January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time when Americans are reminded to awake to the sobering reality of modern slavery in our time, around the world – and here at home.
According to the anti-trafficking initiative “Not for Sale,” about two million children are sexually exploited worldwide. Total estimates of the number of those trapped in some form of forced labor vary widely, ranging from 21 million to 36 million people. Yet even were it a fraction of either number, it would be too many. Men and women created in the image and likeness of the God of the universe are treated as animal-like profit-makers for those who coerce, threaten and abuse them.
Human trafficking is so evil that attempts to describe it seem only to diminish its horror.
The developing world is fraught with the victims of trafficking. Some victims are Asian girls as young as five who are used in “sex tourism” by wealthy Westerners. In Africa’s Ivory Coast, “many children work without pay in fishing, farming, building, domestic service and the cocoa industry, one of country's major exports.” Then there are the thousands of brutalized women in filthy brothels throughout India.
But trafficking is as real here as it is in far-off countries most of us will never visit. Watch for young girls on the streets of major cities and the sidewalks of suburban strip-malls near you: the chances are good you have seen them and not recognized they are not wandering around aimlessly simply for the fun of it.
For many Americans, trafficking seems like a far-distant problem, yet too often it is as nearby as a local “massage parlor” or nail emporium. “Most people … have a narrow picture of human trafficking,” writes J. Robert Flores in his FRC booklet, “Modern Slavery: How to Fight Human Trafficking in Your Community. Flores, Administrator of Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention during the George W. Bush administration, says that this “narrow view” is especially true of “sex trafficking: a young woman is lured away from her home, abducted to a distant location and forced to sell herself sexually. While this picture accurately describes one way trafficking occurs, it is also misleading because the situation it describes seems so foreign. If we think of trafficking in such limited terms, we begin to believe that such evil cannot touch our own families or communities.
“Unfortunately,” Flores continues, “human trafficking occurs in cities and suburbs throughout the United States. It involves both American and foreign-born victims.”
Flores notes that trafficking in the U.S. doesn’t happen in a vacuum: “The cultural and societal breakdown affects young people regardless of socio-economic status. Many families with means find themselves asking how their daughters could have become victims of trafficking. Studies continue to reveal that many teens today, even from intact families, feel detached from people and have few deep relationships even as they are constantly among other kids and engaged in endless activities. This hunger for love and deep relationships can be exploited by pimps and traffickers.”
Fighting human trafficking can be dangerous. Conferring with local law enforcement, local ministries to troubled women and girls, and church leaders active in reaching trafficked girls and women is a good first step.
Also, ask your youth pastor about vulnerable young women in your church – the kind of teenager who seems a bit on the outside, who might be longing for affection. This kind of girl often can be readily preyed-upon by a “pimp” or “sexual enforcer” who, with a few kind words and small gifts, might be able to manipulate her into prostitution and then keep her there under threat.
In addition, as Christian anti-trafficking activist Beth Bruno writes in Relevant magazine, we can pray: “Gather a group of people and drive around town. Pray over high schools, rest stops and truck stops, hotels that are seedy and classy, Asian massage parlors in strip malls—all the places where sex trafficking has been identified around the nation in cities large and small.”
Legislatively, Congress is acting. This week, rare bipartisan majorities in the House passed 12 measures designed to fight trafficking. The author of one of these measures, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), joined FRC President Tony Perkins on Tony’s “Washington Watch” radio program to discuss his “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” (H.R. 181), which would “boost support and protection for domestic human trafficking victims.”
Additionally, the Executive Branch is working to fight trafficking through a variety of federal efforts, and throughout the country local law enforcement agencies are becoming more aggressive in fighting trafficking in their communities.
Internationally, you can partner with many Christian ministries which are working to protect trafficked persons and help them start new lives. To learn more, go to the Servant Match a site operated by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (of which FRC is a member) and Catholic Charities’ Human Trafficking website.
In his beautiful prayer captured in Psalm 139, David, speaking to the Lord, says, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
These words are as true for the child in Nepal victimized by brutal thugs as they are for our own sons and daughters here in the U.S. Will we help them write the pages of the lives God wants them to have? Surely there can be few more important callings for Christians in our time.
Publication date: January 30, 2015