Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Seven

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::: WHEN IT'S HARD TO PRAY FOR ... THEM :::

"Jesus wants to give you five things: extravagant compassion, moral clarity, sacrificial courage, persevering hope, and refreshing joy." - Gary Haugen

What are we to make of the offender? The john, the pimp, the prostitution client, the parents that sold their 5-year old daughter to a trafficker, the patron at the strip club, the teacher obsessed with porn? Our world certainly doesn’t seem to be about mercy, certainly not extending it, especially to those who are in clear need OF mercy. It may not exactly be your first impulse to feel mercy towards men (and women) in these acts.

Here comes the disclaimer you may have come to recognize: over these years, the Holy Spirit has been illuminating my eyes, my heart, and moving my feet to the concept of justice, especially in regards to sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. Thanks for joining with me, bearing with me, all these weeks.

There is an illusion in the sex industry – it’s a farse, a lie, and the devil knows how to work it, really, really well. “What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.” – Proverbs 19:22. When we get right down to it, that’s the core, and that “love” is twisted, peverted, and synthesized to attain power and control over someone else, fill a lonely void in the cavern of a human soul with money or authority or status or pleasure.

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But none of these things will last or satisfy. In a recent study by DePaul College of Law, “...most pimps are “average Joes” who were victims of sexual exploitation themselves … The majority of interviewees were victims of violence during their childhood. 88% of them said that they were physically abused in their childhood, and 76% of them said that they were victims of sexual abuse. 88% of them indicated that they grew up with domestic violence. 84% of them stated that they witnessed substance abuse in their home environment during their childhood.”

"Sex trafficking is like fire: fire needs fuel, oxygen, and ignition, otherwise it goes out. Trafficking needs vulnerability, criminal enterprise, and the market for sex to thrive." – Bret Mavrich

This is in no way watering down, excusing, or justifying these reprehensible actions, please hear me loud and clear, there must be consequences for wrong actions. Even in understanding this brand of evil, it’s still evil. A time will come when everyone will come to the realization of unrepentant sin. The medley of empathy and consequence, compassion, grace, and forgiveness has always perplexed me, something I find myself wrestling with. Maybe that’s why Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection is so startling … and paradoxical. And that’s why I’m not the Judge. And I’m writing as someone who will be judged in the End.

We are not in the place of God. For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” – Hebrews 10:30. By the enablement of the Holy Spirit, as lovers of Christ, you and I both need to move from condemning to compassion, and to grapple in light of God and His Scriptures what that looks like in our daily lives, in our families, with our friends, our coworkers, our Twitter followers, and acquaintances in Facebooklandia.

Maybe some of you reading know John 3:16 by heart. Maybe you know it as the “Gospel in a Nutshell.” But read on …“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:17. And what about, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." – Matthew 5:7? It’s a lot easier to recite that Christ died for the pedophile locked in his sin just as much as he died for me. But to live in that mercy towards another human being who has hurt you, seeing each person as someone else’s child, as well as in the very image of the Father, is not easy. The fact alone that this can be so complicated, speaks to our human condition and to our reliance on Mercy Himself to enable His mercy in us. Joe Boot, an RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) adjunct associate and former RZIM director in Canada puts it well,

“Without an awareness of our fallen condition, there is no good news and consequently no conflict. Nevertheless, the pain, violence, and confusion that fill human experience demonstrate that the Bible tells us the truth about ourselves … Yet we must always be mindful that this is not a battle waged against human beings but against, “ the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” - Ephesians 6:12.

I guess this is what I’m saying: there’s a prisoner in a Thai go-go bar, a prisoner paying for the girl in the go-go bar, and a prisoner when we harbor bitterness and resentment and unforgiveness. We are all unfathomonably broken-up people, searching for meaning, in desperation for the Living Water. The misery we inflict upon each other can be unbearable. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe … It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galations 3:22, 5:1.

I appreciate what a man named Ohad, once a trafficker for 11 years, now married and working with vulnerable youth to prevent them from going into the sex industry says: “I’m ashamed that I used to be a person like that. I can’t even call myself a person. It’s sad. It’s really, really sad. But God is bigger than that. I was captive of one thing, she was captive of another thing. But God wants to set the captives free.

Freedom

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners … “ – Isaiah 61:1.

Today, I implore you to pray for both the used AND the user, the exploited AND the exploiter. Perhaps you need to ask the Holy Spirit for the will to pray for the latter. Intercession for both is vital.

 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” – Matthew 9:13   :::   “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6

If you’d like to read Holy Hen House’s five previous posts on the difficult, but crucial matter of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, they can be found here via these links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six. Thank you for taking the time to read and to pray.

<ps> I will be taking some time off from writing, but have been hoping to create a list of helpful resources on this topic for anyone interested. Maybe that time will come, maybe not. But I’d much rather let God pursue you and the resources He brings to your eyes in His time, as it came to light that it wasn’t in the making for this “last” post (trust me, you don’t want to read those loooong rambles, at least not yet, ha!). Meanwhile, please feel free to contact me via email at kristie.cooper.kc@gmail.com with any thoughts or questions!

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Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Five

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 ::: ENGAGING :::

Featuring Gina Pantzlaff, Milwaukee Child Welfare

“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” - G.K. Chesterton

A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation/sex trafficking (Part One, Part Two, Part Three - Interview with Emily Matson, Vintage Pearls, and Part Four - Interview with Katie Linn, Exploit No More). I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks.

Our interviews wrap up for this series with my dear and beautiful friend Gina Pantzlaff. After meeting Gina in 2004 at college, I have been beyond blessed by her company, even getting to be one of her roommates my senior year of college. It’s been startling watching where God has taken her, how He’s used her, and how He’s glorified through her.

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Gina graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with BAs In Psychology and Theatre. Upon graduating she toured around the upper midwest with two children’s theatre companies, “The one thing I noticed while touring, “ writes Gina, “was that all children need the same thing - a sense of love and belonging.” She goes on to say,

“For me, being raised in a safe and stable household, I have always had this feeling. Not only did I have my family and friends giving me this love, I also had my Savior to help guide me. I decided I wanted to help others feel a sense of belonging and safety, so I looked into becoming a social worker. I felt I would be able to help strengthen families and a child’s sense of belonging, so for the past three years, I have been working for a nonprofit agency in Milwaukee. I started there as an Ongoing Case Manager, an area where we worked with parents to create a safe environment for their children so they could be returned to them after being in and out of home care. After working in Ongoing Services, my focus area moved to family connectedness, playing an active role in developing and creating father engagement programs and family connectedness programs. I currently serve as an Engagement Coach training and educating my agency on family searching, engagement, and relationship building.”

 Gina explained that her eyes were opened to trafficking and sexual exploitation by her job:

“Since I work with children who have been abused and neglected, working with this population has honestly caused me to have to lean on God more and more. Hearing about and seeing the aftermath of sexual abuse is probably the most challenging because it will affect a child’s relationships for the rest of their lives. I will never forget being at a conference where the main topic was the sexual abuse and torture of children. As I listened to case after case of children being mutilated by all the sexual abuse they suffered and/or being sold among adults for sex, I felt myself feeling sick. I started thinking, ‘Why am I in a profession that this is a topic of discussion?’

That moment was when a realized how important it is to have children connected to positive people so they have someone to go to when they need help. When children are reported missing, it is a team effort, and I’m thankful to have been involved in helping locate some of our missing teens that we believed were being trafficked.

But then I thought, what if we would have had relatives or people who cared about these children looking for them? Maybe we would have been able to find them more quickly versus a few social workers looking them?

Every experience in child welfare was one I have never experienced before. I grew up in a small town, have a wonderful family and church community. No one ever really worried about the safety of their kids in my town. Most of us just had the rule to come home when the street lights came on. If you think about the most vulnerable children in our society, our foster children would be at the top of the list. They have been through traumatic experiences and are not always connected to healthy adults to help them through. They look for someone to show them the slightest bit of acceptance and belonging and they will latch on to whoever gives it to them. To give reference, children in foster care are twice as more likely to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than a US soldier coming home from war! It is not uncommon for me to meet 12-18 year olds who are being prostituted here in Milwaukee or who have been trafficked to other states. Part of my job is utilizing family to help us locate these children.

One thing that amazes me is the children in the system who run away from their safe placements to their pimps. Think about it, they are in a safe location, but run away to the person who exploits them the most. I believe that the reason this happens is because they feel this person understands them and that they now belong to something. It is comfortable for them - that is what they know.

In my first year I wanted to leave. My heart could not handle it. I was consistently having nightmares and not able to sleep. It is still hard to make sense out of how someone could choose to damage a child so much. I have no reason for why God gave these children so many challenges and has blessed me so much. Without looking to God for guidance, I do not think I could emotionally do what I do.

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The turning point for me was talking with a Christian social worker friend who reminded me to look for Christ’s love in every situation. I thought, ‘How did I not think of this? I am the daughter of two Lutheran grade school teachers?!’ As soon as I did that I was able to see Christ in what I did and started looking more to Him for guidance. Although I cannot share what I believe, I can live and lead by His example, treating others with continual love and compassion. To be honest, it has become easier once I started looking to Christ. I have been able to put more of the stress, fear, frustration, and anger on Him. Having someone help me carry the load has been such a blessing.

However, there is always a child, always a case that you worry about, and I have to continually check in with myself on how I am coping with my job. I work with some challenging individuals, but I aim to remember that Christ died for us equally This helps me keep some perspective, as well as the will to continue to do this extremely difficult work. Because I put my trust in Him, being able to go to work with a clearer head, puts me at a good place to talk to the children and families I meet. The way I see it, I will continually look to learn about God’s Grace through both the good and bad in my job.

I do the work I do because there is a need.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21.

Jean-Jean-Coffee-Bean (endearingly so), we are ever so grateful to you for taking the time to share your thoughts and your voyage. Personally, I know your words are not just said, but lived. You hit home a resounding theme: whether it’s through friendship or mentoring (aka discipleship!), fostering, adoption, whatever, the need for relational involvement, in all of its confusion and disarray and baggage, is necessary for engaging the crises of sex trafficking and exploitation, especially when you feel the most inadequate.

If you’d like to read Holy Hen House’s four previous posts on the difficult, but crucial matter of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, they can be found here via these links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. Thank you for taking the time to read and to pray.

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Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Four

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::: ENGAGING :::

Featuring Katie Linn, Exploit No More

“It was then I felt the Holy Spirit saying: ‘You know, Christine, most of My church thinks they are compassionate because they cry or, like you, they feel bad when they see injustice. That’s not compassion—that’s just emotion. Compassion is when you cross the street.” – Christine Caine, The A21 Campaign

A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation/sex trafficking (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks. 

I would like to introduce another beautiful lady in our series of interviews on those fighting sexual exploitation and trafficking (for the previous post featuring Emily Matson of Vintage Pearls please follow link here). This morning, welcome Katie Linn, the Executive Director of Exploit No More—an organization working to end child sex trafficking in Milwaukee, WI.

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In response to the love of Jesus, Exploit No More’s vision is to establish long-term rehabilitative care to child victims of sex trafficking; to build community awareness about the problem; and to help others advocate for sound anti-trafficking policies and legislation. Katie writes,

“First, I have to say that I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story with the wonderful readership of Holy Hen House! We’re currently in the early stages of fundraising and building a plan for the first sex trafficking safe-house for juveniles in the state of Wisconsin! It’s a very exciting time for the Board and the people who support our critical mission. You can learn more about our work and our vision at http://www.exploitnomore.org.

My draw to Exploit No More’s vision is in direct response to God’s call for us to defend the most vulnerable among us. Throughout scripture, we see that Jesus’ love for the oppressed and marginalized isn’t figurative. It isn’t removed. And it isn’t a one-time transaction. Instead, Jesus is present with the voiceless in a way that is tangible and radical, especially given the culture at that time. In my life, I have heard so clearly that my call is to be a resource to all who feel hopeless—especially little girls who, deep in their hearts and minds, believe that their lives have no value.”

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I asked Katie how God had opened her eyes to sexual exploitation and trafficking, how He had moved her feet to action, and this was her response:

 “I was working as an intern for a legal program in Charlotte, NC. Our program offered legal services for adult sex trafficking victims and other victims of sexual exploitation. Most women we worked with were terrified to approach law enforcement for help, but our program offered special protective services that enabled some women to feel comfortable enough to come forward with their stories. My role was to do intake interviews with victims to see if they qualified for our services.  Most women were able to tell the stories of the horrific trauma they were forced to endure with an astonishing lack of emotion. How could they talk about such graphic sexual violence without any inflection in their voice?

I quickly learned that this emotionless response was how many victims of sexual trauma learn to cope and live, day-by-day. One incredible young woman I worked with was only 14. Her response to my initial interview was more emotional, almost as if she was reliving the acts that were done to her as she retold them to me. She gripped the handles to the chair and sobbed and jerked her body around as she told me what had happened to her. She spared no detail. By the end of the interview, I knew that my role in this work was to retell her story and the stories of others girls like her who have been forced to endure such horrific acts.

It’s difficult to listen to the stories of people who have been sexually exploited without being moved. The explicit and excruciating detail of some stories has shaken me to my core. If I’m honest, when I first started doing this work, there were days when I laid my head down at night and wondered why and how our loving Father could allow this evil to continue to exist.

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Even without coming into direct contact with victims, people are often overwhelmed by the very idea of sex trafficking happening in our own backyard. So often, we think of young kids being forced into prostitution as some far off problem, for some far away land. People are surprised, overwhelmed, and hurt when they learn that Wisconsin continues to have one of the highest rates of sex trafficking of minors in the country. Just this past July, the FBI reported that Milwaukee law enforcement recovered the second highest number of exploited children in the nation after a one-night, cross-country counter-trafficking raid.

One night. The second highest number of exploited children in the country.

I often refer to my moments of doubt, fear, and anger as my Habakkuk moments. I say this because my prayers can sometimes turn to complaints, similar to those of the prophet’s complaints to God. In the book of Habakkuk we see him somewhat challenge God when he pleads, “Why do you make me look at injustice? How long must I pray for help, but you do not listen.” (Habakkuk 1: 2-4)

Like Habakkuk, the injustice I often see makes me feel like I should complain to God. “Why do you tolerate this horrible evil? Why do you allow such devaluing acts of violence? Why do you stand idly by?” But in my moments of doubt and self-pity, He always replies:  “…Why do you?”

We all have a part to play. We can pray. Mentor kids or teens. Volunteer our time with friends who care about this cause. Share news stories via social media. Watch documentaries about trafficking with our circle of influence. Give financially to organizations who are dedicated to ending this injustice. Read about anti-trafficking laws in our home state. Attend human trafficking seminars.

At Exploit No More, we seek to build a coalition of people who engage in what ways that seem ordinary—the “everyday ways.” Not all of us are called to work directly with victims or to lead the charge in policymaking, but there are small steps that each of us can take to change the way our families and communities think about this issue. Without these steps, greater, systemic change can’t gain traction. It takes all of us dialoguing about this tragedy to change the narrative for the girls and boys in our own backyard.

For change to happen, we have to take ownership of this issue. It is our issue. It’s hurting our kids, in our community. Rewriting the story starts with each of us—in the giving of our prayer, money, time, words, and platforms. Regardless of how we engage, we must engage. We are His hands and feet, called to love the most vulnerable among us above ourselves.”

Katie, we are so grateful for your presence on this blog and in the Milwaukee community. To note, Katie’s new role with Exploit No More occurred simultaneously with her sharing on Holy Hen House, and I ask that you please join me in prayer that God will equip Katie and Exploit No More as they journey forward. They are exceptionally blessed to have her in this role. Especially if you’re in the Milwaukee area, please take a look to see the ways you can get involved with Exploit No More’s work: Volunteer, Cultivate Others, Parter With Us, or connect on Facebook.

“When we murmur, ‘God? In me, I can do nothing’  – this is exactly the moment when God says He can now do something in us.” – Ann Voskamp

If you'd like to read Holy Hen House's three previous posts on the difficult, but crucial matter of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, they can be found here via these links: Part One and Part Two and Part Three. Thank you for taking the time to read and to pray.

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Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part Two

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::: JUSTICE :::

Why in Romans 8:15 are we described as being ‘adopted’ rather than God’s ‘real’ children? Alison Thomas, itinerant speaker for youth at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, was ministering to teen girls in Cambodia when she was asked this question.

The girls who were asking this question were living in a shelter because their birth parents had abandoned them. Many of them had been routinely beaten and raped by their fathers from an early age. They could not comprehend what it meant to be adopted into a family by the grace of a loving father.

Some of these girls were rescued out of the brothels and the sex-trafficking business by the founder of the shelter, Reverend Setan Lee. Lee was a former prisoner of the killing fields who once dreamed of becoming a doctor but now does healing of another kind. What can be so fittingly described as his “healing fields” include a women’s shelter, a trade school, and an orphanage. How does one go about rescuing children out of a brothel? Setan explained that a ransom needed to be paid to redeem the girls since they were in bondage to the brothel boss; everything they owned came from their boss. No matter how much work these girls did, they would never be able to earn enough on their own to repay their debt and buy their freedom. In one sense, these children have already received adoption, as Setan has paid the necessary penalty to rescue them and place them in a community together. At the same time, they still anticipate their adoption in its completeness, when they will individually commune with a personal father face to face.1 Doesn’t this story so beautifully illustrate our Father’s plan of salvation for each of us, God’s redemption design, His very nature being one of Justice and Mercy and Righteousness, among many others, rooted in His astounding grace for human kind?

A few weeks ago, HHH began a series on sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. Throughout this course, I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” – Psalm 89:14

For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who crave more of God, and who yearn to draw closer (how to behold His Mystery?!), it all starts with wonder, adoration for who our God IS … and who we are not. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” – Job 38:4-7. An Old Testament writer acclaims, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” - Psalm 111:10. And as C.S. Lewis’s pens of Christ as Aslan, “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

This is the Magnificent, the Gentle, the Just, the Valiant, the Almighty GOD, who seeks out the one lost sheep from the 99, who will pay back trouble to those who trouble you, who willfully took on infant, helpless skin to enter our murk and muck in a heroic quest for the salvation of His people. 

 

What more of justice? God’s very character demands it: He IS it! Is this not part of who God IS? “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” – Isaiah 30:18.

The freedictionary.com states that justice is the quality of being just; fairness. The principle of moral rightness; equity. Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8. Justice is not only the righting of wrongs, it’s a bond of generosity, social concern (social justice), AND rectifying justice (legal justice). The word for justice is the Hebrew term mishpat, and the term for mercy is the Hebrew word chesedh, God’s unconditional grace and compassion. I love how minister and author Tim Keller writes, “To walk humbly with God is to know him intimately and to be attentive to what he desires and loves. And what does that consist of? The text says to “do justice and love mercy,” which seem at first glance to be two different things, but they are not. Mishpat puts the emphasis on the action, chesedh puts it on the attitude (or motive) behind the action. To walk with God, then, we must do justice, out of merciful love … This is why, if you look at every place the word is used in the Old Testament (in it’s various forms, occurring more than two hundred times), several classes of persons continually come up. Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor/oppressed—those who have been called “the quartet of the vulnerable.”2

As God is often introduced as “father to the fatherless, defender of widows” - Psalm 68:4-5, He identifies with the powerless, and even literally became powerless in child’s flesh. How our God stands apart! In virtually all of the other ancient cultures of the world, the power of the gods was channeled through and identified with the elites of society: kings, priests, military captains. Not the outcasts.3 “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? - Exodus 15:11.

Tim Keller goes on to explain that the mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups. Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power. Shouldn't we, then, too?

If God’s heart is for justice, redemption and restoration, shouldn’t our character then reflect His character, in every facet of our lives? Shouldn’t the things God cares about be the things we care about? 

How do we live out justice practically and truthfully? Maybe it's as simple and as complex as God is: we do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God.4 It's one thing to acknowledge the profound value of our neighbor, and it's another to live this. So then we "do justice" with our time, our giving, in our families, our goals, abilities, our relationships, purchases and finances, where we’re rooted, our very lives! These “ours” are not even ours in the first place. Even me, myself, is not my own (if that’s not grammatically incorrect, I don’t know what is!) The fact is that everything is on loan to us. It is a pure gift from a Father who loves His children more than we can comprehend. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your true and proper worship.” – Romans 12:1. As children of the King, justice is meant to be part of our very identity in Christ! “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats … learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:11,17

The more God makes me new, the more I see justice as a matter of obedience and faithfulness. Not out of guilt or full-filling some check-list, but out of gratitude and joy: 

“True Christians consider themselves not as satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude.” – William Wilberforce.

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears.” – Zechariah 7:9-11. We may feel the sting of all the injustice against us, but we neglect our heart’s role in this life. As one of C.S. Lewis’ great literary influences, George MacDonald, wrote, “Man is not made for justice from his fellow, but for love, which is greater than justice.” This looks outward, humility and compassion considers that the other person is hurting just as well, and meekness relinquishes our strength to God’s, for ultimate judgement is His responsibility: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.” - Romans 12:19.

How appalling God’s patience can seem to us! “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9. Everyday people do horrible things to each other - out of "honor", out of "love", out of so many false gods. “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors – and they have no comforter.” – Ecclesiastes 4:1. If you were in a hopeless situation, wouldn't you want your neighbor to care?

Is it possible God is patient towards you?

It’s scary how easy it is for me to deny the evil, the wickedness, and selfishness of my own heart. When we see evil like in the sex trade or sexual abuse in the home, we bellow, “I can’t believe someone would do that?!” NO, dear reader. Shouldn’t the pose of outcry be one in humility, “I can’t believe my heart is capable of that!?” We are no different! We pour our own vitriol on people on a daily basis; with words, with thoughts, with resentments, withholding forgiveness in a bondage of its own, and most often through our INaction – which is so powerful because it carries with it the message of apathy and indifference and pride.

Do you sicken at the sight of your own sin? Our hearts all suffer from the same condition, showcasing the same capability of depravity. Can’t we all pull out our “Fallen” diagnosis slip? We all have corners of darkness we flee to, although not illumined as the pedophile in the newspaper, it is just as black.

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Our sin garishly flaunts the beast within us and the beast that reigns over the dominion of darkness, our ugly offenses that sent Christ to the cross, and a beautiful dependence on the Son of the Almighty God. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” – John 8:7. Jesus kneels, draws a line, and stands committed at our side. His grace is a marvel. My shame? It’s on the cross.

If you’re craving to live a life in accordance with the Bible, than the concept and call to justice are inescapable.5 We as believers need to be the influencers, not the ones influenced. If we’re going to talk about sexual exploitation, trafficking, or pornography, than be prepared to wrestle with tough, reflective questions, and the interweaving justice (or injustice) issues of orphan care, the immigrant, the homeless, single mothers, and so much more. In our sanitized church culture, it is far too easy to condemn anyone we see living in a “sinful lifestyle”. But millions of women and children around the world, and in our own neighborhoods, are being forced or coerced into selling their bodies and then handing the money over to their oppressor, their pimps (Part One) … In many churches, sex is a taboo issue, and the crime of sex trafficking has been relegated to the courts and governments, if it even makes it there.6 But don’t the things that are hidden have the most power over us? It’s a hard issue to even think about, so we don’t. It is a crazy temptation to hold an uncomfortable truth at arm’s length, but God’s says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right … think about such things.” - Philippians 4:8. In our present state, won’t light and dark exist side by side? When we ignore abuse, violence, and evil, we grieve God’s heart.  Disengaging from this is the quickest way to move injustice deeper. As Christ-followers, yes, we must go there. This is a call for personal involvement, and no believer is meant to sit on the bench. - Matthew 16:24, John 13:35

As the story goes, The Times once sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” G.K. Chesterton, responded simply,

"Dear Sir,
  I am.
  Yours,
  G.K. Chesterton.”

Right on G.K.C. Me too. Our own hearts need tending, and we need to mourn our own sinfulness, our apathy, selfishness, self-reliance, and confess it into the hands of our Father.

Coming right down to it, the journey of justice is a breaking of our own pride and a learning to love people the way Christ does, especially those that, frankly, are hard or confusing or unpleasant to love. Even if we don’t really know what that means, even if we don’t want to face what that may mean. That kind of love is supernatural - unnatural - and that is the mark and clothing of a Christian: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18.

You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. - Anne Lamott

:::  Where is God moving you today?  :::

 

CITES

1 – Zacharias, Ravi. Featuring Alison Thomas, Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, pg. 57-58.

2 – Keller, Tim. Generous Justice, pg. 3

3 – Ramachandra, Vinoth. Quoted by Tim Keller in Generous Justice, pg. 6

4 – Keller, Tim. Generous Justice, pg. 18

5 – Keller, Tim. Generous Justice, pg. 18

6 – Carr, Johnny. Orphan Justice, pg. 29.

 

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Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking // Part One

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::: SEXUAL EXPLOITATION & SEX TRAFFICKING :::

This is an ugly topic, not an easy thing to think about. And even as I write about this, the devil and my insecurities get hot on my face. You’re going to steer people away from this blog. Who’s going to read this? People won’t like you anymore. Bah! Do I need to get over myself or what!? “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galations 1:10)

Moving on.

Over these years, the Holy Spirit has been illuminating my eyes, my heart, and moving my feet to the concept of justice, especially in regards to sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and I pray you will come alongside, gentle reader. I will be speaking in some candid, explicit terms, so if you’re a young adult, please ask permission before reading. Better yet, read it alongside an adult. Before going further, would you mind praying with me? Please pray that the Spirit will soften your heart and align it to His? That He will not be quenched, and that He’ll remain in your presence. My sincerest thanks.

Sexual exploitation is the taking advantage of a person to make a personal gain or profit. Personally or commercially, it is the abusing of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes.1 The largest form of recruitment is through trafficking: the enlisting, harboring, selling, transporting, and buying persons into or within a country by force, deception, and inducement. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “the fastest growing crime in the world.” This global and domestic atrocity is harrowing: mainly for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, this illegal trade enslaves an estimated 27 million men, women, and children globally, where 1-2% are ever rescued, and affects every nation across the globe.2 From Milwaukee to Moldova, it’s a crazed, complicated, massive web, where the link between commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking is inborn, interconnected.

As there is a pressing demand for commercial sex, traffickers will supply for the millions in an international and domestic “marketplace:” in brothels, strip clubs, truck stops, escort services, massage parlors, brothels, sex tourism, the pornography industry (have you been on Craigslist?!), street prostitution, arranged marriages, you name it. St. Paul-based nonprofit Breaking Free reports that on average, domestic sex workers are forced to service 10 men per day, while international prostitutes service as many as 40 men per day. According to UNICEF, the average age range of first time prostitutes is between 13 and 14 years old  in the US.

When I think of the concerns of a 13-year old girl, it’s usually more to do with homework, whether or not a boy likes them, or who their best friend is … not how many tricks they need to turn in order to avoid being beaten by their pimp.

Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking is a lucrative business. Unlike drugs or weapons, their victims can be re-used. That means there are no one-and-done “products” in this industry. This is a business producing, according to the United Nations, over $32 billion every year in profits. That’s more than the annual revenue of the MLB, the NBA, the NFL, and the NHL combined!

The spectrum of coercion, fraud and force is varied across the globe. One may be lured in with the promise of a better life, responding to a phony job ad, charmed, at least initially, by an “attentive" boyfriend or father figure (concealing he is a pimp), kidnapped, abducted off the streets, from home, or from an orphanage. Johnny Carr, author of Orphan Justice explains that being that there is an estimated 153 million orphans and vulnerable children worldwide, human traffickers have a guaranteed continued market to draw from, forcing kids to work as child soldiers, slave laborers, prostitutes, porn stars, or engage in a host of other inhumane practices. No one will ever know they are missing! Children are sold into slavery by their own financially desperate parents. Poverty is a factor, and yet exploring the concept further, parental complicity further complicates the issue. A parent will sell their child for sex in exchange for “luxury” items” – tvs, cell phones, drugs, alcohol. In certain Asian cultures, it is honoring to one’s parents to prostitute yourself. A parent is prized in receiving a daughter, so if one ever has financial difficulty, there is a built-in “security.”

In many countries, traffickers bribe law enforcement officials to turn a blind eye, sending a clear signal that buying and selling a human being is completely acceptable. Legal consequences for drug dealing are often more severe than for buying or selling human beings. All of this only compounds the already moral, cultural, and deeply spiritual issue.

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If a person is trafficked, they are secretly taken all across the country, through gangs, the mafia, other organized crime, or law enforcement. From there they are sold into prostitution or elsewhere, including the pornography industry, where recent research is suggesting that victims are trapped in both trades. For example, a victim is forced to watch or participate in pornography to show what is expected of them. You don’t necessarily just decide one day that you’re done, or that you want out. With no intervention, one is forced into taking or turns to alcohol or drugs, often a means of control – a way for the business to guarantee its products’ dependency. The Journal of Trauma Practice reported that when asked, 89% of women in prostitution want to escape the life but don’t know where to go for help. In one study from 1993, 75% of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide – this is not a happy working environment.

Traffickers are incredibly skillful and patient in discovering vulnerabilities and thus exploiting the most susceptible in our societies. Predominantly girls and women (but men and boys too) caught up in the commercial sexual industry are coming from numerous layers of trauma, homes where there has been physical and/or sexual abuse or abandonment. When it comes to prostitution, a pattern many times precedes the choice, if there is one, to prostitute. In exploited positions, 95% of women have been sexually abused.3 And then there’s the runaways or “thrown-away” youths living on the streets. 48 hours, experts report, is the average time frame in which a person is trafficked after running away.

As the FBI illustrates, “Women and girls are sold to traffickers, locked up in rooms or brothels for weeks or months, drugged, terrorized, and raped repeatedly. These continual abuses make it easier for the traffickers to control their victims. The captives are so afraid and intimidated that they rarely speak out against their traffickers, even when faced with an opportunity to escape … Similar to cases involving Stockholm Syndrome, these victims, who have been abused over an extended period of time, begin to feel an attachment to the perpetrator. This paradoxical psychological phenomenon makes it difficult for law enforcement to breach the bond of control, albeit abusive, the trafficker holds over the victim … Sometimes, the traffickers use violence, such as gang rape and other forms of abuse, to force the youths to work for them and remain under their control. One victim, a runaway from Baltimore County, Maryland, was gang raped by a group of men associated with the trafficker, who subsequently staged a “rescue.” He then demanded that she repay him by working for him as one of his prostitutes. In many cases, however, the victims simply are beaten until they submit to the trafficker’s demands.”

Even if they could flee, the traffickers have taken all their money, all their forms of identity, they would have no ability to support themselves and will often return to the very trafficker who is continually abusing them. The abuse is whole – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – a victim is left with nothing. A trafficker will know what to say and how and when to say it. They take away choices, one's innocence, identity, worth as a human being, and ultimately – one’s hope.

Prostitutes, what has become somewhat the archetype for sexual exploitation, are often looked at as women who just like sex or want money. Aren’t they just all sex fiends, obsessed with that kind of attention from guys, greedy, stiletto-laded, chintzy-lingerie- wearing, trashy crack-whores? Who gives these harsh labels? We do. This is someone we all need to love. But do we? Shouldn’t it profoundly matter to us as believers that God is concerned with these women, these girls and boys who are made in His very image, objects of His startling mercy and compassion? Why is it easier to give grace to some and exempt others, hold up our judgments instead, write them off as if Christ’s sacrifice was not all encompassing, that we are the gatekeepers to heaven?

The reality is that out of fear or a desire to be cared for (I’m using “care” loosely), a prostitute may not even want to leave her pimp. The abuse that is known is sometimes better than the future that is not.Dr. Dan Allendar clarifies, "A women generally doesn’t get onto the streets without an ally of some kind, most often a pimp. Prostitution is a system of complete manipulation, exploitation, threat, violence, but all fundamentally under the fear and deep sense of shame that I have no value." If you’re going to control someone, get into their minds. Dietra King, a prostitute who returned to the trade after being interviewed for the 2011 documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls explains that it is because of girls' pimps that it is so difficult to get out of prostitution because women are brainwashed. She goes on, “It’s all they’ve ever known, they feel like there is no help … I woke up to a gun being cocked in my mouth. It just scared me so bad, he had me call my family, say goodbye to them. I went back to him after awhile, cause that’s who I felt I was supposed to be with, that’s what my life is."

So what? What do we do? Maybe the question we need to ask ourselves first is this: does she matter, or have I placed her on God’s discard pile?

Will you pray on this? Praying is not in-action, although Satan so cunningly makes us feel so. Personally, you may find that you’ll be more equipped, humbled, and compassionate to enter the fray. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, and He has been doing some INCREDIBLE things through prayer on this issue. Check out what just happened on July 2: http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/01/world/americas/mexico-human-trafficking. Praise God!

Please pray for the used AND the user, the exploited and the exploiter. Maybe you need to ask the Holy Spirit for the will to pray for the latter. Intercession for BOTH is vital. And pray on your own heart (Psalm 139:23). Here’s a great organization facing this issue head-on, engaging the call to prayer: exoduscry.com 

 

CITES

1 - U.S. Legal: http://definitions.uslegal.com/s/sexual-exploitation/

2 - The A21 Campaign: http://www.thea21campaign.org/

3 - Dr. Dan Allender, interviewed in Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, 2011

4 - Lauran Bethell, interviewed in Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, 2011

 

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