by Karen Campbell, UBA Guest Editor
Seek and Ye Shall Find: Responding to Human Trafficking
"The success of Texas' response continues to rest firmly on local, state, and federal law enforcement, victim service providers, prosecutors, and legislators continuing to work cooperatively to respond to this very serious problem." - Introduction to Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force 2011
Houston Rescue and Restore, a non-profit organization dedicated to confronting modern-day slavery by educating the public, training professionals and empowering the community to take action, defines human trafficking this way:
Slavery doesn't just occur in history books. Slavery happens everyday in our own communities. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world and the fastest growing. We are now faced with the vastest global slave trade ever known to humanity with more people enslaved today than at any point in history.
Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women.
Breaking news stories on recent arrests in Houston, task force reports, and leaders of various organizations addressing human trafficking all support the critical need to confront this modern form of slavery. Many admit that for too long the church was silent.
Now, voices can be heard in the wilderness. And compassion and cooperation are among the themes.
More than 300 participants attended the daylong Free the Captives conference held in February and sponsored by Lazybrook Baptist Church and Kingsland Baptist. Breakout sessions were led by representatives of the diverse groups who are joining forces to combat human trafficking including labor and sex trafficking survivors, the FBI, Children at Risk, SMU, Redeemed Ministries/Not For Sale, YMCA of Greater Houston, Houston Rescue and Restore and many other non-profit and Christian groups.
The event was organized by Free the Captives, an interdenominational, evangelical anti-human trafficking organization that desires to engage and mobilize the Christian community and partner with non-profits, law enforcement, and government agencies in the fight against modern day slavery.
Julie Waters, the director and founder of Free the Captives and a member of Access Church, said the success of the weekend will be in what participants do next.
"God truly is in control and this issue is obviously one He cares about," she noted. "We only have to look at what God is already doing and determine how we can be a part."
Looking at the issue of human trafficking means understanding the difference between sex trafficking and labor trafficking. In the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines "Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons" as:
• Sex Trafficking which may occur but not limited to: Strip Clubs, Spas/ Modeling Studios, Cantinas, Residential Brothels in Hotels, Apartment, Houses
• Labor Trafficking which may occur but not limited to: Agricultural Work, Restaurants, Nail Salons, Domestic Servitude, Peddling/Begging
Omar Garcia, the minister of missions at Kingsland and a speaker at the conference, identifies several common denominators in stories of trafficking on both the international and local fronts:
However, answers are sometimes quite simple. Garcia tells of an overseas trip when he learned about the out-of-control crime, violence, and corruption in Bihar and the children from poor villages in western Bangladesh who were kidnapped and trafficked across the border to Bihar to work as carpet slaves. On a follow-up trip to Bangladesh, the women on his team visited villages where children had been kidnapped. They discovered that one of the greatest difficulties for families whose children had been kidnapped and trafficked was not having any photos of their children to show to the police. So, using a Polaroid camera, the women took photos of children, laminated the photos onto a driver license-size card, and gave these child identification cards to anxious mothers.
"Our simple child identification card initiative was a big hit with poor village families," he said.Garcia has led Kingsland to respond in a variety of ways (see corresponding story Free the Captives) including helping build shelters for those escaping human trafficking, using education and awareness to fund raise, mobilizing for prayer, and providing local connects to victims and organizations who are actively involved in the issue.
"We're not in the business of telling anyone how to do their ministry. We want to cooperate and not compete. The problem is too big. But the church should be out front. We've been quiet for too long," he explained.
Waters believes that the church is ready to respond and has numerous ways individuals can use their gifts.
"We are always seeking theocentric volunteers to be prayer support, serve as mentors, reduce the demand, and help with awareness events. We believe that everyone is uniquely gifted and can be used by God to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking. Our members attend many different churches across Houston and encapsulate the body of Christ working together. We believe that with other faith-based and secular organizations that we can positively effectuate change."
Current volunteer needs at Free the Captives include: Website Designer and Host , Graphics Designer, Attorneys , Small Business Mentors, Public Speaker, Event Coordinator, Prayer Coordinator, and Videographers and Photographers.
Waters notes that while believers should and are responding they must be aware that efforts to press victims into a faith response is counterproductive.
"These individuals have been forced all their lives. And we don't want to force them to believe. We can show them Jesus in word and action."
Maria Trujillo, executive director of Houston Rescue and Restore, applauds the emphasis the church is now putting on involvement but underscores that good intentions are not enough.
"'Do no harm' should be our first motto. What does that mean? Providing what they need where they are should be a priority. The whole point is to get them out of a situation where they have no freedom and help them find that freedom," she said.
"Faith has played an essential role in the lives of many survivors.
I would like to see churches tap into Houston Rescue & Restore's Faith and Freedom weekend during the month of September. We have a bible study from the Christian perspective and we have books listed on our website that churches can use for a "potluck for a cause" or book study. Our September Faith and Freedom emphasis will culminate in an interfaith dialogue raising awareness around the issue."
T.L. Grover founder of TraffickStop, an organization bringing awareness and education to the problem of human trafficking locally and internationally, offers more suggestions on how to respond:
"People have to become aware how they contribute to slavery, to be aware of what they consume and how they buy. The number one way is for people to take a look at their trafficking footprint and ask, 'What can I do to minimize it?'.
In the area of sexual exploitation, she encourages focusing on how to minimize Internet pornography and Internet safety for children. Finally, she suggests that more must be done in the area of corporate responsibility.
Many groups offer awareness presentations and opportunities to serve. You can find out more about what they provide by visiting their websites:Free the Captives, LLC: freethecaptiveshouston.comRedeemed Ministries: redeemedministries.comHouston Rescue and Restore: houstonrr.orgChildren at Risk: childrenatrisk.orgTraffic Stop: traffickstop.org
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