The Common Good
June 2011

When People Become a Commodity

by Lynne Hybels | June 2011

A club owner in Chicago can pick up the phone and "mail-order" three girls from Eastern Europe.

I was not looking for another cause to care about. Besides, human trafficking wasn't new to me. I've long supported Gary Haugen's work to break systems of enslavement through International Justice Mission. Recently I've been following Christine Caine’s anti-slavery work called the A21 Campaign. And I’ve been well aware of David Batstone's Not For Sale movement.

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So I don’t know why my soul went numb while I recently sat through a workshop on human trafficking taught by a passionate, fast-talking young woman who works for World Relief. Maybe the rapid-fire barrage of shocking statistics and horrifying stories were too much for my mind to filter, so they went straight to my heart.

Some authorities estimate that there are more than 27 million slaves in the world today. The trading of humans, according to some sources, has become one of the largest criminal industries in the world -- with a market value in excess of $32 billion, according to the U.N. Approximately 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors.

The two primary forms of slavery -- forced labor and sex trafficking -- are driven by deception and coercion. Victims of forced labor face brutal conditions in rock quarries, rice mills, brick kilns, fisheries, garment factories, and other industries around the world, earning only enough to keep them alive for another day of unending labor. Sex traffickers trade in rape; whereas drugs and guns can only be sold once, human bodies can be raped for money over and over again -- every day.

Many people assume slavery happens only in the developing world, but that's a myth. In a heartbreaking book called In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States, Nita Belles details the shocking reality of forced labor and sex trafficking in the U.S. She cites a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that more than 100,000 children are trafficked yearly in America, primarily into the sex trade. Rachel Durchslag, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said that in Chicago the average age of entry into prostitution is 14.

Another 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked from other countries into the U.S. each year, according to the State Department. In a twisted result of globalization, a club owner in Chicago can pick up the phone and "mail-order" three beautiful girls from Eastern Europe. Two weeks later a fresh shipment of three Slavic girls will be "dancing" in his club. For those who would prefer to have sex with children beyond the watchful eye of their hometown community, there’s always the sex tourism industry. In Costa Rica 80 percent of the visitors seeking sex with children are Americans.

I've sat at my computer for hours trying -- unsuccessfully -- to squeeze the horrific real-life stories that have gripped me into the 600 words of this column. In the end, I have decided just to pray that God will convince you to take one of the following actions on your own: Read Nita Belles’ book In Our Backyard. Spend 20 minutes perusing one of these websites and pray that God will break your heart: www.ijm.org, www.thea21campaign.org, www.notforsalecampaign.org, worldrelief.org. Google human trafficking in your city. Maybe there’s an organization where you could volunteer.

Write a blog post to raise awareness. Advocate for positive political action; check out www.polarisproject.org. Pick an organization and pray for its ministry. Buy products that are not produced by slave labor. Go to www.tradeasone.com to buy fair trade chocolate, coffee, and other food products produced by people who earn a fair living wage; purchase gift items such as jewelry, scarves, and purses made by women rescued from sex trafficking.

 As always when I sense the stirring of the Spirit, I pray, "God, what is mine to do?" Would you join me in that prayer on behalf of the millions of innocent victims of modern-day slavery?

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, is author of Nice Girls Don’t Change the World.

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