Fighting the Human Trafficking Scourge
Human trafficking is reported in the news, seen in television dramas, and detailed in documentaries. While estimates vary, between 20 million and 40 million people around the world are now victims of modern-day slavery. Women are victims more often, with a staggering one in 10 children working in forced labor.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month. Churches can play a vital role in stopping this epidemic.
Human trafficking tends to take one of two forms. About 68 percent are victims of labor trafficking. This often involves a job offer that is full of false promises and results in forced labor or debt bondage where the victim hopes to erase the debt. Victims may say, “I can’t leave my job because I owe my boss money.” Labor trafficking victims are often controlled through debt, blackmail, threats of violence, or threats of losing housing, even if it is substandard. The recruiters frequently are trusted members of an immigrant community or even a relative.
Sex trafficking is accounts for nearly 22 percent of human trafficking. Victims are regularly already at risk because of unstable housing or homelessness, substance abuse, or being a runaway youth. They are time and again lured by fake promises of romantic interest or opportunities for careers in modeling or television. Younger victims are often leaving difficult situations where family violence existed and may already have been identified as needing child welfare assistance. Sadly, some sex trafficking is by members of the victim’s family, especially when a relative has a substance abuse disorder. In the United States, 72 percent of sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens.
During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the focus is on prevention. Most churches are not equipped to chase the bad guys or rescue victims. But we can find ways to serve the most vulnerable. James 1:27 tells us serving the widow and orphan is the test of true religion. Here are some things you can do:
1. Equip your children and youth for online safety to avoid internet predators. I recommend using NetSmartz. It is a trusted resource produced by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The games, videos, and activities are organized by age, and teachers can even use the materials in the classroom.
2. Volunteer at afterschool programs. Youth run away and become low hanging fruit for recruiters because they have no support in their own community. Studies show that just one trusted adult can keep a youth safe.
3. Learn the signs of substance abuse disorder and have referral information available to provide support. Addiction is curable! If there are children in the home, be alert for their well-being.
4. Find out what mental health resources are available in your community. Often, victims are more vulnerable because they suffer from depression and lack hope. Telling them about hope is a good place to start, but it must be followed up and cultivated.
5. Get involved in your local homeless support ministry. Helping people find safe housing reduces risk. A home is the best answer to many risk factors. Studies show that a shelter must be very temporary. Rapid rehousing is prevention.
6. Welcome the foreigner. Reach out to the immigrant community. Many of us have budgets for serving the foreigner overseas, but sometimes we don’t see those who are next door. Invite them to your activities. When you learn more about their lives, you may find someone trapped in debt bondage.
Along with prevention, know how to report and get help for a human trafficking victim. If it’s an emergency, call 911. Otherwise, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-3737-888. There may be people in your church who work in public services that engage directly with possible victims. Host a training at your church to engage health care providers, social services, teachers, and community leaders to know what to look for and what to do when they see it.
Learn more about the work of the Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice and the March Ensure Justice conference at www.gcwj.org. Learn more about prevention on the Ending Human Trafficking podcast.