::: 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)
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.
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.4 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
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