It was less than a decade ago that I sat across the table from Debra. She was a mother but not an ideal one. She used harsh language with her children and with adults. Her clothes were less than modest, effortlessly revealing her obscene tattoos and much more. She was a drug addict and had been in and out of jail. But that wasn’t her whole story. I didn’t know it at the time, but Debra was also a victim of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of an individual. In all cases, force, fraud and/or coercion—which can include physical, emotional and economic abuse, threats and isolation—are utilized to control victims, forcing them to engage in a commercial sex act or to perform labor or services against their will. Victims of trafficking become trapped and often fear escape because of trauma, shame, emotional attachment and/or threat of harm against themselves or their families.
The prevalence of human trafficking worldwide is astounding. According to Polaris, a nonprofit organization and leader in the global fight against human trafficking, there are more than 40.3 million global victims of human trafficking, with 75 percent of those being women and girls. In the United States alone, over 8,000 domestic cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2017. Of those cases, more than 6,000 involved sex trafficking and around 1,200 were reported as labor trafficking.
Beyond the numbers
While the numbers are staggering and may even surprise you, if we only look at facts and statistics, we won’t see the whole picture. The numbers alone don’t reveal the injustice and dehumanization of human trafficking. We need to go beyond the numbers. We need to see the victims.
- She is a 16-year old lured to meet an online “friend” in real life.
- He is given a “job” to pay for his way in this country but never gets out of debt.
- She is romanced by a man who seems to love her generously and provides for her extravagantly but at a cost.
- He is a runaway who is desperate for food, shelter and medical care.
- She is the daughter of a drug addict who sells her for a fix.
- He is a straight-A high school student approached at the mall by someone claiming to be a modeling agent or film producer.
- She is taken from her home or while on the way to work, beaten and in fear of her life.
He is your son, nephew or the child of your best friend. She is your daughter, granddaughter, niece or neighbor.
No two faces of human trafficking look the same. No two stories are alike. For one, the bruises may be visible. For another, the scars may come in the form of internal, emotional chaos, hidden because of fear, shame or doubt. What they all have in common is that it wasn’t their choice. They were trafficked.
Human trafficking is often referred to as modern day slavery. Slavery has been a part of our history since the beginning of time. God’s people were enslaved for hundreds of years by the Egyptians. Then were tempted to be slaveholders themselves, capturing and then imposing forced labor on their enemies. These injustices may have been permissible by cultural standards but not by God’s. Slavery was not a part of God’s original plan. His heart has never been for bondage, burden or oppression. It has always been for justice, freedom and rescue.
Partnering with God
When I first heard about human trafficking in the fall of 2014, I was compelled to learn more, to read books and do online research. The more I learned, the more I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to act, to do something about this horrible injustice. But what could I do? This was too big!
Compelled by the love of Christ, it is our responsibility to use the power that we have been given to come alongside those who are vulnerable, oppressed and enslaved and lead them to the true rescuer.
Then, Debra came back into my life. The unkept and ill-mannered woman who had sat across the table from me was now a changed woman handing me her business card. She was a survivor and had started an organization whose goal was to provide hope, healing and restoration to survivors of human trafficking. And she wanted me to help. What a beautiful picture of God’s rescue and redemption. Not just for her but for me as well.
As God’s ambassadors, we have been given the message of reconciliation and the gifts of the Spirit to help us bring that message to others. God is making his appeal for justice through us. Compelled by the love of Christ, it is our responsibility to use the power that we have been given to come alongside those who are vulnerable, oppressed and enslaved and lead them to the true rescuer.
Brothers and sisters, I am not just giving you information. This is an invitation for you to partner with God in his work of justice. Here are some things you can do:
- Choose empathy and compassion over judgment. Allow the love of Christ to compel you. Jesus saw those in need of rescue as people not as projects or problems. He saw himself in them. Helping these victims is not about making them more like us. It is about helping them live into their identity as image bearers, to be who God created them to be.
- Don’t assume that this is not your problem or that trafficking can’t touch you.
- Be informed. Use this article as the beginning, not the end of your knowledge of human trafficking. What does this look like in your area? What local organizations are there? How can you serve?
- Talk about it. Slavery, in any context is wrong. Yet, it still exists. Tell people about this article, about the statistics, about the faces of the victims. Awareness is the first step in making change.
- Pray that the Lord would bring rescue and redemption. For the victims and the perpetrators. For every life touched by the injustice of trafficking.
- If you believe you have identified a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “help” to Be Free (233733).
As Christ-followers, God has called us to pursue justice and to partner with him to set others free. Who better to provide hope than those who don’t just hope for, but put their hope in a faithful and loving God whose plan has always been for rescue? Let’s proclaim the ministry of Jesus by joining the fight for the flourishing, wellness and justice of our neighbors. Let’s be a part of God’s plan for rescue and redemption.