Only a few months after escaping from a life of sex trafficking, she looked at me and said, “I know God did this to me for a reason.” “No!” I responded. “God did not do this. Evil people did this, and society permitted it.” She had never considered herself a victim. She thought she had simply made bad choices and brought all this evil upon herself. It never crossed her mind that there were people waiting and watching to prey upon the vulnerable.
I have heard him tell his story at least five or six times. He cries every time. Every. Single. Time. He too assumed that his own bad choices landed him in the hands of the traffickers who would force him to cross the border multiple times, threaten to behead him or kill his family, and then force him into labor in a variety of places.
He cries for the years he lost. He cries for the family left behind. He cries remembering the beatings and forced drugs. He cries for the fear his family, both here and south of the border, experienced as they were threatened.
He cries with joy and gratitude because he was rescued and is now able to care for his loving wife and daughter.
Understanding the Problem
Injustice is injustice. Wrong is wrong. Exploitation is exploitation. There are not degrees to measure these occurrences. There has been a great emphasis on human trafficking for at least the past decade and very rightfully so. However, when the word human trafficking is mentioned, most people—if they are aware of it at all—automatically think of sex trafficking.
A study released by the University of Texas in 2017 revealed an estimated 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas. Of that number an estimated 234,000 are labor trafficking victims, not sex trafficking. The only way to insure a complete end to slavery is a grassroots response.
That requires each of us to be willing to adopt certain precepts.
1. All forms of slavery are equally wrong.
Sex trafficking is not worse than labor trafficking or vise versa. We must care about the trafficked construction worker as much as we care about the girl lured and forced into the sex industry.
2. Prevention is crucial.
There are two key facets to prevention. First addressing the issues making people vulnerable prevents situations where exploitation can easily occur. Some of the issues that are front and center are gender, age, race, immigration, education, poverty.
Secondly, education is critical. This will require some hard conversations in our homes, in our churches and in our schools. Yes, we need to talk about pornography with our children. For today’s generation, ten is the average age for the first exposure to pornography. Very often I am told, “We don’t want to open a subject that might give our children ideas.” The reality is they already have these ideas. We need to talk about how traffickers search out and groom victims. We must watch over the social media of our children and teens.
There is no place for privacy where predators are looking for victims. Of the 313,000 estimated victims, 79,000 were children. They were victims of both labor and sex trafficking. We need to educate about fair trade. What does it mean to society to perhaps pay more knowing that our purchase has not contributed to the exploitation of a nameless person? We need to educate on the signs of trafficking so when it is seen it can be reported appropriately.
3. All of us are responsible.
We are responsible to our neighbors, our culture, and our global society. If we see something, we say something. If we can purchase in a way that reduces exploitation we are willing to do that. We proactively ask appropriate questions in our workplaces where victims can self identify. We are watchful, not with suspicion of everyone, but with an understanding that human trafficking is happening all around us. We agree that human trafficking will not be completely eradicated by making new laws, expecting victims to simply come forward, or leaving all the work to law enforcement. It will take all of us. It will take a grassroots response.
What can you do?
Attend or host a documentary screening. Attend or host a work shop. Complete some continuing education programs in your profession on the subject. Organize a van tour in Houston to learn where and how human trafficking exists in our city.
Conversations with our families, among our youth groups, in parenting classes, in our Sunday Schools, among our church leadership, in our school parent leadership organizations, etc will help open the doors for greater awareness and concern. Talk to the person serving you in a restaurant, doing your nails, fixing your roof, mowing the lawn. Maybe they are just waiting for someone to truly hear them and see them, so they can be helped.
There are many organizations that use volunteers in their work addressing human trafficking.
Purchase with purpose.
If you are going to spend money, spend it with an intentionality of your money being used in an exploitation-free manner. Going to a hotel for a weekend getaway? Call them and ask if they educate their personnel on human trafficking or post the National Human Trafficking hotline. If they don’t, go somewhere else. Purchasing Christmas gifts? Purchase exploitation free. Love chocolate or coffee? Purchase fair trade.
We can end slavery once and for all, but it will take all of us. Watch, and if you see something say something. How? Call the National Human Trafficking hotline: 888-373-7888.
Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking In Texas http://cchttx.com/
The Polaris Project https://polarisproject.org/
“Be the One” documentary by Arrowhead https://arrowheadfilms.com/documentary/be-the-one
A recorded webinar explaining fair trade https://youtu.be/pq7SuZuN40U