By Tammy Darling
While I had been interested in the human trafficking problem and financially supported Christian organizations seeking to eradicate it, I became involved heart, mind, and soul when I read the book Renting Lacy (Shared Hope International, 2009) by former Congresswoman Linda Smith. I knew human trafficking was a problem overseas; what I didn’t know was how prevalent—and hidden—it is in America.
I know experientially that one person can make a difference, but together I believe we can put a stop to human trafficking worldwide. And I believe it has to start with the local church.
Modern Day Slavery
Because human trafficking is the fastest growing segment of organized crime, according to the FBI, we can no longer sit back and pretend it doesn’t exist.
The people of our church have been shocked to learn that the U.S. State Department estimates 800,000 people are illegally trafficked against their will every year. Fifty percent are children. Eighty percent of the women who are trafficked are sold into sexual slavery, chained to beds of horror.
In the United States alone, the FBI estimates that 100,000 to 300,000 American children between ages 9-19 are at risk of being trafficked every year. The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 13-14. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and some U.S. territories.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
Getting the Word Out
After spreading the word about the growing problem of human trafficking, the people in my church are aware and ready to do something about it. I responded by hosting a jewelry party through WAR (Women at Risk) International. The high-end products sold at these parties are made by rescued women and women at risk for trafficking. During the party we viewed a DVD designed to alert others to the problem, shared stories of those rescued, and offered various ways to get involved.
The party raised more than $1,700. Ninety percent of the jewelry party sales go directly to the rescued women, safe homes, counseling, job training, and other branches of the ministry. The remaining 10 percent covers the cost of production and shipping.
One of the attendees decided to host a jewelry party in her community and began raising awareness in her own church. Those attending the parties said they were completely unaware of the enormity of the trafficking problem and are currently spreading the word in their churches.
As intended, the cycle is continuing. As one person picks up the baton and passes it to another and that one to someone else, the message gets out, lives are rescued, and the slave sellers and buyers can be put out of business.
Individual efforts are essential, but it will take an army—God’s army—to put a stop to modern day slavery. As churches everywhere gain knowledge, spread the word, and get involved, human trafficking truly can become a thing of the past.
The following are ways churches everywhere can tackle the human trafficking issue:
Pray. Not only do we need to pray for trafficking victims and those at risk, we also need to pray against the spiritual warfare that exists for people involved in exposing human trafficking and helping victims. In some cases, government officials are involved in trafficking and do not want rescuers to succeed. Pray for the protection and provision of those helping victims and at-risk people.
Research. Knowledge is power in any arena. Human traffickers are often well trained. They know how to skirt the laws and how to lure victims into their trap. We, too, must become educated. Learn the facts about trafficking. Read about rescues, first-hand accounts from trafficking victims, and how traffickers work. Become a spokesperson at churches, organizations, retreats, and other venues.
Speak up. The pulpit isn’t the only way we can spread the word. Social media is powerful. Speak up through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other modes of electronic communication. Download short videos and statistics to your phone, laptop, or iPad so that you’re always ready at any time to discuss the issue.
Hold political leaders accountable. Slavery thrives in areas where people have no safety net. Elected officials sometimes need a nudge to do the right thing. I fear that many U.S. government officials have minimal knowledge of the extent of the human trafficking issue, especially within our own borders. Laws are not enough. They must be upheld and consistently enforced.
Support organizations fighting trafficking. While these organizations often have the necessary manpower, what they lack is money. Fighting evil is not cheap. Churches can pledge a monthly amount or take up a monthly offering to send to one or more organizations. Two to consider are Shared Hope International (www.sharedhope.org) and International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org).
Talk about prevention. Be aware of traffickers’ tactics, but don’t stop there. Discuss prevention tips with children, school administrators, youth directors, and anyone working with children or teens. Do not exclude boys. While trafficking is much more prevalent with girls, boys are targeted as well. Be aware that traffickers are increasingly using kids to recruit other kids.
Buy responsibly. Many companies use child slaves for harvesting materials or assembling products. Look for a “fair trade” logo when purchasing coffee and especially chocolate, since child slaves harvest most cocoa. Handmade carpets should have a rugmark seal that shows the rug has been ethically made. Clothing too is often made by slaves. Purchase gifts for others from ministries like WAR International (www.warinternational.org) or Eden Ministry (www.edenministry.org) that support rescued victims of trafficking.
Support education and job training programs. Lack of education and poverty contribute to the trafficking problem, especially in other countries. Eliminating the economic climate that promotes such slavery is crucial. Financially support education and job training programs and organizations providing small business microloans through groups like Kiva (www.kiva.org).
Conduct a child sponsor drive. Populations with poverty issues are more vulnerable to traffickers’ lies. Many are lured away with the promise of a job only to find themselves trapped as a work or sex slave. While trafficking exists everywhere, India, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Haiti, parts of Africa, and the Philippines are especially vulnerable. Check out Compassion International (www.compassion.com), World Vision (www.worldvision.org), or Gospel for Asia (www.gfa.org) for more information on child sponsorship for children at risk.
Use your talents. We are all gifted for a reason. Are you a writer? Write about the issue. Do you have free time? Volunteer at an organization that fights human trafficking. Can you design websites? Set up a web page raising awareness. Have you been blessed financially? Give a substantial donation to a safe house that provides shelter and training for rescued victims. Each one of us has a part to play. When we each do our part, combining our gifts, our impact will increase exponentially.
Think big. To make an even greater impact, we need to dream big. The number of post-care resources and facilities for rescued victims are grossly inadequate, especially for American children trafficked within our own borders. Consider what role your church can play to address this need. Maybe your church can partner with a ministry already working toward this end. Perhaps the church building fund could be used to construct a safe house for young women who have been trafficked. Dream big and remember that God is bigger than our dreams.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
• Abolish Slavery: abolishslavery.org
• Global Centurion: www.globalcenturion.org
• Hagar International: hagarinternational.org
• International Justice Mission: ijm.org
• The Polaris Project: www.polarisproject.org
• Shared Hope International: sharedhope.org
• The SOLD Project: thesoldproject.com
• Unearthed: www.unearthedpictures.com
• Restavek Freedom Foundation: www.restavekfreedom.org
National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a 24-hour non-profit, non-governmental hotline
Not in My Town: Exposing and Ending Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery
by Dillon Burroughs and Charles Powell
(New Hope Publishers, 2011)
Trade of Innocents: Justice Needs a Hero, Directed by Christopher Bessette (DVD, PG-13). Official Site.
The Love 146 website contains a wealth of information, survivors’ stories, videos, and ways to make a difference.