HELP STARTS AT HOME
“That was it,” David recalls of that day in 2009. “I just sat on the couch and wept inconsolably. I said: ‘Jeez, we’ve got no idea how lucky we are in this country’.”
The Dunedin Central Rotarian acknowledges he is, if nothing else, a pragmatist. When it comes to building the groundswell of backing, and capturing enough hearts, minds and resources to combat the atrocities at the crux of his crusade, he’s under no illusions: his project is no ‘easy sell’.
“Slavery’s bad enough. It gets worse when you add ‘child’, but put ‘sex’ in the middle of it, and, sometimes, people just don’t want to know.
“I think it’s just so emotional,” he says. “It’s just too uncomfortable, too confronting. So, it’s better for some just to terminate the conversation, rather than get into it too much, because you might actually start feeling something for this cause.”
The scale of human trafficking, and all its terrible tendrils – including child sex slavery – is, for most, incomprehensible. Undeterred, David has committed to memory a slew of shocking statistics that he recites any chance he gets in his never-ending bid to cast light on humanity’s darkest, most depraved depths and the very victims whose plight remains largely hidden.
“The money spent on slavery is estimated to be $US150 billion per year, with the amount attributed to child sex slavery put at around $US100 billion.
“These figures are detailed by non-government organisations like Walk Free and Nvader and are based on known data – remember, though, a lot of this slavery and trafficking is underground to avoid the attention of the authorities.”
To put it into perspective, he cites Rotary’s massive investment in the near-successful eradication of polio.
“In the past 30 years, we’ve spent $US1.4 billion fighting polio. Over that same period, it’s estimated around $US3 trillion’s been spent by paedophiles on child prostitution.
“We’ve immunised two billion kids – which is fantastic, and I hate to use the polio analogy, but, in the same period of time, over that 30 years, there have been more than 368 billion child rapes committed. That’s based on what we know about the number of kids involved in prostitution – about 4.5 million across the world at any given time. That’s just the known ones.
“And, the stats tell us, there are an estimated 2.2 million new children abducted into child prostitution every year. That’s because the brothels need to keep replenishing their supply. It is, like any other business, a supply and demand industry.”
Confronted with such excruciating and unfathomable numbers, there are those who openly question the point and highlight the seeming futility of it all. Undeterred, David refers them to the eponymous parable that, philosophically, guides his project – and helps keep him sane.
As he makes his way along the coastline, he notices a figure in the distance reaching down periodically, and casting his arm out toward the waves.
As the figure draws closer, he realises it’s an elderly man.
They meet and exchange pleasantries.
“That was a very big storm last night,” the older man notes.
“Yes, it was quite fantastic. I could hear the surf pounding,” the young man replies, before querying what’s drawn the older man to the beach at such an early hour.
“Ah, all of these starfish have been washed above the high-tide mark,” the older man explains, “I’m just throwing them back in the ocean; otherwise, they’ll die. We need to save them.”
The younger man looks at him, rather incredulously.
“But, there are millions of them. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
To which the elderly gentleman stoops down, scoops up another starfish and throws it into the surf.
“Well,” he says, smiling softly, “I sure made a difference to that one.”
“And that,” says David, “is how Project Starfish was born.
“If you thought about the millions and millions of children affected, and the billions and billions of dollars spent on child prostitution all at once, you’d just sit in a corner and rock.
“But if you think of it as everyone can save one child – you can educate them, give them a future – that’s actually quite an achievement,” he says.
“If you do nothing else in your personal life or your work life of substance except save that child from a life of sex slavery they would otherwise have had, then I’d say that’s a very worthwhile achievement.
“I’d be pretty happy turning my toes up knowing I’d made one child’s life sustainable.”
Invercargill born-and-bred, he’d been raising his young family in Wellington until job restructuring when he moved to Dunedin brought him, serendipitously, into the presence of then-president of the Rotary Club of Dunedin Central Bob Clark.