Human Trafficking on Your Block

In case you aren’t aware of the 100,000-300,000 American children at risk of human sex trafficking in the United States, now you can be. NPR spoke on it late last week and gave a disturbing inside look at how it can happen: predators and pimps prey on at-risk youth, sometimes even by going to their shelters or runaway houses, and sometimes by picking them up on the street. They offer them food and a job. And then they take them back to a house where many other children wait to be sold.

This is a bigger problem than we want to admit. American males make up a large percentage of clients in sex trafficking, not only in the U.S. but around the world through “sex tourism” trips. Our large events like the Super Bowl and Olympics can increase the sex trade in the host city by 100%.

If a child is caught in the act, she is charged and tried as a prostitute, and too often her captor goes free. We are punishing our victims – our own children – in a way we would despise if it was happening elsewhere.

And if, by God’s grace, a child escapes, there is nowhere to go. While many wonderful organizations work to end the sex trade elsewhere and have opened safe houses abroad, victims in the United States have only 50 beds available to them in the entire country, according to the NPR report.

It is important to know what we can do to fight this problem. First, the obvious one of protecting your own loved ones by educating them about strangers and safety where they walk, work and play.

Next, we need to be demanding that our churches and communities have beds and food available for these victims if found. It would be better to meet for church on the lawn or parking lot and use the sanctuary as it was once used: a shelter. Some of these children have been trafficked into the country by Americans and thus don’t speak English and have no idea of their rights before the law. They deserve refugee status and a chance to see their tormentors put behind bars. American children need counseling and food. Small community groups and places of worship must offer this.

We also need stricter punishments for sex traders. This crime should be considered wide-scale rape. Sentences should be  appropriate… as in horrible… as in life without parole. Right now offenders in the United States and abroad can sometimes get sentences of just a few years.

Young people “caught in the act” of being trafficked should not be prosecuted, and if it happens by accident, their records should be expunged, just as the NPR report describes. It is difficult for these children to describe what has happened to them, and sometimes it is not clear at first that they were slaves, but if a teenage girl looks like she has been starved and carries multiple diseases, it is ridiculous for police to assume so quickly that she acted alone. Proper interrogation would occur via an expert in the field of child prostitution and/or slavery.

All of these issues require the fury of communities to be made real. The crime must anger us to the point of action. Does it?

What resources could you use, today, to help victims of sex trafficking in the U.S.?

Why are there only 50 beds available in the entire country for these children? Where could you place beds, counseling and food in your community? How would you start?

7 Responses to “Human Trafficking on Your Block”
  1. Claire says:

    Ok, this is a great post. I want to go listen to the NPR segment too. I think my answer is I don’t know. It seems so distant, and yet I know in Nashville there are neighborhoods notorious for active sex trade. I’ll be thinking, and I can’t wait to see what ideas people have.

  2. Joan says:

    As you said, Joanna, we have a church that could house a few on a temporary basis. Just as we have an extra bedroom that could house these people if needed. The YMCA has appropriate accomodations and they are in almost every major city. Where would we begin to look for the expert that could help these people? It is a lot to think about. My awareness of these issues is growing thanks to your blog.

  3. Darrell says:

    I’m troubled by the idea that we as a people no longer seem to care about human life especially the lives of our children. We definitely are no longer willing to defend our civilization from predators and that is a state of death. We should strive to do more than clean up the messes these people make and shelter their victims. We have to start our defense with prevention by saying we respect the lives of our children so much that if you do these things your life will be forfeit and not in fifteen or twenty years. Six months is plenty. I realize that this would involve a major societal change and would be politically impossible because we are now progressing toward some higher order. To me it seems like we are decending back into the dark ages.

  4. Katinka says:

    This is a really complicated issue (not complicated morally, but in terms of the business and legal aspects, as well as the links with poverty and abuse, and our own sin), and I think it first and foremost deserves awareness and more prayer. Many states are in the process of passing stricter legislation for pimps and traffickers, and many are very wise and judicious about how they handle the women and children involved. I think this is helpful, but what breaks my heart is that people have such a degraded view of sex and humanity that we are willing to use women and children for pleasure, and call it “business.” There’s so much to say…

    I’m involved in volunteering at a safe house here, and it’s been eye-opening to the myriad of ways that women (it’s for adults) get into prostitution and exploitation. I don’t foresee political or legal action solving the problem, but I do think we should pray, and look for opportunities to care for the oppressed, hopeless, and victimized. What is sad to me, too (although I am glad that people ARE seeking to care for women and children who have been exploited) is that the church is NOT at the forefront of caring about human trafficking–the world is doing a much better job of rescuing them off the streets and fighting for justice. We should be provoked, repent, and seek to love better than we are, because of how we’ve been rescued. There are so few of these safe houses that if your church were to start one, they would certainly receive help and support from people who are active against human trafficking.

  5. Xaris says:

    Thanks for writing about this, Joanna. It is heartbreaking. I was able to watch a documentary called, “Very Young Girls” which shows how young girls in New York are trafficked and taught to fall in love with their pimps. In New York, the activities are very public, and actually in my neighborhood! I know of some very brave organizations serving the sex trafficked population in the city. What they need always seems to be more experts – counselors, lawyers, social workers, translators – and of course funds to expand their safe houses to take in more victims. What amazes me most about this challenge, is the fact that as Christians we are not only called to minister to the victims, but to the abusers as well. Justice must be effected on them of course, but I think relying on something more powerful than government to change hearts is the real challenge. If American men are the main consumers, how can we build up our men to be real Christian men who rely on Jesus and are faithful to their wives so that demand can be avoided entirely. The abusers see this as a business…so sure you can try to stop the supply, but demand must be addressed as well.

    Sad to say that I was made aware of sex trafficking issues a year and a half ago, and still I really don’t know what to do, other than to pray, and support. I do have hope however. It’s amazing how many times sex trafficking has been brought up in the news and with the people I meet in that year and a half, telling me that awareness is surely being raised. Again, thanks for writing about this!

  6. bobm says:

    Sadly, it has always been the case that the weakest, most vulnerable members of societies are chewed up and disposed of by the the others. Agency (in the legal sense)is the crucial aspect: those who make the commodities (victims) available are a small fraction of society, but their impact is large, because they make the commodities “presentable”, and gloss over the underlying ugliness and cruelty. Recall the problem that William Wilberforce had with African Slavery, where he was confronted with the ignorance of the English consumers as to the actual process by which their sugar came to them; they knew about slavery, and maybe suffered a pang of guilt about it now and then, but were shielded from the fact that slaves were worked to death in the West Indies to provide their cheap sugar. Even with their fallen nature, exposure to the reality eventually helped them accept an increase in sugar price.

    The use of children for sexual consumption and other forms of amusement predates most of history. In the background of Victor Hugo’s novel “L’homme qui Rit” (The Man who Laughs), there is the phenomenon of orphans (and sometimes non-orphans) who are purchased for the purpose of being deliberately deformed, so they can be sold as novelties to consumers who found them amusing. In “Christianized” western Europe, this practice survived to some extent until at least 1850! These consumers, of course, did not observe the painful defacement and bodily constraint that resulted in freakish appearances… they accepted the results without troubling themselves too much about the process.

    But I have to conclude (or agree) that the most efficient way to improve things is (and always has been) to first go after the agents, the (one? two? three?…) percent of society who actually participate in the underlying process and lose no sleep over it, while making the larger fraction whom they supply aware of how those commodities got there. And of course to pray for success in these efforts, as Wilberforce did.

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