Light in the darkness – an interview with Daniel Walker, author of "God in a Brothel"
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
-- James 1:27
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When I started reading Daniel Walker's God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue, I thought I was going to learn about human trafficking -- the “do’s” and “don’ts," the challenges, the successes and failures. And I was sort-of right.
But this is really a book about grace and God’s unfailing love. For it’s because of God and because of grace that we must work hard to combat human trafficking.
I spoke with Walker in Washington, D.C., recently, as he was sharing his story at a local church. Washington was one of the last stops on Walker's book tour before he returned to his homeland of New Zealand, where he is a detective in the New Zealand Police force.
Walker, who has more than 20 years experience as a criminal investigator, spent four years working exclusively in the international arena investigating the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children in more than a dozen countries -- including the United States.
In our conversation, Walker was brutally honest, both about human trafficking as an evil and about his experiences trying to fight it undercover.
I urge you to read God in a Brothel in its entirety, because:
- 30 million people are enslaved around the world,
- It’s a $32 billion industry per year,
- 2 million children are enslaved in the sex trafficking industry,
- 100,000 of these children are living right here, in the United States.
The sex trafficking industry would not exist without the demand for commercial sex that flourishes worldwide.
Walker says, rightly, that the church is the most powerful, most dangerous force for good in the world.
The church played a central role in the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements. Now the church has the power -- and the responsibility -- to fight human trafficking with all of its rich resources.
The body of Christ includes social workers, investigators, lawyers, computer experts, et al. But most importantly, we must continue to put God front and center in our work. For without God, and without the support of our brothers and sisters, we ultimately will fail.
The transcript of our interview with Daniel Walker, gently edited for clarity and ease of reading, follows below:
(listen to the interview on the last page of this blog entry)
James Colten: Why did you start the book? What inspired it?
Daniel Walker: I wanted people to see what I had seen, and to feel what I had felt, to be filled with the same kind of anger and hatred and holy hatred that I was feeling. Such that it would inspire them to do something about it.
JC: What are some of the myths that Christians commonly believe about trafficking?
DW: That it’s something that happens overseas. That it doesn’t happen in our backyards. That it always involves really organized criminal enterprises—sometimes it’s just one person, one pimp trafficking a whole lot of people. That the “perps” and the traffickers are always a certain type of person; actually, they’re often women… Around the world, 70 percent of traffickers are women.
JC: Did you ever find yourself negotiating with people of faith, while undercover? Or find yourself talking to people of faith?
DW: I came across men, the customers, who professed some kind of faith. I guess I discovered that the customers are everybody: They’re your neighbor, your banker, your lawyer, doctor. The men who use women and children are everybody- your son and your father - including people of faith. In fact when I was in Atlanta, the Atlanta police told me that one of their largest spikes in demand for girls was during a Baptist convention…
JC: Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, at a talk with Jim Wallis recently talked about how we need to go after customers of porn, of human trafficking. Have you seen people go after customers? What does it look like? Is it possible?
DW: I guess that’s one step forward as opposed to criminalizing the victims as is often done in the U.S. You arrest and charge the girls or the boys involved. Certainly prosecuting the men who use them, but it’s still not as strategic as those who sell them. With terrorism we go after the people—the suppliers—we follow the chain. Who are the people who are in some cases bringing people into the country, or who are the pimps at the malls and seducing girls and enslaving them—the whole pimping culture that’s become kind of accepted. I mean, they’re criminals. There’re men standing on the streets in broad daylight selling women and they‘re not being targeted as terrorists. This war on terror should begin with the terror that American children feel as they’re sold on the streets and neighborhoods and communities in the United States.
JC: Does the porn industry directly support human trafficking?
DW: Yes. I know of cases where women and children have been trafficked to make porn.
JC: Is there any ministry going on to sex tourists?
DW: Prison ministry. Prison fellowship. I mean, we used to say police work is tough love. And justice is the sharp end of the love continuum. Mercy is one end. Justice is the other. They’re just different ends of the same continuum. And the most loving thing you can do for a tourist (that is bent on exploiting women and children for his/her own pleasure) is to hold them accountable. And once they’re repented and once they’ve be n held accountable and sentenced and facing whatever punishment of penalty then organizations like prison fellowship and so on can minister to their specific situation. But until then, they don’t need to be ministered to; they need to be held accountable. They are committing a crime
JC: At the service, they talked about David and Saul -- their relationship…. Regarding David: It’s said that he was a man after God’s own heart. What does that mean to you, now?
DW: well, I understand the foundations of his throne are righteousness and justice. And we in the western church major on righteousness at the expense of justice. If it was up to most churches in the West then God would fall off his throne because it’s so out of balance; that one foundation would be really high and the other would be disproportionally low because we haven’t talked about justice. We are starting to wake up to the idea of God’s heart… he is righteous but also just. What solicits… his harshest words were for the unjust and those who oppress others and enslave others. So a person after God’s own heart is someone who acts justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with God.
JC: From my experience, it seems that battling human trafficking has been women dominated, caring for victims, etc. How do you get men excited about this kind of work?
DW: You tell them that they are bearers of the most wild, dangerous, untamed force for good in the world -- that they are made in God’s image as defenders and protectors. And that’s their God given mandate as a man to be a defender and protector of vulnerable women and children. That’s why men love the war movies, we do the stories we tell the activities we enjoy. We’re called to risk and to be dangerous. I’ve found universally that everywhere I speak men get excited about the fact that they are suddenly being engaged and suddenly invited to participate in something that is larger than them. It’s going to demand all of them. It’s fighting an evil that is far bigger than them. That will defeat them if they try and conquer it alone, but will require to work as part of an army. And so it also excites men because they are tired of the imitations -- and a lot of men I think are engaged in porn and the other imitations of real pleasure and real adventure because the church has failed to invite them to be dangerous and to follow Aslan, the roaring lion, into a world where women and children are so desperate for them to show up. And universally I’ve found that when I talk about the need for someone to show up and men with all kinds of skills -- everything from investigators, FBI agents to builders, plumbers, street sweepers -- they know in their heart of hearts that little girls and little boys and women should not be sold. And they get a fire in their belly and they want to sign up to do something about it. And I think we emasculate men when they come to church and ask them to solely participate in feminine activities like singing (well, not solely feminine) well, largely feminine, like sharing and intimacy. And the only roll we invite them to fulfill is to be an usher or an elder. And we’re not inviting them to follow the roaring lion who is righteous but is also just.
JC: [We spoke before the interview about Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity. In one chapter, Foster talks about how the redistribution of wealth cannot be central, the ecology cannot be central, even pursuit of simplicity cannot be central. Rather the Kingdom of God must be central to our lives, and anything else that comes before that is an idol.]
Last thing, going off Richard Foster how do we keep God at the center of our work, keeping actual issues from becoming an idol?
DW: I think by acknowledging that first of all this evil that lies behind the enslavement of women and children is far darker and far greater than any one man, whether he is a superhero or otherwise, can hope to defeat. And actually he needs and she needs God. Because without God at the heart of it, they will fail.
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James Colten is a campaigns assistant for Sojourners.