This is part-one of a two-part series on sex trafficking and the inner-city church. This article will outline some things church leaders should know about sex trafficking. The next article will have some practical things church leaders can do.
Maria is 15. She likes drawing, fashion design, and earning money by babysitting. She would like to be a forensic scientist someday. And Maria would like to be free from the pressures of home—in particular her uncle. Since she was 9, when he visits her family, he has sexually abused her. She can tell her parents know about it, but they don’t do anything. He has threatened to also abuse her younger sister if Maria says anything.
One of the bright spots in Maria’s life, besides her fashion design, is Tony. She’s just gotten to know him through a girl at school who suggested she meet up with him. He’s good looking, kind, and 22-years-old. Tony brings her gifts, tells Maria she’s the most beautiful girl he knows, and is excited about their future together.
What Maria doesn’t know is that Tony is a trafficker. Tony is planning to take her on their first weekend date together. When he does, he will introduce her to his friends and tell her that if she loves him, she will sleep with these men for money. He, Tony, needs the money so he and Maria can start their amazing future together.
Sex-Trafficking’s Brutal Chains
Over the course of the next 24 hours, Maria will be raped over 20 times, beaten, hooked on heroin, and initiated into the life of a sex slave. Tony will turn on her in anger and threaten her. She is now a part of his stable. The clock is ticking on her life. If she doesn’t get out, she will likely be dead in seven years—either killed by her trafficker, a buyer, the drugs that keep her numb, or suicide. She will be trucked from city to city, never getting a real night of sleep. Never eating a good meal again. Never free for a moment to be a 15-year-old and pursue her dreams.
Many are aware that sex trafficking goes on around the world. India tops the list of worst counties for trafficking, with 14 million victims. China, Thailand, and Pakistan are likewise large-volume offenders. Thankfully, awareness is increasing worldwide.
Fewer are aware that sex trafficking happens in their community. It’s common to hear “I know that happens in other places, but I’m sure it doesn’t happen here.” The truth is, it does happen “here.” It happens in upper-middle class suburban towns, it happens in rural areas, it happens through public schools, it happens at football events, and it happens by Moms who sell their daughters to support their opioid addictions.
Still fewer consider that it may involve someone in their church. Which is the point of this article. Those who minister in urban neighborhoods must be especially wise when it comes to trafficking as they shepherd their people.
What to Know
Here are six things to know about sex trafficking.
1. It’s Local. Assume that trafficking is going on in your community. It may be hidden in a house somewhere, or it may be the daughter of a friend who is being trafficked after school, just before dinner. In October of 2019, Scotland’s Sunday Post ran a harrowing article titled, “The secret slaves of Scotland: Experts warn rising epidemic of human trafficking now scars every village, town and city.”
2. It’s Big Business. Sex trafficking is not primarily the product of the back room of a bar, but of a well-planned business model, executed by wealthy and ruthless traffickers.
Drugs have been the number one crime industry worldwide for years. Soon, the drug trade will be eclipsed by human trade. The commercial sex-trafficking industry is estimated to be worth $150 billion/year worldwide. That’s more than the revenues of all of America’s major sporting leagues combined. Why? Because a drug is used once. A sex slave, on the other hand, can be raped for money up to 20 times/day on average, making over $150,000 for their slave-owner per year, per person.
3. Slaves are Young. It’s hard to be certain about numbers. But it’s safe to say that the average age of a young person who enters “the life” is somewhere between the ages of 13 and 16. Not all are girls. Boys are trafficked too, though their numbers are much smaller.
While sex slave owners (“pimps” is too innocuous of a word) are grooming children to be slaves, the slave trade “executives” are peddling porn to middle school children. The boys are given free access to porn until they are old enough to have a credit card, by which point they are hooked on the “drug.” At the same time, middle school girls are watching the same porn to know what the boys want. This is a diabolical strategy of Satan to steal life and joy, and replace it with lust, abuse and death. And the whole process starts early.
4. It’s Deadly. The life expectancy of a trafficked person is seven years. They have a less-than-5% chance of escaping, and those who do escape the life make on average seven attempts to get free before they are successful.
Their life is at risk from the buyers of sex. Increasingly, buyers include abuse and strangulation as part of their time. If their girl is non-white, she will likely be treated even worse.
Their life is also at risk from the drugs they are given to numb the pain of multiple rapes per day. And they’re at risk from other crimes they are often forced to perform as well—robbery and drug dealing is often a part of the life.
And, as we might expect, they are at risk of suicide.
5. Sex Trafficking is Fed by Pornography. Porn is not a victimless crime. Sex trafficking is a feeder for the massive porn industry. Actors are often sex slaves. It is estimated that in the next five years, the porn industry, and therefore sex trafficking, will double as a result of virtual reality technology.
Would you support a business if you knew that they abused some (but not all) of their employees? Pornographers don’t want you to think about it, but even if some of the humiliation, degradation, and sexual violence you see in porn is consensual, some is not. What consumers don’t realize is the abuse and violence that’s so often performed in mainstream porn, sometimes, isn’t really a performance—it’s real exploitation incited by force, fraud, or coercion, which is sex trafficking by definition.Fight the New Drug
6. It’s Racially Biased. “Women of color make up 10% of the population but are 40% of the women exploited through the sex trade.” (Audrey Morrisey, in “Race, Equality and Fighting Human Trafficking”). If your church is located in a diverse neighborhood, your people are more vulnerable to trafficking than others. Therefore protecting them as a good under-shepherd includes being aware of this danger.