Today I participated in a panel discussion at the University of Northern Colorado. The subject of our discussion was human trafficking. For those who were unable to attend the event, here are some of the comments I prepared.
“Written human history since Hammurabi’s Code in 1790 B.C. has identified the practice of slavery. Mankind has never eliminated slavery.” –Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective
Human trafficking is a defining problem of the twenty-first century. Every continent of the world is now involved in human trafficking, and even a country as small and isolated as Iceland, with a population of 250,000, has had trafficking cases. Traffickers succeed because groups from different parts of the world cooperate. Traditional animosities among ethnic groups are ignored to obtain a profit. If we are going to stand a chance in the fight against this large and rapidly growing component of transnational crime, we must come together, in the same way traffickers come together. With that said, my contention is that the Christian church should be leading the way in the fight.
I’ll state my presupposition clearly: I am convinced of the divine origin and thus the reliability of the Old and New Testaments, commonly referred to as the Christian Scriptures. These Scriptures teach us that Jesus Christ came into the world to rescue rebels (1 Tim 1:15). These Scriptures also teach us that those who have been rescued by Christ and now follow him are to love their neighbors and care for the vulnerable (James 1:27).
Some of the most powerless and defenseless people today are young women who are trapped in the sex industry. Many of these women are victims of cruel and clever predators who know exactly what to offer: the appearance of friendship, a listening ear, and the promise of love, wealth, and a new life. Women are lured with lies and then taken to breaking grounds, some of the darkest places on earth, where they are seasoned for the industry through physical violence, sexual assault, and drugs. Once engaged in prostitution, trafficked women employed in brothels throughout the world are often forced to serve as many as 30 clients a day during a 12- to 14-hour workday. In certain regions of the world where rates of HIV transmission are particularly high, sex workers die at a very young age. Often the trafficked women leave behind young children who have no means of survival outside the brothels where they are born and raised. Falling into the hands of the brothel keepers who controlled their now deceased mothers, these children have no futures beyond the world of begging, forced prostitution, or crime. Those women who stay alive in the industry live miserably. If they reach adulthood, they will have been raped thousands of times. Louise Shelley, a leading figure in the fight against human trafficking, founded and now directs the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University. In her book, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, Shelley tells of a woman trapped in the sex industry who summed up her life this way: “I feel like they have taken my smile and I can never have it back.” In their feelings of filth and their seemingly hopeless situations, these women need a Savior who will look at them with eyes of compassion and say: “I will make you clean.”
The church must lead the way in this war because our primary calling is to share the message of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the only one who offers true hope and complete healing to our broken world. I recommend a five-fold plan of attack:
- Pray and Proclaim the Gospel.
Pray for the traffickers to be transformed. Pray for the victims to be found and set free. Pray for those in positions of power to uphold the law and protect the vulnerable. And carry the gospel to the world. The gospel is the only message that will bring about the heart transformation needed to eradicate slavery.
- Raise Awareness.
Church leaders need to research the problem and then educate their congregants. This could take the form of a reading and discussion group or a series of sermons. Nearly 6,000 churches are now designating a Freedom Sunday, a day when believers unite through prayer and worship on behalf of the millions around the world who are enslaved. Churches should also consider participating in community awareness events hosted by universities and non-profit organizations.
- Support Existing Organizations.
If you’re a pastor, consider dedicating part of your mission budget to an organization that is making progress in this war. Our church gives a substantial amount each year to a non-profit that was started by one of our former members. The ministry reaches out to strippers, prostitutes, and porn stars. The staff also works with the FBI in getting children out of trafficking. There are lots of great ministries out there. Find one and support it.
- Create New Rescue and Recovery Ministries.
According to Shelley, trafficking exists in every state of the U.S. and in every kind of community: urban, suburban, small towns, and rural areas. Though there are a number of effective rescue operations, we need many, many more. This is a very tough industry to escape. According to one study, nearly all victims reported being threatened by their traffickers with death, beatings, increased debt, or harm to their children and families. These women need a way out of the industry and a safe harbor where they can heal spiritually, emotionally, and physically. They also need educational assistance and job training so they can secure a new occupation. All of this takes funding, and, most importantly, brave people. The most effective recovery is going to take place in the context of relationships. We need more believers who are willing to minister in the darkest places, who are willing to find these girls and help set them free, all in the name of Jesus, the one who came to proclaim liberty to the captives.
- Decrease the Demand; Boycott Porn.
Traffickers choose to trade in humans because there are low start-up costs, high profits, and large demand. We are driving the demand. How? It starts with pornography. Roughly 90% of college males and about 30% of college females are viewing porn on a regular basis. The more we view porn, the more we desire sexual fulfillment through prostitution. Greater demand for prostitutes means more and more human trafficking victims. In other words, when we view pornography we are fueling the sex-trafficking industry. So if you want to get in the fight in a very real way, put down your smartphone, shut off your computer, stop looking at porn.