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Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Author of ‘SOLD’, McCormick, shares journey, writing book about trafficking

The cover of the book ‘SOLD’ written by Patricia McCormick (Jumana Alsaadoon)

The tune of Backstreet Boys floated around the women’s shelter as American journalist Patricia McCormick danced with the rescued girls. 

In 2004, McCormick got a tip-off about child trafficking, following the tip and some more research, she flew out to Nepal and India, snuck into jails of Kathmandu, Nepal and brothels, interviewing trafficking victims as well as the perpetrators. 

It didn’t take long for McCormick to realize that this story was bigger than an article.

She went on to write SOLD in 2006 about a girl who is trafficked by her own step father, retelling many of the stories of the girls she met. 

“There hadn’t been anything that looked at the experience from start to finish of how a vulnerable family, a vulnerable girl can be drawn into being trafficked. I feel like that kind of story opens up your heart in all ways that statistics in general stories do not,” McCormick said. 

The process of obtaining the interviews took time and effort from McCormick and the girls who were speaking out. 

“I spent about a week working side by side with them and playing side by side with them at the shelter where they live. And just building up a sense of trust, even though there was a language barrier between us,” McCormick said. 

When it was time for McCormick to ask about their experience with trafficking, the girls went through an array of emotions. 

“I talked to families who didn’t realize what they were signing up for women when they sent their daughters away. I just instantly felt like this needs to be a book,” McCormick said. “They wanted the world to know about their experiences, it was very hard for them. One of the girls just stared off in space and spoke like a robot the whole time. Another girl giggled a lot. Obviously this isn’t funny, but that’s her nervous reaction to sharing something she’s ashamed of.” 

When she went into the brothels, McCormick was able to interact with young children who were trafficked. Speaking to the victims, McCormick put importance on connecting to them as humans first, before writing their story. 

“I went in with a social worker who works in the brothels, day in and day out, played with the kids took time to show that I had a real commitment to getting your stories.  I shared with them that I had an experience of sexual abuse as a child. That surprised them. I think there was this notion that oh, you know, white people from America have carefree lives. I think that that kind of opened up a feeling of sisterhood for us,” McCormick said.

Navigating hard questions called for bravery from the girls and empathy from McCormick who didn’t shy away from asking

“Sometimes I cried. Sometimes the things that they told me were so wretched and so upsetting that I just was a human being and not the reporter taking notes. I didn’t do that on purpose. It’s not something you can control, but I feel like that also softened our experience together,” McCormick said. 

McCormick had to witness tragedy that had happened or was happening to these people in order to write the book, prodding new emotions as a writer. 

“That kind of trauma of going into the brothel seeing children who live there, seeing young girls and women, young women, who are in bondage for the rest of their lives or who have HIV after just two or three years working in the brothel, seeing their lives cut short, seeing what’s going to happen to their children’s lives, it was really painful,” McCormick said.

Once she returned to America, a new door of struggles unlocked, specifically her writing the book. 

“I wasn’t prepared for that. I traveled by myself. I didn’t have somebody with me to go back at the hotel at the end of the day and say, ‘Oh, my God, can you believe this’ and help process it. When I got home, I got really depressed, and I felt unable to write the book. I was so sad,” McCormick said. 

Looking back at the connections and promises she made to the girls back in Nepal and India, helped her overcome the sense of hopelessness she was experiencing. 

I realized, if I don’t punch my way out of this depression, I’m not going to live up to the commitment that I made to the girls and the women and the parents that I interviewed, so I wrote the book over a series of maybe a year, everyday writing.

— Patricia McCormick

The book was written in first person, as if the author was the main character. McCormick chose this perspective for an artistic approach as well as to connect to the readers. 

“I was drawn to it that way. I felt so immersed in and so identified with the experience of the main character that I felt that it would also have the most impact. If it was as if she were confiding to you directly and you were experiencing her experiences almost in real time. I think that’s the most powerful way to render that experience,” McCormick said. 

Writing in first person comes with the author placing themselves in the main character’s life. Being immersed in this position everyday, McCormick found it important to manage her mental health during the process. 

“I’ve worked really hard trying to pretend to actually be that girl. Try on her innocence and her optimism in the beginning of the book, and then think into her fear and despair in the middle sections of the book. I would intentionally write short days and then close my computer and go do something else,” McCormick said. “If you stay in that world too long, it can really have an impact on your own ability to be the things that you are in life, a mother, a friend. I tried to take good care of my mental health while I was doing it.” 

Her audience is students, reflecting the age of her character in the story. McCormick had a methodical approach to her word choice and writing for her audience. 

Lakshmi, the main character, doesn’t have the graphic language to describe the rape, so McCormick writes the book with simple language that a child her age would use. While many deemed the rape scene as well as the topic of the book inappropriate, McCormick found it to be crucial for children to read about these experiences. 

It’s written specifically for young people who want to know about the wider world. I worked with wonderful editors, fact checkers, all kinds of responsible parties who want to make sure that what we’re bringing to students, what we’re bringing and putting into their libraries, is informative and doesn’t brutalize them. Just because this is a brutal topic, we don’t have to brutalize them with that kind of language,” McCormick said. 

According to PEN America, ‘SOLD’ is the seventh most banned book in America. McCormick finds this to be disappointing. 

“My experience with bringing the book into the classrooms is that it gives kids an opportunity, not only to see what’s happening to their peers around the world, but for kids who are experiencing some kind of unwanted sexual experience themselves at home, in a relationship, it gives them an opportunity to speak out. And then to get help,” McCormick said. 

The book was originally published in 2006. Over the years, she has been able to meet and talk to many of the students who have read the book. 

“I can’t tell you how many classrooms I’ve been in where a child will stand up and say something like, ‘This is happening to me, too’. It’s not as extreme as the character in the book being sexually trafficked, but there’s an awful lot of sexual abuse of minors. When the students feel safe enough to say that, the compassion that comes forward from their fellow classmates is always really inspiring to me,” McCormick said. “There are lots of kids who aren’t getting the opportunity to see their experiences reflected.” 

Some of the students ended up raising money to fight against trafficking. 

Donations that came in, really make a difference, like five dollars in Nepal goes a hugely long way, so all the students who would send them five and $25, it made a big difference in their lives

— Patricia McCormick

Moms for Liberty is an American conservative political organization that advocates  against certain policies in school boards and for the banning of certain books they deem inappropriate for children. 

McCormick interviewed  one of the moms from the organization in order to get their perspective on pushing and advocating for banning books, including hers. 

“While our worldviews are very different, and we didn’t really convince each other of much, what I learned was, they’re very, very fearful. They’re very fearful people. They really see the world as an incredibly dangerous place for their kids. They see everything as a threat. I think that until the people on my side of the issue, authors and publishers and people who believe in the freedom to read, until we acknowledge that heightened level of fear that emotion that they’re feeling, we’re never going to get anywhere. We’re just going to yell at each other from an angry corner of the internet,” McCormick said. 

McCormick found her values to be reinforced by the conversation, parents should decide for their children not for everyone’s children. 

You might not want your child to read this, but you don’t have the right to ban it for everybody else’s children. Now, that said, there are a lot of people who don’t have kids in the fight and are just using this as an opportunity to push a certain kind of agenda,” McCormick said. 

McCormick knew that the girls she spoke to took pride in telling their stories and later reading them when they were translated into their own languages. She knew they would be upset to know that the book was banned in many places. 

“It would double their sense of isolation and shame for something they’re not responsible for. I think it’s another layer of victimization, to shut down their stories. That is at the core of the whole thing is getting their stories out, and they’re being silenced again,” McCormick said.

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