I constantly hear about the human trafficking problems "in other countries." If only "they" could get a grasp on this problem. I also constantly find myself shaking my head at the naivety of the people in our beloved United States. Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States every year. Somehow our "safe" country has come into the top three countries known for human trafficking.
I know what you're thinking: There is no way this can really be true, or if it is true then it happens in those big cities where they can't get a handle on the crime. The reality is that human trafficking occurs in all 50 states. Rural, urban, suburb: you name it and human trafficking has claimed it. This means that you (or more likely your son or daughter) is at risk. The average age of a trafficked victim falls from 12 to 14. Trafficked victims come in every shape, size, and socioeconomic status. No two victims are alike.
Human trafficking is a bigger issue than most people realize for two reasons. First, the sex industry is very secretive, especially in the United States, most likely because our culture is not as accepting of this behavior. The other reason I have found is that people in our country are not prepared to open their eyes to this cruelty in our own nation. It is so much easier to turn a blind eye to this issue than be confronted with the true weight and reality of human trafficking in the United States.
What does 'trafficking' mean?
I find it difficult to find two people with the same perception of what trafficking is. This is mainly because it can look like so many things. The bigger picture is that someone is being trafficked if they are being forced, manipulated, or coerced into doing any act. Most assume this only has to do with sexual activity, but it can also mean forced labor. This may look like a child being kidnapped, a runaway looking for a way of life, or a prostitute selling her body. A girl does not dream of being a prostitute or stripper growing up. Someone has manipulated them into that situation, even if it was just by damaging their self worth.
I work with a ministry in New Orleans called One Ministry. We fight human trafficking in a very dark part of the city by visiting strip clubs, massage parlors, and modeling agencies that are filled with trafficked victims. Our goal is to build relationships with those caught in the sex industry. As we start to walk through life with them, they are able to finally trust someone in hope of a better future. We have helped girls completely turn their lives around and go from being strippers to being humble disciples of Christ.
Our ministry does an array of outreach activities like visiting the girls while they are at work, feeding them breakfast in the middle of the night when they are getting off work, and painting and remodeling strip club dressing rooms. We are open and willing to do whatever God lays on our hearts. Although some would say that we are enabling trafficking and wickedness to go on, we look at it a little differently. Jesus Christ went to the people and lived life with them. He expressed his love and care for them in unique ways so they would realize that He truly understood them. We decided to remodel a strip club dressing room because it showed the women who worked there that we did not judge them for their current life situation, but that we have a hope of what their lives can be. Hope is what is missing from each of their lives.
What you can do?
It may not be realistic for you and your family to remodel a strip club dressing room or stand knocking at a massage parlor door with roses late at night. But there is more that can be done. Human trafficking will never stop in our country if people do not understand the gravity of it. Research and read about trafficking in our country and then tell other people about it.
Pray, as a parent and as a family. This may seem like the simplest task, but prayer has the power to overcome all darkness. As 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
Talk to your children about trafficking at an appropriate age. No one is exempt from becoming a victim to trafficking. Research the warning signs and discuss them with your kids. Teenagers believe they are invincible to any and all risky situations, especially if no one is telling them otherwise. Open communication is so vital in building strong relationships. Weak relationships are one area that makes someone vulnerable to being trafficked.
There are so many organizations rising up to stop human trafficking. But because this is such a huge issue, there are never enough volunteers. Even if you do not volunteer to minister directly to people caught in trafficking, find a creative way to use the gifts God has given you to be an effective partner in an organization that fights against it.
People often say that the work I do must be difficult, hard, and even frightening at times. I cannot let myself think on those things. Instead I focus on what God is doing. I am thankful for the moments I walk in a club and a girl's face lights up, the night we made several trips to the clubs because those inside were begging for us to find them more Bibles, the rare occasion that every business welcomes us with open doors to have conversations, the evening that a girl told us that she refused to strip for men any longer, and the day the manager said he likes us coming to his club because he feels joy enter when we arrive. There is no explanation for these things to happen but the love of Jesus Christ.
The passage of Scripture that One Ministry always finds itself going back to is Isaiah 61:1-3: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion; to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor" (NIV).
Do you believe that those trapped in trafficking, or even just a life of sin, can become oaks of righteousness? Do you believe that the King of Kings can proclaim freedom for the captives? Do you believe that the Lord of Lords has sent you?