How You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking (Unabridged Version)

photo from pixgood.com

photo from pixgood.com

For the final day of January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I am posting the full unabridged version of what OnFaith posted yesterday as “10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking.” I also want to direct you to Heidi Carlson’s excellent (shocking) guest post, “The Trafficker Next Door,” and her story of her experience helping with an adventure camp for rescued women with Freedom Firm in India last November, “Thank You and the Art of Henna.”

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“How You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking” (Unabridged)

I did not hear the phrase “human trafficking” until well into my 20s. (And I am only mid-30s now.) The first few times I brushed it off because honestly I could not bear to carry in my mind the reality of such atrocities. But God has been kind and patient with me, and he has taught me – is teaching me – the importance of awareness as a first step to engagement. This is the step where many of us get stuck. As a counselor, I first want to say that there can be very good reasons to be stuck in the place of not-able-to-hear. Hearing about this type of sexual abuse and trauma may dislodge your own memories of abuse with overwhelming emotional effects. Please hear me say that you need to get help for yourself first before engaging in further awareness. Reach out to a trusted friend and/or seek out a local counselor to work through your own trauma and abuse. It’s the “put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others” principle.

If this isn’t your experience, then ask the question of why is this hard for me to hear? Maybe you can identify with one of these:

  • It’s viscerally uncomfortable to read about these atrocities.
  • It challenges my trust in humanity to choose what’s good more often than not.
  • Its existence seems to fly in the face of a good God who is over all things.
  • I feel scared – for my own safety and that of all those I love, especially my daughters.
  • I feel powerless to help.

I vacillate between all of the above, and it has kept me thus far from deeper engagement despite being years past the time when I first heard about human trafficking. What have I personally done? Basically nothing. But the beauty of realizing our passivity is that it can change in this moment. The fact that you have continued to read this post says something. You want to know more. You want to be engaged more than you have been.

Take a deep breath, and be willing to feel repulsed as you read and educate yourself for the sake of prayer, awareness, and engagement. The words of Dr. Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist, counseling professor, and member of Biblical Theological Seminary’s Global Trauma Recovery Institute, are instructive here:

“The things we cannot bear to hear about are the atrocities that he/she has had to live through.”

When this sinks in, there is no choice but to repent of our passivity and beg God for strength to engage in what is close to his heart.

Consider these verses about who God is from Psalm 146

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Have you ever wondered how the Lord can do such things? How does the Lord set prisoners free, open blind eyes, lift up those who are bowed down, watch over the weak? It is true that there are abundant accounts of God’s direct intervention both in the Bible and presently. The story of freeing Paul and Silas from prison comes to mind. In a miracle, their chains literally broke and the doors were opened (Acts 16).

Yet much more often, God invites his people into his mission. The theological term is “human agency.” What comes to mind is the too-oft-told joke of the man waiting for God to rescue him and when he gets to heaven, God says – “I sent you a helicopter and a boat!” – but the man refused these sources of rescue because he was awaiting God himself.

Consider a few examples throughout the Bible:

  • God provided for Jacob and his sons during famine by putting Joseph in a high place in Egypt where he managed storehouses of grain
  • God raised up Moses and Aaron to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt
  • God preserved the Jews from Haman’s evil plot through Esther’s courageous intervention as queen
  • God warned his people of coming exile because of their persistent spiritual adultery through the words and actions of prophets (Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc.)

And then the greatest mystery of all: God took on human flesh itself, became a baby, and Emmanuel was born – God with us. Through a physical human body, the Divine healed diseases, had feasts with outcasts, challenged self-righteous leaders, and then did the otherwise-impossible: perfection became imperfection, Jesus carried our sin to the cross and triumphed over death, sin, and Satan through the resurrection. He now intercedes for his people at the Father’s right hand.

And he empowers us to be part of his justice mission of reconciliation and redemption through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t mean that all of us will be on what I term the “front lines” of human trafficking. But it does mean that to be united to Christ by faith implicates us to be engaged in his mission.

Dr. Langberg calls us to action in her book In Our Lives First (2014):

“ ‘The issue of trafficking desperately cries out for a firm, committed leadership; it has to be made a global concern.’ [Victor Malarek, author of The Natashas: Inside the Global Sex Trade] and others state that it is the human rights issue of the 21st century. … However, when you look at the record, you see darkness and corruption everywhere – money, power, and politics speak louder than the crushed lives of thousands of women. Governments have not answered the call. And though there are many organizations working tirelessly in this area, Malarek is correct when he says it must be made a global concern. The scope of the problem is so vast that a worldwide response is necessary.

What about the Church? She is global and she has a long history of confronting plagues and freeing captives. It is clear … that God has called her to serve as a humanitarian force in this world for those who are without help and resources. If Wilberforce and other Christians could stop the African slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, why can’t we follow their example today? What if, in one of the darkest hours on the planet, the global Church rose up united and became known for her charity to those who are being sold like chattel? …

What do you suppose would happen if the Church in every part of the world fell down on her face and pleaded with God on behalf of these women and girls? What if she began to seek out what He would have her do for these females? What if she became the global, committed, ethical, and moral leadership that is needed to fight this battle?”

Where do you start in the light of such a call to action?

Start where you are:

  1. Seek to be educated and aware, so that you can be engaged through prayer. For an overview, read 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Slavery, Human Trafficking at the Huffington Post. As a Christian, there’s no better place to start than the International Justice Mission. I also found this site which gives an overview of organizations and how to pray: Freedom Summit .
  2. Be willing to give what you have – whether that’s time to pray, financial resources, skills to offer victims who are being rescued, administrative support to organizations overwhelmed by the vast need, a voice raising awareness through your words, blog posts, Facebook statuses, Tweets, conversations with friends and family, and places of influence in your business, community and church.
  3. When you’re buying gifts or goods, purchase them from one of the many micro-enterprises who are giving rescued victims an alternative from the sex trade. Sari-Bari offers many beautiful items, and it’s one of many similar organizations. Others are listed at “buy for good” at “half the sky movement” here.
  4. Stop feeding the demand through viewing pornography (see the post from my friend Heidi here).

The worst thing you can do is nothing. To assume (as I have for years to my shame) that other people have this covered; that it’s too big for me to deal with anyway; that it’s really pretty extreme and does not occur in my city. By God’s grace, that changes in 2015. Not for my glory as “The All-Great Rescuer” but for God’s glory as the One who rescued me …. and through me, offers rescue to others from sin and all manner of atrocities resulting from sin’s evil corruption of human hearts.

10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking (featured today at OnFaith)

It is a privilege to be featured today at OnFaith. They took the rough draft of my heart’s plea, and through their editing have turned it into a concise call to action.

You can begin reading below – and then click over here to read more:

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I didn’t hear the phrase “human trafficking” until well into my 20s. (I’m now in my mid-30s.) Initially, I brushed it off because I could not bear to carry in my mind the reality of such atrocities. But awareness is the most important step to engagement, and it’s this first step where many of us get stuck.

The words of Dr. Diane Langberg, member of Biblical Theological Seminary’s Global Trauma Recovery Institute, are instructive here: “The things we cannot bear to hear about are the atrocities that he/she has had to live through.”

When this sinks in, we have no choice but to repent of our passivity and beg God for the strength to engage in what is close to his heart. Often the next question becomes, where do I begin? Try starting here:

1. Recognize why you’ve been passive.

Ask the question, Why is this hard for me to hear? Maybe you can identify with one of these:

  • It’s viscerally uncomfortable to read about these atrocities.
  • It brings up issues of your own past of abuse. (If so, skip to #2 below.)
  • It challenges your trust in humanity to choose what’s good more often than not.
  • Its existence seems to fly in the face of a good God who is over all things.
  • You feel scared — for your own safety and that of those you love.
  • You feel powerless to help.

I vacillate between most of the above, which has kept me from deeper engagement. But the beauty of realizing our passivity is that it can change in that moment. The fact that you have continued reading says you want to know more and be more engaged.

2. Work through your own trauma first.

As a counselor, I want to say there are very good reasons to be stuck in the place of “not-able-to-hear.” If hearing about this type of sexual abuse and trauma dislodges your own memories of abuse with overwhelming emotional effects, you need to get help for yourself first before engaging in further awareness. [head over to OnFaith to read the rest of the article, 10 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking]

The Trafficker Next Door (guest post by Heidi Carlson)

Warning: this post will be convicting, and uncomfortable, and shocking. It’s for an important cause: human trafficking awareness month. It is a modern-day injustice we want to turn a blind eye from because it feels easier to have the ostrich posture of “bury my head in the sand” rather than sit with the powerlessness and horror inevitable when facing its reality.

Allow me to introduce my friend, fellow Wheaton alum, and gifted writer-blogger, Heidi Carlson. On a play date with our exuberant (wild) kids a few months ago, we discussed what it could mean to be missional in our writing and our blogging. In the ensuing time, she went with our church on a mission trip to India where they helped to run a camp for women who had been rescued from the sex trade. I prayed for this team, and began researching local opportunities to get involved (later post to come on that). I also read Diane Langberg’s devotional which concludes with a call for Christian counselors and psychologists to be on the front lines of this modern-day injustice. And I knew I needed (am called) to be more involved.

Today is a beginning. I give you the gift and challenge of Heidi’s words now.

Born near the front range of the Rockies, Heidi grew up in Portugal, Mozambique, Kenya and a few other places here and there.  A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy with a Masters in African Security Affairs, Heidi served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force for five years, including a tour of duty in Iraq.  With a lifestyle that includes moving every 18-36 months, she enjoys making home and putting down roots wherever the family goes.  She currently resides in Virginia with her husband and three children, ages five and under, where she enjoys exploring the history of the local area, educating her children and roasting coffee at home.  The issue of sex trafficking became very personal for Heidi when she volunteered at a camp for sex trafficking victims in southwest India in 2014.  She regularly writes at www.willtravelwithkids.wordpress.com.

image from stockarch.com

image from stockarch.com

It’s Trafficking Awareness month. . . or something like that.  That’s right up there with Domestic Violence Prevention month, Child Abuse Prevention Month and whatever other month the government decides to tell us about.  The slavery and human trafficking issue, like so many other issues raised by the news, the government, Facebook shares or forwarded emails, make us gasp and wish the morally abhorrent practices would naturally work themselves into oblivion without us – you, me – getting involved.  But slavery and human trafficking, compared to those other issues, seem far more removed from our everyday lives.  I know a  police officer stops at the house down the street to respond to a domestic violence case.  I know children are in foster care in my neighborhood because of parental abuse or neglect.  But slavery or trafficking, in my neighborhood?  My social circle? My city? Surely that activity does not take place around here.  After all, a society that turns a blind eye to human bondage, for whatever purpose, is not my society.

Or is it?

Consider this:

– As of 2012, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, surpassing drugs and arms in its rate of growth.*

– 80 % of human trafficking cases in the United States occurred for the purposes of sexual exploitation, including forced engagement in sexual acts for the purposes of creating pornography**

– Four of every five sex trafficking victims in the United States are American citizens**

– Nearly 90% of victims in the United States are under the age of 25

– Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, California have the highest rates of trafficking in the nation.

You don’t have to live in the slums of Thailand to be a stone’s throw away from a trafficker or trafficking-enabler or trafficking client.  These individuals work with you, live on your street and sit next to you in church.  You know them.  Maybe you are one of them.  A sex trafficking client. A user of pornography.

Consider this:***

– In the United States, 1 in 8 online search queries is for erotic material.  The odds increase to 1 in 5 on personal mobile devices.

– 9 out of 10 internet porn users only access free material. [I’m not paying for it, so it’s not hurting anyone, right?]

Nevertheless, the U.S. porn industry generates $13 billion a year

– Nearly 70% of young men view online porn at least once a week (nearly 20% for women)

– “There are higher percentages of subscriptions to porn sites in zip codes that are. . . more urban, have higher than average household income, have a high proportion of people with undergraduate degrees and have higher measures of social capital (i.e. more people who donate blood, engage in volunteer activities or participate in community projects).”

Sounds like the same kind of people who might run a 5k to raise funds to combat sex trafficking are the same people who, after checking their race time on their personal mobile device will, 5 seconds later, view porn.

Sounds like the same average, middle-class urbanite who has a blogroll is the same kind of person who plans to view porn as part of their daily “checking my websites” routine.

Sounds like this is something common, considered almost normal, that no one wants to talk about.

Every January in the United States is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, as authorized by the President.  The month is intended to not only raise awareness, but action.  Slavery and human trafficking are complex issues that could be crassly distilled into economic terms – supply and demand.  Eighty percent of human trafficking takes place for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation, including forcing victims to participate in creating pornography.  The demand for pornography is insatiable, thus suppliers continue to find ways to create and distribute their ‘product.’  Suppliers want even more individuals, including me, to desire their product.  I did some research online for this short piece and quickly became concerned that my very carefully worded research terms and emails to others concerning this issue would generate unwanted advertisements on my email and search engine sidebars.   A friend who studies and speaks on the topic of pornography has been targeted by advertisers as a result of what he types on his personal computer.  Suppliers are seeking you out.  They want to create more demand.

I remember the first time I was exposed to pornography.  I was in elementary school and a friend said, “Hey, look what I found in my dad’s closet.”  I looked.  My young mind never imagined something like that would be photographed and distributed in print.  Twenty-five years later, the pervasiveness, accessibility and social acceptance of pornography has risen to new levels.  Forget magazines.  The demand exists because we simply click buttons on our screens. We may not even pay a dime, but someone pays with their freedom.

We can rail on law enforcement for not intervening.  We can condemn law-makers for loopholes in the Communications Decency Act that has the side effect “of rendering law enforcement ineffective at identifying and interdicting ads and solicitations for illicit sex” (24).*  Like the drug trade, we arrest the dealers, though we all know the dealers/suppliers wouldn’t exist without the demand.  We are the demand. 

Pornography is not a victimless affair.  This month, don’t just talk about the evils of human trafficking, but talk about the realities of pornography – in your home, your social circle, your work and your neighborhood.  Those who campaigned against the explicit slavery of centuries ago counted the social cost of their beliefs and outspokenness.  Are we willing to do the same for the slaves of today?

Recommended Resources

  1. Chester, Tim (2012-06-11). Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn Free (Kindle Locations 299-304). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. The Connection Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking.  7 Sep 2011. Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering.
  3. ***Covenanteyes.com. Pornography Statistics.
  4. Human Trafficking Facts. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
  5. *Kuzma, Abigail. The Communications Decency Acts Promotes Human Trafficking. 2012. Originally published in the Children’s Legal Rights Journal, Vol 34:1.
  6. ** U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010.