Definition: Human trafficking is exploitation of another person to force them to work for little or no pay. It’s often associated with sex work, but trafficking is a little broader than that; for example, many trafficked people are forced to do agricultural labor.
Human trafficking is a sticky subject that’s as important to address as it is uncomfortable to think about. We don’t want slavery to be an issue, so sometimes we forget that it still is. Maybe we don’t want to know what’s going on in that dark corner of society. Why should we be aware of the human trafficking situation?
Every compassionate person is grieved by the idea of someone else being mistreated or abused. Just as we don’t want to have our life, its potential, and our dreams stolen from us, we don’t want others to experience that loss. But while sometimes we feel pain in our hearts, or empathize with someone in our head, that doesn’t mean our hands act. We may be educated about the plight of slaves, but let us be stirred to action by it.
There is a Biblical mandate to help the helpless: Jeremiah 22:3 says, “Thus says the LORD, "Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” If we are God’s people, we should act according to His values. We ourselves were helpless, and He saved us; should we not do the same for others He longs to save?
Let us take a few moments to explore some facts behind human trafficking, and learn about ways people (law enforcement officers and civilians) are fighting this crime. By raising awareness, we seek not merely to educate others, but to spur them into action. Informed minds are a good first step, but busy hands and rescued lives are the goal.
“If you truly believe in the value of life, you care about all of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.” -- Joni Eareckson Tada
Statistics about Trafficking
Worldwide, there are about 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor.a For this number, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates a 9:1 ratio for labor trafficking victims to sex trafficking victims. While there are more slaves in the labor trade, sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of trafficking in persons (79%).b
In America, commercial sex enjoys a booming market. Sex is catching up to illegal drugs in demand, and has already passed illegal firearms. This may stem from the relative lower risk of the sex trade, and because victims can be “recycled” and used again.
Exploitation of minors is a large concern, especially for parents in metropolitan areas, and about kids from unstable homes. ILO estimates that one in five trafficking victims are minors6; the age for entering victimhood is becoming younger and younger, currently at about 13 years old.c In the United States, Polaris studies found that a little more than 40% of suspected or confirmed child victims of domestic sex trade are runaways from home, foster care, or shelters. 40-70% of all street youth engage in prostitution, at least occasionally, to meet their basic needs. Interestingly, this population is divided nearly equally among male and female.a
By state, California has the highest number of human trafficking cases by far, and Georgia is 8th highest on the list. Nationwide, more citizens than foreigners are victimized. Most of these victims are adults, and the majority of them are female (82%). In 2017, Polaris reported 8,524 cases of human trafficking in the United States, and 405,308 total cases since 2007.d
Let’s look even closer to home: since 2007 in Georgia there have been about 3.3k victims of “moderate” trafficking cases, and just under 4k victims of “high” trafficking cases.d More recently, in 2018, about 21% of trafficking cases were labor-related, and around 68% were sex trafficking. The number of victims are almost equal for foreigners vs. U.S. citizens, which is a sinister aspect of sex trafficking: the trade isn’t isolated to any one geographical location, neither does it tend to target one race or socioeconomic class over the other.d Women are the only ones that seem singled out, since about 4 in 5 victims are female.c Everyone has at least one woman involved in their lives (a mother, sister, wife, daughter, or friend, etc.), so this is truly a risk that concerns everyone.
Last decade, between 2003 and 2007, Washington, D.C. studied 8 major American cities and found that metro Atlanta had the largest sex trade among them, making more revenue off sex ($290 million) than illegal drugs and guns combined.e Miami was 2nd at $200 mil, and Dallas was $99.
Every month in Georgia:
· 354 minors are sold for sex to 7,200 customers.c
· Including repeat purchases, an estimated 8,770 sex acts are paid for.c
· Approximately 374 girls are sexually exploited.f
· About 12,400 customers pay for sex.g
Trafficking in Atlanta:
· Roughly 300 girls from Atlanta are lured into trafficking every month, many of them from Mexico.e
· Most sex purchases are done around suburban and metro Atlanta, 9% of them made near the airport.g
· Atlanta has the highest number of trafficked Hispanic females in the nation.h
Effects of Trafficking
So far, all we’ve explored is the population of modern slaves. We’ve established there are far too many people suffering in bondage. Now let us consider the individual slave, and the horrors that defile their life. Statistics mean nothing if there is no day-to-day reality behind them; we will only try to stop a force when we believe it is wicked. What is it that makes trafficking something we should spend energy fighting?
The deleterious effects of trafficking are numerous. Of course, there are physical harms done to a body, if they’re forced to work long hours in a sickly environment (chronic fatigue, infectious diseases, and pain are common results of this), or are a part of the sex industry (there is rectal trauma, pregnancies, or botched abortions, and exposure to STDs). Additionally, it is possible a victim is malnourished, physically abused, and unable to get treatment for conditions such as diabetes or cancer. Many victims may turn to substance abuse as a method of mental escape, if they can’t get away physically.
There are also psychological harms to consider. Rescued victims of human trafficking are at a great risk for “anxiety, panic disorder, major depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders.”12 Victims also commonly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD greatly contributes to functional and behavioral problems, such as self-mutilation, suicidal behavior, and difficulties in controlling emotions and concentrating. Thus, even if a victim is physically taken out of the hands of the trafficker, it can be difficult for them to recover, obtain and keep a job, or even perform basic functions in society.i
Amorality of Trafficking
“For me, no ideological or political conviction would justify the sacrifice of a human life. For me, the value of life is absolute, with no concessions. It’s not negotiable.” -- Edgar Ramirez
Hopefully we find our stomachs turning over as we consider these atrocities. Feelings of repulsion and disgust assure us that we are not sadistic, but we should understand this is more than just a crime or violation of the 13th Amendment. Trafficking is a moral wrong, and a trespass against not only a person’s body, but on a human’s soul.
Our Creator, Who shaped our minds and bodies, knows exactly what the injurious impacts of trafficking are. He speaks clearly against kidnapping in Exodus 21:16 when He commands, “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Deut. 24:7 speaks similarly) In Luke 10:7, Jesus says “The laborer is worthy of his wages,” meaning we should pay one another fairly. (This is repeated in 1 Tim. 5:18) In 1 Corinthians 6, verses 9 and 18 speak against sexual immorality and promiscuity, declaring that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God, while Deuteronomy 22:25-29 explains the punishment for a rapist.
Clearly, human trafficking, whether for labor, sex, or anything else, is contrary to God’s perfect plan for the earth. He instilled in us an antipathy towards these heinous acts, and inspired us to hate what He hates. He even tells us to do something about the problem: Psalm 82:4 says “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”
The good news is that there are already individuals who are passionate about rescuing the weak and needy. Laws have been passed in Georgia that allow space for stricter punishments on traffickers, and make their case harder to defend.j But we must realize tighter punishment isn’t sufficient to eradicate the problem; if traffickers will ignore their conscience and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, then cracking down tougher laws won’t stop all of them, either. Thankfully, there are plenty of non-governmental programs who place value on human life and are also ready to see the captive set free.
What Can We Do?
Although it’s difficult, many victims find they can recover from their trauma and become productive in work again. As Psalm 68:20 says, “God is to us a God of deliverances; And to GOD the Lord belong escapes from death.” Already there are teams and institutions in place that make concerted efforts to free slaves and offer them another chance at life. Some of these are listed below:
Street Grace is an Atlanta-based and faith-driven organization dedicated to decreasing the demand for the sex trade. They fight domestic minor sex trafficking through awareness, education, and action. They seek to train all city and county personnel to recognize and report cases of trafficking.c
Not for Sale is based in San Francisco, but is at work in over 40 countries across 5 continents. They labor to stop modern slavery through a 3-step process: they meet the needs of slaves, learn why a region is at risk for slavery, and seek to establish ways to reduce that risk and enrich the lives of inhabitants. “Forced labor is a tool,” they say, but an unethical one they seek to replace with skills, stability, and fairness that still values each person.k
There are also networks, like The National Human Trafficking Hotline which is operated by Polaris, a non-profit, non-governmental organization. Funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Hotline provides assistance via phone or email in over two hundred languages, at all hours of the day, every day of the year.a
Most networks are typically non-profit and rely on the monetary and spiritual support of their communities and churches to function. There are many, many more such projects and groups worldwide, all seeking to rescue specific types of victims.
If donations and prayer seem like overly simplistic solutions to the matter of human trafficking, there are more ways to respond. Most organizations gladly welcome more volunteers, and there are ample opportunities to stand against modern slavery every day: educate others about the horrors of the trade; teach your children to protect their peers; learn how to report suspected cases of trafficking; if you see a woman in tears, ask her if she’s okay; stand closer to the little boy who’s alone on the metro, or keep an eye on him as he walks through the mall (you needed to visit the LEGO section anyway, didn’t you?).
Be aware of others, and the battles they may be fighting, and more importantly be always ready and equipped to fight your own battle for the Lord. The words of 1 Peter 5:8 will always be true: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” God grant that, through our concerted efforts fueled by the Lord’s power and grace, we can make that prowling lion starve.
- Polaris Project. (2010). “Human Trafficking Statistics.” http://www.polarisproject.org/resources/resources-by-topic/human-trafficking
- International Labour Office. ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labor: Results and Methodologies. (2012). Special Programme to Combat Forced Labour. http://www.ilo.org/sapfl/Informationresources/ILOPublications/WCMS_182004/lang--en/index.htm
- “Initiatives.” Street Grace, www.streetgrace.org/initiatives/. 2019.
- “We'll Listen. We'll Help.” National Human Trafficking Hotline, humantraffickinghotline.org/. 2018.
- Belt, Deb. “Atlanta Ranked No. 1 for Sex Trafficking; Conventions to Blame?” Stone Mountain-Lithonia, GA Patch, Patch National Staff, 13 Mar. 2014, patch.com/georgia/buckhead/atlanta-ranked-no-1-for-sex-trafficking-conventions-to-blame. 2019.
- Governor’s Office for Children and Families. (December 2009). Unprecedented Private-Public Collaboration to Support Adolescent Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Georgia. Retrieved from: http:// children.georgia.gov/press-releases/2009-12-29/unprecedented-private-public-collaboration-support-adolescent-victims
- The Schapiro Group. (2010). Men Who Buy Sex with Adolescent Girls: A Scientific Research Study. Retrieved from: http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org/sites/wfnet.org/files/AFNAP/TheSchapiroGroupGeorgiaDemandStudy.pdf
- Thomas, Sara R. and Renea Anderson. Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery. Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Human Trafficking Unit. Retrieved from: http://dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov/sites/dfcs.dhs.georgia.gov/ files/related_files/site_page/BST%20Human%20Trafficking%20Workshop.pdf
- Clawson, Heather J, et al. “Treating the Hidden Wounds: Trauma Treatment and Mental Health Recovery for Victims of Human Trafficking.” ASPE, US Department of Health and Human Services, 21 Feb. 2017, aspe.hhs.gov/report/treating-hidden-wounds-trauma-treatment-and-mental-health-recovery-victims-human-trafficking.
- “Human Trafficking.” Office of Attorney General Chris Carr, law.georgia.gov/human-trafficking. 2019.
- “Homepage.” Not For Sale, 2016, www.notforsalecampaign.org/.