What do you think of when you hear those two words? For most of my young adult life, they evoked vague concepts of an injustice being perpetrated far away from me and my sheltered world, and I couldn’t imagine the extent or the depth of this horrendous tragedy. Perhaps some of you have a similar story and are not very well acquainted with the phenomenon of people being enslaved in the sex trade. On the other hand, maybe the term has a very personal meaning to you or someone you know and love. Whatever the case, I am here to tell you that, to hundreds of thousands of people, "trafficking" is not just a term--it's a reality.
The succinct definition of human trafficking, according to the documentary In Plain Sight, is “a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which” the victim “has not attained 18 years of age.” I could not have told you this a year ago when, as I vividly recall, I watched a documentary on sex trafficking. It was the first time in my life that my eyes were opened to the real situations that lay behind the term.
The documentary was entitled Nefarious: Merchant of Souls (an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the victims of the sex industry, by the way), and I was literally speechless on the way home after the special screening I attended. The questions that reverberated through my mind (and continue to every time I uncover more information about trafficking) were, “How in the world did I not know about this? How can something this atrocious be happening all around me?”
The more research I do on the topic, the more I find that it’s actually worse than I thought. As of this year, 1,654 people have been trafficked in the United States according to "National Human Trafficking Resource Center" (and, as the website points out, this number only reflects the cases that have been reported, meaning that there are hundreds more that go unnoticed). Most of the victims are women and half are minors, but again, this statistic probably only scratches the surface of the issue in America. What a statistic for the self-proclaimed “land of the free.”
To take a more global perspective, the website "Equality Now" asserts that “at least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor” and, shockingly, “about 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade.” I could give you more statistics, but this article is not meant to be fact sheet; it would take several articles to fully explore the issue, and I also believe that researching it yourself is an invaluable way to get you stirred about the issue. What I would like to do briefly, however, is take you outside of the facts to look for a moment at the general principles surrounding human trafficking, how they appear in our culture and how each one of us can combat them.
I am confident that I could walk up to almost anyone on the street, inform them about the horror of sex trafficking and look them in the eye as they agree with me that it is something they vehemently oppose and would love to see ended immediately. I bet that many of them would actually take a concrete stand against it if given a specific opportunity. Yet, how many of these same people protest against the countless ads and billboards that deride a woman’s body and worth? How many think it’s unacceptable that woman are routinely called b***hes, c**ts, whores, sluts, etc. to the extent that these words have become synonyms for “female?” How many are willing to address rape culture on college campuses?
You see, folks, the principle behind sex trafficking is not isolated: it is deeply embedded in our culture. Human trafficking is just the most physically violent form of the same attitudes that you can find in titles of popular, mainstream songs and in comments on Facebook and YouTube. The crimes of human trafficking that are being repeated over and over all around us are the full expression of an objectification and degradation of woman that has been going on since time began.
But objectification of woman isn’t all that’s going on here, either. At the heart of human trafficking (and crimes like it) is a basic devaluing of human life itself. Websites like "Equality Now" or documentaries like Nefarious make the point that the core of human identity and worth is (quite literally) raped in the context of sex trafficking. But, is this not a cultural precedent for us in the West (not to mention globally) as well? Dare I say that a rampant, tragic disrespect of human life can be seen in killing a baby while it’s in the womb, doctor-assisted suicide, etc.? At the end of the day, this a problem of our culture and the crime of sex trafficking will never by full attended to unless we look at the heart of the matter.
As an unapologetic Christian, I have no qualms in saying that I believe that this devaluing of human life (which, as the seed of the problem, breeds the objectification of woman and girls and the abuse of children) ultimately derives from a denial of the living God and of the fact that He made each and every human being in His image, all of which grants us incomparable worth and dignity. As a committed follower of Jesus, my first response to the horror of sex trafficking (and the cultural principles surrounding it) is to recognize that these men, women and children are infinitely precious in His sight and therefore infinitely worth rescuing. Although I am only one individual, I believe that prayer is something that each and every one of us can use as a weapon against this injustice. Beyond that, working to get informed is invaluable, and any of the resources I’ve mentioned here would be wonderful places for anyone to start.
To address the broader cultural context of this problem, I believe in setting standards for myself that go against the norms of disrespect for woman specifically and for human life in general. These standards can encompass something as simple as entertainment. In fact, a Bible teacher at the ministry school I attend said once that whatever we watch (be this a movie, a TV show or a video game) we are agreeing with simply by the willful act of taking it in and enjoying it. I don’t want to agree with anything that undermines not only my own gender, but the sacredness of human life as a whole, and for that reason I know I need to reexamine my own habits in everyday life. I invite you to look at yours.
These are little choices, but if you remember that each and every day millions of individuals are being devalued in horrible ways, the cost is nothing. Nothing.