that exiting seems difficult, that isn’t any good. This includes stores, bridges, public transportation and concerts, to name a few. They could be fine, but it is all about where I am and if I think I can get out (it doesn’t matter if I actually can or not, as long as it appears I can, I am fine).

Then, on the other hand, I am also afraid of small spaces. I am good, unless there is a lock or just one exit. I try not to think about it once I get on an elevator and it re-dawns on me I can’t get out. I am fine going into a cave or small tunnel, as long as I believe there is another opening nearby, not too far off. Otherwise, I start to panic.

My worst nightmare is a submarine. A space station would be a close-second. I love travelling, which generally means I love planes, associating them with wonderful travel memories. But every time I get on one, I remember there is no real escape. I am one of those passengers that always know how many rows away the nearest exit is. Even huge cruises ships make me wary enough to avoid (so far, although wanderlust will get me on one someday). Living on Islands also drove me crazy when I was in Hawaii and Fiji. I was even scared of moving to San Diego, trapped on one side by the border, the other by the ocean, the other by L.A., and the other by the desert.

Freedom of movement is important. It keeps people like me sane. I regularly have to use healthy coping methods (like these), prayer, and positive self-talk to help me when I feel trapped, stuck and/or panicky. And this is when there is no quarantine in place!

Getting Through Quarantine Without Freaking Out

I am incredibly grateful I am still able to go outside; I know many can’t because of their local law or can’t do so without bumping into people. Now that we are living under shelter-in-place for COVID-19, I am seeing many others struggling with some of the anxiety of being house-bound that I have had to work through. I share my wanderlust and my phobias of not being able to escape because maybe you’ll trust me when I say I am right there with you.

This is hard. Don’t look to far forward, or you might panic. We can just take it one day at a time. Let’s do today well, it doesn’t help to worry about tomorrow. By the grace of God, today we can overcome. Today it is worth overcoming in it. (Yep, this self-talk is one of my coping skills).

Freedom of Movement: Modern Slavery

Today is International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery . . . (Actually, this is International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade 2020–which is probably the most UNMEMORABLE name for something so important!). Most of the time we don’t think too much about modern slavery. I get that.

Right now, most of us have lost our own right to freedom of movement, under shelter-in-place or lock-down due to the Coronavirus. It feels weird doesn’t it? Or maybe you are really struggling with it, possibly for some of the same reasons I mentioned above?

For one brief moment, let’s think of it as a blessing for a moment, simply because we can see our privilege better from this vantage point. As we live in quarantine, we get a glimpse of what freedom taken away feels like.

In the picture above, escaping my house for a brief hour or two, I am still in that stupid black dress. Why? Because I believe everyone should have a chance to be free. Wearing one black item to fundraise and talk about human trafficking during March is why I run our nonprofit, Blackout Trafficking.

How much Freedom of Movement Do Modern Slaves Have?

To be a victim of trafficking (some of which is referred to as modern slavery) one has to have force, fraud or coercion used on them to bring them to a place where they’ve lost their freedoms, basic human rights like freedom of movement, pay, speech, and life. It looks difference for each victim, but one thing we know for sure is that a lot of people fall under this definition. Essentially, 20-45 million humans (likely more) are controlled, owned, sold and used both in labor and/or sex.

Each case of human trafficking looks different, but there are categories and subcategories. Considering, the degree to which a victim of trafficking has freedom of movement isn’t the same. Although very few modern slaves are actually chained, many are locked in rooms, have their passports taken, aren’t allowed to leave their spaces, or if they are, don’t know where to go to get out and get help.

Freedom of Movement: A Study on Sex Trafficking

Confused? That is okay. Here are some examples using sex trafficking specifically:

1.) A sex trafficking victim in San Diego might have a lot of freedom of movement, getting jobs and having to check in with her trafficker in the morning to pay-up.

2.) A sex trafficking victim in a massage parlor in San Diego might not have her passport and be told to not leave the unlocked building (but doesn’t know enough English to find help).

3.) A sex trafficking victim in Thailand might have enough freedom of movement to walk around his karaoke bar or his “soapy massage” parlor to get clients.

4.) A sex trafficking victim in Nepal might live in locked in her brothel.

5.) A sex trafficking victim might be moved from Ukraine to Amsterdam, wrists shackled by zip-ties, but has the freedom to walk around the red light district.

6.) A sex trafficking victim in Columbia might live locked in the grounds and mansion of a military official of a dictator.

7.) A sex trafficking victim in Uganda might live in a war camp, passed from the tent of one commander of child soldier’s to the next, the jungle her only walls.

As you can see, freedom of movement looks different for all victims of trafficking. Either which way, there is a loss of control.

Freedom of Movement and COVID-19

Daily, I must remind myself that this shelter-in-place for COVID-19 won’t last indefinitely. Even if it takes what seems like now, forever, it won’t be. And although right now we might be stuck in our houses all day without much freedom of movement, this isn’t our lives forever.

However, without good people like you and I acting, the human freedoms, like freedom of movement, will continue to be taken from victims of human trafficking. In addition, their risk is growing as COVID-19 affects the economy, our health, and freedom of movement.

Blackout Trafficking, is working with those on the ground to help not just bring modern slaves and those exploited freedom, but these guys are ALSO are providing vital support in this time of COVID-19.
I’m serious, if you have $10 to give, please do so! The need is great, and freedom of movement is the least of some of the problems we are seeing.

Just head to (or if you want to donate to mine and Avi’s personal campaign, comment below for the link, but ALL of our partner orgs need help right now to help with urgent needs.)

Thank you!