This past Sunday's meeting weighed heavy on the hearts of those who attended. A while back, we as a Minnesota church decided that a cause we would like stand behind with our community is helping rescue people from human trafficking. Two of our members attended a human trafficking conference put on by Women At Risk International (www.warinternational.org) and shared a bit about what they learned. We heard disturbing stories and statistics about situations both internationally and in our own cities that left us yearning to help.
The most critical lesson was that human trafficking is a heart issue, not a gender issue, and as such we should approach victims with the compassion of Jesus rather than judgment. Often times when the community approaches someone stuck in the sex trade, they are treated as a criminal prostitute rather than a victim. These girls (and even boys) are manipulatively lured in and trapped in a life of abuse and crime.
Another important note that may have surprised many is that the sex trafficking industry is not about sex as much as it is about money. In some countries, when parents can't provide for their children, they are given to a relative who then sells them for a source of much needed income. In the United States it often starts with a need or desire for money as well. Young girls who feel less pretty and are looking to be part of the popular crowd are approached and promised designer clothes and accessories along with the promise of being “wanted.” It can also stem from promiscuity among peers, and then moving on to older men who will buy them nice things in return. It was also stated that the “easy money” found in stripping often lead to being trapped in the sex trade.
So what can we as Christians, and as a church, do? First, we can educate ourselves about the signs, risk factors, and the best way to help through organizations like Women At Risk International. Most of the risk factors (or “Flash Points”) that make a community more susceptible to human trafficking are present in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities area.
These flashpoints include the following: Internet, cultural acceptance of open sexuality, poverty, organized crime, government corruption, tourism, ethnic diversity, forced labor, drugs, transportation, entertainment, globalization, a demand for sex, and secrecy.
Some signs that someone might be in the sex trade include: Branding or barcode tattoos, sexting, wearing “shag bands” (colored bracelets to signify what “services” are provided), kids with surprising amounts of money, restricted freedom of movement, older boyfriends, no pay for services like waitressing, or witnessing a frequent taxi service to and from a home.
If you suspect human trafficking, you can call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or WAR International at 1-877-END-SLAVERY. If there is no imminent threat of harm, this resource can often be more help than the police. If you suspect imminent harm please call 911. For more resources and ways that you can help and provide resources as a community, you can visit www.warinternational.org.