human trafficking

Lessons from a Trafficking Survivor

Sex slavery protest art installation in Trafalgar Square, London. Image via Angelina Dimitrova /

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, but my wish is that we all work to make a real difference every month and every day of the year. I am a survivor of child sex trafficking. But there are other forms of modern-day slavery, like labor trafficking, that are just as evil. Human trafficking affects vulnerable women, men, children, and adults in both developed and emerging countries. Whether it is a 12-year-old runaway — like I was — or a 35-year-old man looking for a better job, vulnerable people are exploited and coerced every day.

Children who have been trafficked — as I was — often do not recognize themselves as victims. It took me decades to begin to see myself as a victim. The manipulation, exploitation, and fear put in place by my trafficker set about normalizing my trauma and also convinced me that it was all my fault.

My greatest hope and purpose in life today is to reach others in as many ways as I can so that they may never have to experience what I did for so long. We must ask important questions in order to really begin to make a difference. Here are a few of the most important questions to be asking.

Leaders Across all Faiths Gather for Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Thirty-five million people are trapped in a form of modern slavery.

35 million. Let that sink in.

Last week, the campaign to end human trafficking took a large step forward. Religious leaders from the Christian Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions joined with Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to jointly declare their intention to end modern-day slavery. The Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery reads:

We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative.

The moral imperative to end human slavery transcends every religious doctrine.

Christian Scripture affirms that “there is neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ.” The Qu’ran confirms the divine dignity of each human stating, “God has given dignity to the all children of Adam” (The Noble Qur’an, 17:70). The command to “protect the stranger in our midst” (Exodus 22:21) appears 36 times in the Torah — which according to the Talmud is more often than the laws of the Sabbath or of keeping kosher. Hindu leader, Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi called human enslavement, “an open wound on the body of modern society.”

Each major religious tradition acknowledges the inherent God-given dignity of each being. An excerpt from the declaration affirms that:

In the eyes of God, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.

An international faith declaration will not change the complex causes, intricate networks and international power structures that run deeply through the roots of modern slavery.

Yet, it is a start.

Pope Francis Joins Other Faith Leaders to Demand an End to Human Trafficking

Pope Francis holds his pectoral cross.  Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Se

Pope Francis holds his pectoral cross. Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS.

Pope Francis and religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths came together at the Vatican on Dec. 2 to call for an end to slavery by 2020.

At a ceremony in which they signed a declaration to that effect, the pope joined the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and representatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb.

The leaders said it was a “human and moral imperative” to wipe out human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking. It also committed the signatories to do all they could to free the estimated 35 million people enslaved across the world.

“Modern slavery … fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity,“ the joint statement said.

“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.”

Traffickers Come in Many Forms

Kunal Mehta /

Kunal Mehta /

The 2009 movie Taken throws its audience into the world of human trafficking. An American teen girl and her friend are taken while on a European vacation and sold into the sex trade through a multinational mob-ran human trafficking ring. The girl is ultimately rescued by her secret agent father played by Liam Neeson. With an estimated gross profit of $145,000,000, it is clear that audiences liked this action-packed thriller. While entertaining, unfortunately, Taken dramatizes and stereotypes traffickers. Contrary to what's portrayed in popular movies, there are many types of traffickers beyond the stereotypical pop-culture swarthy, heavily accented, and foreign organized crime ring.

First, many corporations participate in human trafficking by turning a blind eye to the working conditions of either their workers or the workers of their suppliers, vendors, contractors, and subcontractors. For example, the chocolate and fine jewelry industries are notorious for using slave labor. Beyond these well-known industries, exploitation occurs in the garment making trade, unscrupulous adoption agencies, and agriculture.

Human Trafficking: Community Is Essential

Kev Draws /

Kev Draws /

Diedrich Boenhoeffer wrote about it. Pastors preach about it. Churches strive for it.


It is a concept that has had a long history in the American church. It can come in many forms. Bringing a meal to a stressed out new mother. A church ice cream social. Youth group. Singles ministry.

But what does community look like when working on a social issue?

For human trafficking, that community comes in the form of partnerships. The 2000 federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) originally addressed human trafficking by creating the three 'Ps': prevention, protection, and prosecution. But after implementation occurred, the anti-trafficking community realized there was something missing. Thus, in 2008, the fourth 'P' —partnership — was added.

Slavery, Surrogacy, and Society: Making a Future in the Wilderness

Magdalene is a residential program that helps women who have survived lives of violence and prostitution.

The 2013 Global Slavery Index reports that nearly 30 million women, children, and men are enslaved around the world today. Their slavery has many forms. For millions, especially women and girls, it is prostitution, forced marriage, or other sexual and reproductive exploitation. Others - an estimated 16.4 million - are forced into labor in spheres ranging from domestic work and agriculture to construction and manufacturing. Others are tricked, kidnapped, and/or sold for illegal adoption, forced begging, armed combat, forced crime, and organ harvesting. As globalization continues to increase demand for cheap labor and movement across borders, human trafficking - sale and movement of people for forced labor, including prostitution - has become the “fastest growing international crime.” It nets traffickers billions of dollars in profit each year.

The Modern-Day Orphans and Widows

Human trafficking illustration, Semmick Photo /

Human trafficking illustration, Semmick Photo /

James' assertation that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress"(1:27) is nothing new in the church. This verse gets pulled out on service days and when seeking funds for short-term mission trips. Its widespread usage makes it easy for us to see the orphan and widow as abstract conceptions. At best they are just another good we should do and at worst, we see them as an outdated notion that does not really apply to the modern American church.

However, the plight of these two underrepresented and often ignored groups — women and children — has modern impacts. These two tell the tale of human trafficking today. Human trafficking is an emerging human rights issue both globally and in the United States. With an estimated 14,500 - 17,500 trafficked through the U.S. each year, it is essential for the church to take notice. The orphan and widow make up the majority of human trafficking survivors.

10 Ways to Fight Sex Trafficking

klublu /

klublu /

Currently there are more people in slavery than any other time in history. In response to this, there are hundreds of anti-human trafficking organizations throughout the world. People are working tirelessly for justice and restoration for the victims.

There are the men and women who are rescued, some are just children. There are also the rescuers, the judges and lawyers who bring justice, and the psychologists who help to rebuild wholeness. Countless numbers of people support the end and rescue of those enslaved by trafficking – especially sex trafficking. But where are the “Johns” - the men[1] who play the role of Demanders in the Supply and Demand economics of this billion dollar international industry? I’d like to put some money toward restoring them.

Aren’t they an important aspect to this equation? Women and girls would not be victimized sometimes 40 times a day without those who pay for it. The captors would move on to more lucrative business ventures if there weren’t men willing to fork over money again and again for something that the world has decried as both illegal and immoral.

I’m surprised that this plays little to no role in our larger conversations about being serious in ending the sex slave trade. What is it that these men are seeking? Why are they paying for sex? Why are they choosing to have sex with someone who is clearly not there willfully? How much is power at play in this situation? What about the men’s ability to be in stable relationships? Why is there still a demand for enslaved persons?

Buying sex from enslaved people does not happen in a vacuum. There is a progression that includes various aspects. If we are serious about ending the sex slave trade we will need to address some serious issues within every nation in the world, particularly those with male-dominated societies that promote male aggression, provide women with limited or no educational and economic opportunities, and deprive men of solid and symbiotic relationships where they can find genuine intimacy and self-expression for their feelings.

Might I suggest 10 ways we can fight sex-trafficking:

Ending the Modern-day Slave Trade

Hands tied with rope. Photo courtesy of ChameleonsEye via Shutterstock

At the beginning of the 21st century, Americans are used to thinking of slavery as a horror, yes, but one that was banished from these shores nearly 150 years ago. If only that were so.

The trafficking of men, women, and children for labor or sexual exploitation — or both — fuels an underground economy of misery in our midst in many major metropolitan areas and even in rural America. Immigrants without legal status, children in foster care — all those with tenuous community roots — are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the U.S. and that the average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim here is 13 to 14 years old. According to the DOJ, a pimp can make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year, and the average pimp controls four to six girls. The United Nations estimates that traffickers generate more than $9 billion within the U.S. for both labor and sex trafficking.

Ending the Demand for Human Trafficking

Human trafficking concept, Stephen VanHorn /

Human trafficking concept, Stephen VanHorn /

Twelve year old Kathy* became caught up in a web of violence and forced participation in the commercial sex industry. She was taken from city to city and serviced many, doing what they wanted. Pregnant with her son, she found a way out or as she says, “God reached in and pulled me out of hell.” Now, many years later, she gives testimony to her story and strives to help other women “out of the business.”

My experience is with women like Kathy. By federal law, any minor exploited by prostitution or pornography is considered trafficked, and I am amazed at the courage of these survivors.

January is the National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Have you been made more aware or knowledgeable? Do you know that human trafficking is defined as “modern day slavery” because it controls a person through force, fraud or coercion — physical or psychological — to exploit the person for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both? Women, children, and men are all affected by this crime.