Why I Stopped Caring About Human Trafficking

human_barcode_mark-of-the-beastHuman Trafficking.  It’s something you may have heard a lot about recently.  Maybe God has opened your eyes to this global injustice and your heart is stirred to do something about it.  Maybe even your church or ministry has taken up the cause.  That’s great.  I commend you if that’s the case.  But personally, I’ve decided I don’t care about human trafficking anymore.

Just hear me out.  You see, it’s not that I don’t care about the issue or the people affected by it.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  If you know me, you know that I care very much about this issue.  It’s just that I don’t care about the term anymore.  Don’t get me wrong; I understand the need for the term.  It’s nice to have a term to be able to talk about the issue.  And I’m beyond grateful to have the term because of what it means for changes in legislation, prevention, and aftercare.  So, I’m not ready to cast it aside.  Not at all.  You will most surely hear me use it again.  I just want to make sure that it doesn’t become the litmus of which I judge situations and people.  I want the heart of God to be my one and only litmus.  And I know you do, too, dear reader.  So I want to break this down for us.

Because lately, I’ve noticed how much this term can complicate things (especially in circles of ministry).

people-in-boxes-500-499Labels and boxes just tend to complicate things.  Always have; always will.  They become receptacles in which to place people or not place them.  Labels and boxes have a sneaky way of dehumanizing people because they leave no room for variation and unique circumstances.  And everyone is unique and has a unique story.  Labels and boxes keep us from seeing the trees for the forest.  Labels and boxes reduce individuals to statistics.  People become demographics.  And faces become numbers.  Stories are replaced with pie charts.  And hearts are represented by graphs.

And woe to those who don’t quite fit the label.  What happens to those who don’t fit the exact terms of the definition?  Well, I’m afraid they are most often deemed unworthy of our compassion.  But these are real people with real hearts whom God loves that we’re talking about.  Should their opportunities really be determined by whether or not their circumstances fit a term that has most certainly become a buzz word?

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You see, God began asking me these questions and really challenging my heart on this issue.  And as a result, I’m not sure I know what the term “human trafficking” even means anymore and I’m not sure I care.

I used to think that I knew.  My heart has been wrecked over the issue for the last eight years and I’ve spent a lot of time researching it and praying about it and seeking God’s heart concerning it.  And for the longest time, I thought I knew what it looked like.  It looked like a brothel in Southeast Asia where girls and woman have been sold into slavery by their own parents or husbands.  It looked like the little girl walking home from school, when a white, windowless van pulls up beside her and a pedophile jumps out and forces her into the van, drives her away, and locks her up.  It looked like a woman from Eastern Europe who came to America under the false pretense of a legitimate job, only to have her passport taken once she arrived and now she is forced by her captors to work the streets because of a debt she can never repay.

And all that’s true.  It does look like that.

domestic-violenceBut what I didn’t know is that it also looks like the woman whose boyfriend spent months grooming her with subtle manipulation until he was finally able to convince her to sleep with his friend for money.  It looks like the woman who was abused by every man in her life since childhood and sees her body as “up for grabs” so she began prostituting herself to survive on the streets and eventually came under the authority of a pimp for “protection.”  It looks like a woman who is so affected by our pornified culture and so oppressed by the spirit of this age, that she concedes to let her abusive husband post her picture on Craigslist or Backpage for the highest bidder, because she’s convinced herself that it’s a way of loving him.

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You see, the definition of trafficking is “any exploitation of a human by force, fraud, or COERCION.”  We understand force: that’s the little girl swept away in the creeper van.  We even get fraud: that’s the woman whose papers were stolen.  But coercion?  That’s hard to understand and even harder to detect.   But it’s real.  And it’s just as sinister as force or fraud.

I’ve seen it in the strip clubs where I serve and do outreaches.  I’ve heard it in stories from my friends who’ve been radically saved by Jesus and as a result have broken free from the sex industry.  But to be honest, the more I see and the more I hear, the less I care whether or not the woman sitting across from me telling me her story fits the definition of a trafficking victim.  I just care about her, as a person, as an individual, because God cares about her.  I really just care about her finding freedom from whatever kind of bondage she has in her life.

You see, if we worry too much about people fitting the definition, we’ll overlook so many precious lost sons and daughters whom God loves!

isa-61You know that chapter in Isaiah which foretells how Jesus will be “anointed to set the captives free and proclaim release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61)?  I’ve always thought of it as the Abolitionist’s Anthem.  I thought anyone interested in abolishing slavery should know it by heart and pray it daily!  I still think that; I just have a different understanding of what the scripture means.

I used to think captives and prisoners were the same.  They’re not.  A captive is someone who has been taken against their will.  They can’t help what is being done to them.  They are the definitive trafficking victim.  But a prisoner is different than a captive.  A prisoner is someone whose actions have landed them behind bars.  They’re suffering the consequences of their own poor choices.  Most people would say they deserve what they’ve gotten.  So many people fall under the category of prisoner.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that every one of us has played this role at some point in our lives and probably with again.

barcode-of-freedom-300x245The good news is the scripture says that Jesus came to set both the captive AND the prisoner free.  He doesn’t care how the person got into this mess; He just wants to get them out.  He doesn’t discriminate between someone who is held prisoner by another human and someone who is held prisoner by their own sin.  He’s the God of freedom!  He’s all about it, in every form, because where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  He wants to set people free from exploitation, ALL forms of exploitation, whether they are being exploited by humans or exploited by the demonic.

Jesus didn’t just die on the cross to abolish human trafficking; He died on the cross to destroy the spirit of lust and perversion.  God wants to set free anyone bound by that spirit and any other spirit for that matter.  That’s good news for you and for me; it’s good news for the girl in your school with the not-so-great reputation; it’s good news for women working in strip clubs; and it’s good news for trafficking victims.  And whether you want to believe it or not, it’s good news for traffickers, pimps, and johns too!

So, if you truly have a heart for abolition, I encourage you to press past the definition.  God’s heart is deeper.  His grace is more profound.  His mercy is even more endless.  Sink further into God’s love for the world.  Move beyond the definition of trafficking and begin by caring about anyone who is bound by anything.  Serve them.  Become broken bread for them.  Become poured out wine for them.  Lay down your life for them.  That’s what Jesus did for you.  And you want to be like Him right?

Ultimately, I don’t think God really cares about the term, human trafficking, either.  God really just cares about people.  That’s what He wants us to care about too.

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10 Things Men Can Do to End Human Trafficking

all-that-is-necessary-triumph-of-evil-edmund-burke-quotes-sayings-picturesThis is going to take courage, men.  Good thing you were created for courageous acts!

1. Absolutely refuse to be complacent.  The end of complacency begins with rejecting the false assumption that trafficking is a “women’s issue” and realizing that it is a human issue.  Women are only one half of the equation.  The fact of the matter is that men and women are both victims and perpetrators in this global pandemic (Click here to learn more about male trafficking victims).  However, women are disproportionately the victims while men are disproportionately the perpetrators, according to the 2012 United Nations Global Trafficking in Persons Report.   Thus, if the majority of perpetrators are men, then good men have a responsibility to stand up against this injustice.  We need you to lead the fight by standing up for true masculinity; a masculinity that respects and empowers women and does not buy or sell them as if they are commodities.

Furthermore, we must reject the false assumption that trafficking happens only in large cities, or on rare occasions, or only in foreign countries. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking is the second fastest growing criminal industry, just behind drug trafficking.  If you don’t think this issue has or could possibly reach your small town, this is where I break from the statistics and ask you to simply think about how much illegal drug activity happens in your town or even your very own neighborhood.  How many people do you know who have been affected directly or indirectly by illegal drug use?  Is there anyone in your family who has used illegal drugs?  We probably all know at least a dozen people who have been on illegal drugs or have been affected in some way by this industry.  And there is not a town in America that does not have some part of this industry taking place.  Now think about this:  a drug dealer can sell a drug one time, but a trafficker can sell a person over and over again up to 40 times a day.  If it’s not in your small town yet, it soon will be, especially if good men like you refuse to do anything about it.  It’s impossible for illegal entrepreneurs to ignore the possible profit margins.  And since the demand to purchase sex is on the rise in our overly pornified culture, traffickers are rising up to meet the increased demand with an increased supply.

Which brings me to my next point two points: refuse to be a part of the demand!

supply-and-demand-image12. Refuse to purchase sex or patronize anywhere sex is sold.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people believe that prostitution is a victimless crime.  If sex for sale is in demand, then supply has to go up to meet that demand; this means that the number of trafficking victims goes up.  Wherever sex is for sale (whether legal or illegal), there will be trafficking!  According to the 2013 U.S. TIP Report,  “If there were no demand for commercial sex, sex trafficking would not exist in the form it does today… Too often, trafficking victims are wrongly discounted as ‘consenting’ adults. The use of violence to enslave trafficking victims is pervasive, but there are other—more subtle—forms of fraud and coercion that also prevent a person from escaping compelled servitude.”

END THIS DEMAND!  Trafficking is a business and it operates on business principles, i.e. supply and demand.  In a market where women as seen as disposable, if the demand decreases, eventually so will the supply.  Men, this means not even patronizing legal businesses where sex or sexuality is for sale (e.g. strip clubs, bikini bars, sex toy shops, massage parlors, etc.)  All of this feeds the beast.  Any purchase of sex whether legal or illegal feeds the demand and results in more and more women being forced or coerced into the industry.

punch-computer-33.  Refuse to buy or even look at pornography.  This includes soft porn (music videos, movies, TV, etc.)  I chose to put pornography in its own category because so many believe that pornography is separate from the sex industry and is therefore okay to look at and that it doesn’t hurt anyone.  However, watching pornography is just as much a part of the demand for commercial sex as is patronizing prostitution.  In fact, I would go so far as to say pornography is the root of the commercial sex industry.  The pervasive normalization of pornography in our culture is the heart and soul of what is fueling the demand.  It is what is raising up men who want to purchase sex and think its okay to purchase sex.

Dear brothers, the porn industry is high-jacking your sexuality and selling it back to you.  In this case, you are the victim.  Porn is destroying not only your image of women as human beings, but also your image of men as human beings.  It is dehumanizing you by selling you on a lie: that women are hyper-sexualized nymphomaniacs who are always available for sex and exist to satiate men’s sexual appetites and that men are nothing more than mindless, unfeeling, amoral beings entitled to degrade and dominate women.  Porn is eroding your character, desensitizing you to the issue of human trafficking, and destroying your ability to experience healthy intimacy.

It’s time to take back your masculinity.  Reclaim your humanity!  You are not amoral and unfeeling; you were created to uphold justice and to have compassion.  You were created to protect and uplift women and girls not to degrade and dominate them.  Just say no to an industry that is fueling slavery while simultaneously forming you into someone you are not!

black-father-son-shaving4.  Disciple younger men and boys.  The words you speak and the choices you make now are setting the standard of masculinity for the next generation.  You can rest assured that your sons and younger men within your sphere of influence are watching you and they are picking up on your values.  They’re watching to see how you treat women and what you say about them.  The rest of culture is grooming them to become consumers of sex and women.  Will you challenge culture by standing for the truth?  Your influence is more powerful than the influence of the culture, but you have to exercise it thoughtfully and on purpose.  The two best things you can do are to take a stand for purity and to love and respect your wife.  Don’t degrade her, don’t make comments about women’s appearances, and don’t glorify sexual conquests.  Correct boys and men who reflect a desensitization to degrading women.  

We live in a culture in which the words “pimp” and “player” have a positive connotation.  Men, you can change this by teaching younger men that “pimp” is not synonymous with “cool” because pimps are traffickers.  Teach boys that women are to be respected and protected not dominated and disposed of.  Teach them by example!  Because, trust me, they’re much more likely to do as you do rather than do as you say.

5.  Raise awareness.  Everyone has their own circle of influence.  Take it upon yourself to learn everything you can about the issue of human trafficking and then start telling people abut it.  Start with your family and your children, then branch out and tell your friends and coworkers.  If you have a small group at church, bring it up there.  Talk to your men’s group about it.  If you’re not a speaker invite someone who knows about this issue to share with your group (I’d be happy to oblige), or show the film, Nefarious (trust me, it will get your group talking).  It’s available for instant streaming online now.  There is a plethora of resources out there.  The more people who are aware, the less indifference there will be.  The less indifference there will be, the more change can happen.

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6.  Join a group to end the demand.  There are several groups dedicated to raising awareness, ending the demand, and caring for victims.  Join one of these groups and let your voice be heard.  We’re stronger when joined together than when we are apart.  Groups such as these will keep you stirred up to attack this issue head on and will keep you informed about the latest developments in legislation, prevention and aftercare.  If you’re in Illinois, check out End Demand Illinois  a campaign which is dedicated to shifting law enforcement’s attention to sex traffickers and people who buy sex, while proposing a network of support for survivors of the sex trade.  Another such group is The ARMED Campaign (Association of Real Men Ending the Demand), an extension of Eve’s Angels founded by Anny Donewald.  which is a movement to get MEN educated and advocating to end the demand of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children.  Men who join this campaign, take the following pledge:

THE PLEDGE:

I’m taking the pledge to protect women and children from the dangers of Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. I also pledge to never sell, purchase, contribute and/or aid in any way, the criminal act of trafficking and/or purchasing sex from any woman or child.

 
7.  Support legislation and legislators who are attacking the demand.  For so long, the victims of trafficking have been criminalized, while the traffickers and those exploiting the victims were met with few if any repercussions.  Within such a system, trafficking is fostered.  Thankfully, attitudes are begin to shift in the U.S. and law makers and law enforcers are beginning to recognize a need to revamp the system.  However, they need the support and pressure of constituents to expedite the process.  Support politicians who are pushing to criminalize pimping and purchasing sex and who recognize prostitutes as potential victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking.  This is known as the Swedish Model of prostitution laws (and hint: it works.) Write your congressman and to tell him/her how important the issue is to you and that you are in favor of adopting the Swedish Model in your state.  

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8.  Financially support ministries, organizations, and NGOs who are working on the front line and in aftercare.  These are the people doing the hands-on work with trafficking victims.  We can pass law after law but without people actually going after the victims and offering aftercare, no one will be rescued from this injustice.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the sad fact is that there are currently less than 100 beds in aftercare facilities available for underage victims of trafficking in the U.S.  Law enforcement officials are beginning to recognize that many women and girls taken off the streets are victims rather than criminals.  But, if they have no aftercare facility to which to send them, they have no choice but to send them through the judicial system in which they are criminalized.  

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Pat Bradley, Crisis Aid International

These aftercare facilities generally rely on donations to operate.  That’s why it’s so important to give to reputable organizations.  One of my favorites is Crisis Aid International which is based in St. Louis, Missouri.  Since opening in 2012, Crisis Aid has provided service for more than 25 American victims of sex trafficking ages 14-24 years old.  Theirs is a holistic approach.  According to their website,  the girls “are provided a safe loving home with their own bedroom.  They receive a variety of services and opportunities including basic care, professional counseling, medical and mental healthcare, more than 60 life skills programs, educational opportunities, recreational activities, and more.”  When I met met with Crisis Aid’s founder, Pat Bradley, in early 2012, he told me of their plans to build a second wing to their facility which will house up to 11 minors.  But they need donations to make this happen.
 
9.  Change how you view women.  Especially promiscuous women and women in the sex industry.  Please realize that no little girl wants to grow up to sell herself.  Every woman seemingly in the industry by choice has a story.  
 
download (1)Sex work is traumatizing.  In fact, many studies show that people in the sex industry commonly experience as much or more Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome than men who have been in war.  So, before you think, Well, if she respected herself, she’d just get a different job,  you have to ask yourself, What has happened in this woman’s life that has brought her to a place where she is “willingly” being sexually traumatized for eight or more hours a day and convincing herself that this is what she’s worth, that it’s worth the money, and/or that she likes it.
 
It’s also important to realize the way in which our current culture is grooming girls to see themselves and their sexuality as a commodity and a way of being seen.  There is tremendous pressure put on girls and women in our popular culture to conform to this standard.  So, before you judge that girl in your Twitter feed who posted that inappropriate pic of herself, realize that she is simply conforming in order to survive in an overly pornified culture.  The appropriate response is compassion, not judgement or pity.  Check your heart, brothers.  If there is judgement, pity, derision, or shaming in there, then you’re heart is no different from the hearts of those who would degrade and abuse her.
 
10.  Empower women.  Operate in the opposite spirit.  If you want to combat the degradation of women, then do the opposite:  empower them!  Honestly, it’s ridiculous that this even has to be said.  But it does.  Seriously, only insecure men are afraid of empowered women.  And I know you’re not insecure.  You’re a real man!  And true men treat women as equals, in the home, in the marketplace, and within the church, and have no fear that their own positions and/or masculinity is somehow challenged by gender equality.  Rather, true men see the value in partnering with women as equals.  “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9rosie
 
And let me just propose that if you, your business, or the ministry you are involved in does not allow women to be in positions of leadership or to teach men, you are part of the problem.  You’re saying, “Yes, I’m against trafficking.  But no, I don’t believe women share equal humanity with men.  Men are superior to women and have every right to be in sole authority over them.”  Yeah, that’s a contradiction in terms.
 
But please don’t take my word for it.  Before you spout any Pauline theology at me, check out these resources by people who have studied the issue and are far more articulate than I.  After you’ve read all three of these articles AND the books they reference, then you can argue this point with me.
 
 
So what do you say, men?  Are you courageous enough to take up the cause?  I believe that you are!  Stand up and fight for justice!  It’s what you were born for!