By Emily Harden
This post originally appeared on Emily’s blog at mypiouseyes.blogspot.com
Earlier this year, our church hosted an officer from the Human Trafficking Task Force in our area. During the Q&A, someone asked “what can we do as a community?” and I think we all felt a little deflated when the answer came. “Not much. Education and awareness. Support the shelters that take in victims. I wish there was more.” Well, if you know me, you know that got my wheels spinning! I came home and started jotting things down, and I wanted to share what I came up with, especially for my friends that were at the session and may also have left feeling a little bit helpless.
1. While human trafficking abroad is often a tangled web of debt, deceit, kidnapping, and often parents selling their own children, human trafficking on the domestic front looks a little different. (Not that those things don’t happen here, but it doesn’t seem to be the norm.) Traffickers/pimps prey upon vulnerable people, and runaways are especially susceptible to being trapped, tricked, or forced into prostitution. There is also a connection to foster care: this is just one statistic I found, but in 2012, but over 50% of trafficking victims in California were or had been in the foster care system. So what can we do? Know your kids’ friends, and know your friends’ kids. Be a safe place for them. Encourage your children to reach out to and befriend the kids with tough home lives. Know that that may be messy, and you may have kids in your home who are needy and rough around the edges, but be a place of love and acceptance and belonging for them. If they have a place to land when things get bad at home, they may be less likely to be persuaded or coerced into prostitution.
1b. Consider foster care or foster care support. The system needs more loving families who will invest in these children, love them, and hopefully keep them away from bad outcomes like abuse, trafficking, homelessness, and drug abuse. If you’re not quite ready to be a foster parent, consider going through training at an agency like Arrow to do respite care, where you regularly take in children overnight or for the weekend to give foster families a time of rest.
2. Know your neighbors. Trafficking depends on secrecy, and our tendency as a culture to hunker down in our own homes allows traffickers to hide in plain sight. Be the weirdo that takes banana bread and introduces yourself to your neighbors, even though you’ve all lived there for years. Learn their names. Get to know their stories. If you see something suspicious, call law enforcement. This site has a great summary of red flags to watch for to identify sex or labor trafficking.
2b. Notice people. What could happen if we really saw the woman who is polishing our nails or the man bussing our tables, instead of viewing them as just another person in the background? Look at them, speak to them, and value them as dearly loved children of God. Again, if something seems suspicious, alert law enforcement.
3. Support local organizations that are already fighting human trafficking. If you are local to me, here are a handful of organizations (if not, just search online.. odds are there is a place where you can plug in):
Mosaic Family Services
ACH Child and Family Services
You could donate to any of these organizations, or look on their website for volunteer needs. Each one does something a little different, from sheltering victims to street outreach to education and awareness.
4. Shop fair trade/ethically made products. I’ve written about this before (here, here and here) but pay attention to what you buy and where it came from. It requires a lot more time and energy, but it’s worth it to avoid the exploitation of people.
5. Change your perspective, then share it. This is probably not something you’d think of, but the culture has to change, and that can start with us. A few shifts to make between your own two ears:
– What is a prostitute? Is she someone who enjoys having sex for money? Our officer last night estimated that 80% of the prostitutes he sees are forced or coerced into the industry in some way, be it physical abuse, financial dependence, threats against her or her family, or something else. Change your view: a prostitute is more often than not a victim who needs prayers and rescue. Why does this matter? For one thing, I have to believe that at least some men pay for sex because in their minds she is okay with it. I HAVE to believe that if at least some men knew the realities of what is happening to those girls, they would stop buying sex. And prostitution/trafficking simply cannot survive without buyers.
– What is a pimp? I’ll admit to enjoying me some rap music on occasion, but I wince now whenever I hear lyrics about pimps. Would we still sing along with those songs if you replaced the word pimp with trafficker? It is NOT cool to be a pimp, it is not something to aspire to or glorify. Don’t go along with it, and be brave enough to correct people that do.
– Know that pornography plays a part. (This article explains some of the connections between porn and trafficking.) Statistics are varied, but studies suggest that at least 50% of Christian men and 10-20% of Christian women regularly view pornography. You may think that what you look at in the privacy of your own home doesn’t hurt anyone, but that is just not true. Beyond the moral implications of porn generally, there is really no way to know that the pornography you consume is free from exploitation. So, stop watching it (if you can’t, seek help) and speak out against it. Also on this note, talk to your kids early and often about the dangers of pornography. It’s a scary subject to tackle, but I’ve read that the average age of first exposure to internet porn is 11-12. Yeah, we’ve got to talk to them about it.
6. Support anti-human trafficking legislation. Write your representatives and tell them that this issue matters to you. Keep an eye/ear out for upcoming legislation in this area, and encourage your representatives to vote for it. Polaris Project has a great section on the state of current laws and what is being proposed.
7. Pray. The thing that struck me the most last night is how difficult it is to get a victim to “outcry” – to admit that she is being abused or trafficked. It’s even more difficult to get her to testify against her trafficker and even more difficult to get her into a good aftercare/restoration program. Pray for their strength and courage, and for their complete healing. Pray for law enforcement, for the organizations that fight trafficking, and even for the traffickers and buyers.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a starting place. I would love to hear ideas that God may have planted in your heart as well!