Human Trafficking

The Justice Calling

The Justice Calling

The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance is a comprehensive biblical theology of justice that is practically engaging. Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson bring together their deep study of scripture and their direct engagement with human trafficking and slavery, their scholarship and their activism.

To give you a glimpse of the book, here are two brief excerpts that reflect its theological richness:

“The source of justice in the midst of even the most heinous injustice in our world is Jesus Christ. God’s very character is one of justice, and he has given us Jesus as the manifestation of his justice both now and for eternity. God is the one who reveals the justice calling upon our lives, because God is the source of justice.

I have been on a journey to discover justice rooted in Jesus, to know this call that comes first from God, and to navigate the brokenness of this world with biblical hope as my sure-footed guide. Justice rooted in Jesus broke open for me the possibility and promise of persevering hope—the possibility that I could shed my paralysis and actually move forward one small step at a time because there is a God who is and will be victorious over injustice. And while God certainly could and does act on his own, God beckons us to join him, calling us into his family to be part of his work of redemption and healing through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” (pages 3-4)

“In the light of Christ, we come to see that we are all poor, wretched, helpless, and utterly dependent on God’s saving grace to rescue us. Outside the grace of God, we are incapable of getting right with God, others, ourselves, and the rest of the created world. As slaves to sin, we find it impossible to be holy, to act justly, and to love mercy, but thanks be to God that Jesus Christ came to this earth to find the lost and free the enslaved. Through Christ’s righteousness we can become righteous and be restored to right relationships. Because of this grace, we can live the way of life God intended for his holy people, the way of justice and righteousness, the way of shalom.” (page 28)

I appreciate how Bethany and Kristen explore the convergence of justice and spirit formation. This excerpt from an interview with them capture this well:

You speak about this idea of moving into the darkness, how would you encourage someone who longs to do so but is paralyzed by fear?

Bethany: I think there is a temptation to despair or even to be apathetic and draw back and embrace cynicism rather than believing anything can change or holding onto hope. What we learn from the prophets, especially Habakkuk, is that we can contend with God. We can argue, wine, ask questions of God, and we can know that He sees everything we see in a far more specific and complete scale than we ever could. He invites us to bring our questions to him and to wrestle with him. Just the act of questioning, rather than an affront to God—even if we are angry, is still us coming to God. And God longs for you to talk to him and tell him all the details, to leave nothing spared of what weighs on you and to let him enter into it with you. There is a beauty that he brings from even the most devastating ashes.

Throughout the book, justice work is defined as being long and hard, what would you say to someone who is burnt out from justice work?

Kristen: We know that burn out is very common for those who long to see justice in this world. That’s a big reason we wanted to write this book–to explore what it would take to seek justice as people with deep roots that are sustained and nurtured by the living waters of Jesus Christ. We believe that what we do is supposed to flow from who we are – so that our work of justice, ideally, flows from the grace we have been given in and through Jesus Christ that enables us to become God’s children. This same savior, Jesus Christ, is the one responsible for reconciling all things (Col 1:20).  We are invited to share God’s ongoing commitment to reconciliation and justice, but this work ultimately depends upon God, not us. We hope that by looking deeply at God’s commitment to justice and righteousness throughout the whole story of Scripture and by being reminded of the centrality of Jesus Christ for the reconciliation of all things, you might find strength to continue on in the journey. We hope that the practices of Sabbath, lament, worship, and Eucharist might be ways the Spirit can revive you as you are reminded of the beauty of God’s vision for the world along with your own identity in Christ and your reliance on him for all things.

Click to download a free sampler of Chapter 1.

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The Church and Women at Risk

The Church and Women at Risk

Lindsey, my wife, wrote this article—“The Church and Women at Risk”— for the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible. This article is relevant for October being designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The entire article can be downloaded, but here is an excerpt:

The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful witness for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God, and by tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many victims who reach out to churches in times of need receive blame, disbelief, suspicious questions, bad advice, platitudes, and shallow theology instead of care and compassion. Rather than pat answers, victims need practical victim advocacy full of biblical and theological depth.

Churches have a great opportunity to offer victims of violence love, safety, patience, and counseling. Caring for and responding to women at risk is an opportunity for Christians to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus to the marginalized, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to the epidemic of violence against women is a way the church can follow the charge of James to practice “pure religion” ( James 1:27) by caring for vulnerable women.

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The Ethics of Personhood

The Ethics of Personhood

Human history is tragically full of examples of the persecution and oppression that arise when those in power create their own definitions of human personhood and rights so as to exclude and misuse certain groups of people. However, Scripture is clear that all human beings have dignity, personhood, and rights given to them by God. The biblical understanding of personhood provides the essential foundation for ethical decisions about how to treat other people.

 

The Biblical View of Personhood

The Bible begins with God, the sovereign, good creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God’s creative handiwork, everything from light to land to living creatures, is called “good.” But humanity, being the very image of God, is the crown of God’s good creation—“behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature—as they were created to be like God, by God, for God, and to be with God (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:15).

In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image.” In the very beginning, our Creator gave us a remarkable title: he called us the image of God. This reveals the inherent dignity of all human beings, because the expression “image of God” designates human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe. As the image of God, humans, both male and female, are given special dignity and dominion and are commissioned to care for God’s good creation (Gen. 1:28–30).

 

Consequences of the Biblical View of Personhood

As God’s image-bearers, human beings are imbued with dignity and worth beyond that of animals. Speaking to Noah after the flood, God emphasizes that human life is to be highly valued, and that violence against any human being is to be rigorously punished (Gen. 9:5–6).

In Genesis 1 and 2, we see that God’s plan for humanity was for the earth to be filled with his image-bearers, who were to glorify him through worship and obedience. This beautiful state of being, enjoying the cosmic bliss of God’s intended blessing and his wise rule, is called shalom. As Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., writes, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

Shalom means fullness of peace. It is the vision of a society without violence or fear: “I will give peace (shalom) in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid” (Lev. 26:6). Shalom is a profound and comprehensive sort of well-being—abundant welfare—with its connotations of peace, justice, and the common good. Nicholas Wolterstorff argues that shalom means harmonious and responsible relationships with God, other human beings, and nature. In short, biblical writers use the word shalom to describe the world of universal peace, safety, justice, order, and wholeness God intended, in which all human beings enjoy freedom, security, and peace.

 

Unbiblical views of personhood

Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and shalom was violated. Adam and Eve violated their relationship with God by rebelling against his command. This was a moment of cosmic treason. Instead of trusting in God’s wise and good word, they trusted in the crafty and deceitful words of the Serpent. In response, the Creator placed a curse on our parents that cast the whole human race into futility and death. The royal image of God fell into the severe ignobility we all experience.

This tragic fall plunged humanity into a relational abyss. Paul Tripp writes, “What seemed once unthinkably wrong and out of character for the world that God had made now became a daily experience … For the first time, the harmony between people was broken.” God’s image-bearers were created to worship and obey him and to reflect his glory to his good creation. After the fall, humanity was enslaved to idolatry (hatred for God) and violence (hatred for each other). Sin inverts love for God, which in turn becomes idolatry, and inverts love for neighbor, which becomes exploitation of others.

As Ashley Null points out, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” The fallen human heart finds ways to justify its hatred of other people and its desire to exploit them. The result is the multitude of unbiblical views of personhood found throughout human history which dehumanize and exclude people who are made in the image of God. Greg Bahnsen examines several major non-Christian views of the nature of humanity, such as the rationalistic dualism of Plato, the materialist economic determinism of Marx, the psychic determinism of Freud, and the environmental conditioning determinism of B.F. Skinner. Myriad other unbiblical ideologies of personhood have existed, such as tribalism, Social Darwinism, racism, Nazism, and views of superior personhood based on religion, wealth, gender, age, intellect, heredity, and so on.

Arguably, all unbiblical views of personhood can be divided into two sorts: (1) views that are reductionistic, that is, they reduce people to merely material beings, not made in the image of God; and (2), views that are gnostic, that is, they downplay the material aspect of people, so that suffering is seen as no more than an illusion. Both paths open the way to dehumanization, violence, and exploitation.

 

Consequences of unbiblical views of personhood

Without the biblical understanding of human personhood and dignity as image-bearers of God, society is free to degenerate into violence, oppression, and exploitation of the weak by the strong. The Old Testament clearly depicts the cruelty and violence that results from the Fall: cannibalism (2 Kings 6:28–29), violence against children (Ps. 137:9), women (Amos 1:13), and the unborn (2 Kings 15:16), rape (Judges 19:22–30), massacres (1 Sam. 22:18–19), and enslavement (Amos 4:2).

Throughout human history, we see again and again how unbiblical views of personhood are used to exploit and oppress people. The strong eat the weak, and there is injustice against disliked and lesser-valued groups, from the unborn to the elderly. There is abortion, infanticide, child abuse, and child labor. There is slavery, gender violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, racism, genocide, and ethnic warfare. There is class warfare, disenfranchisement, age discrimination, oppression of the poor, and discrimination against the disliked, the disabled, the uneducated, the weak, and the powerless. That which should be held sacred is commodified, bought, and sold. The examples of injustice and exploitation that occurs when human personhood is redefined are innumerable and heart-breaking.

 

The Biblical call to justice and mercy

Though it does not hesitate to depict the harsh reality of violence and oppression, the Bible clearly calls us to fight for justice and mercy for all people as God intended.

The prophet Zechariah portrays a God-given role for God’s people as a nation that practices justice & mercy in their society: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zech. 7:9–10). When Israel fails and continues to rebel against God’s law, God threatens judgment, but then pours out grace and restores them. Zechariah envisions God’s grace leading to true repentance and a people who fervently pursue justice and mercy for all people. The result is that the nations of unbelievers will come asking about the Lord (Zech. 8:20–23). God’s people thankful, worshiping God, and working for justice and mercy will be a light to the nations (Isa. 49:6), a hope which culminates in the coming of the Messiah.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17).

In making this declaration and in his ministry, Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the very center of his divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet his teachings and his example show us that the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus’ actions contradicted the dehumanizing assumptions of his culture. Jesus spent significant amounts of time with children, women, the poor, the diseased, Samaritans, and other outcast and disliked groups, valuing and loving those considered less valuable by the culture of his day. This paradoxical approach to the value-systems of the world is echoed by Paul when he writes, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27–29).

The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God and tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations and to participate in God’s mission by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Why is Sex Trafficking at the Super Bowl?

Why is Sex Trafficking at the Super Bowl?

We are approaching what is the largest sports event and the most-watched program on U.S. TV every year: the Super Bowl.

As I’ve written before, the Super Bowl and other large sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup are increasingly being recognized as magnets for sex trafficking and child prostitution. The 2010 Super Bowl saw an estimated 10,000 sex workers brought in to Miami, while the 2011 event resulted in 133 prostitution-related arrests in Dallas.

In the past, attempted crackdowns by law enforcement have misfired by treating prostitutes as criminals to be locked up rather than victims to be rescued, but awareness efforts have been working, and government agencies have begun to pay more attention to the problem. As Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller explained, “There are enormous economic benefits of hosting large sporting events such as the Super Bowl, but the disturbing reality is that such gatherings in other states have drawn criminal rings that traffic young women and children into the commercial sex trade.” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott acknowledged the Super Bowl as “the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”

The Demand for Exploitation

What is driving this horrible exploitation, and why are such seemingly innocuous gatherings as sports events attracting the abuse of women and girls? The key is that demand increases as men flood into a city for a weekend of fun. Without an eager market willing to pay to enjoy the exploitation of women, sex trafficking and child prostitution would have no reason to exist. Yes, organized crime takes advantage of the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. And yes, our hyper-sexualized culture makes it seem normal and acceptable for sex to be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold. Yes, porn fuels the sex trade by teaching its consumers that women exist for the pleasure of men and that their purpose is to be degraded and dehumanized for men’s excitement.

But below the surface, these problems are all symptoms of a patriarchal world system that preys on women and children, keeping them subservient to and fearful of men so that they can be controlled and used. As human trafficking researcher Andrea Bertone writes, “The patriarchal world system hungers for and sustains the international subculture of docile women.” This oppressive system reveals and perpetuates itself in innumerable expressions of violence against women and children around the world every day.

The Patriarchal World System

Acknowledging a patriarchal world system is not to imply that all men are abusive toward women, or that all violence against women is carried out only by men. That is because patriarchy not just something some individuals do. It is a set of expectations and relationships, a social system. A society can be oppressive without most of the people in it actively being oppressive, but simply following the rules and expectations of the society. Allan Johnson explains, “If a society is oppressive, then people who grow up and live in it will tend to accept, identify with, and participate in it as ‘normal’ and unremarkable life. . . . When oppression is woven into the fabric of everyday life, we don’t need to go out of our way to be overtly oppressive in order for an oppressive system to produce oppressive consequences. As the saying goes, what evil requires is simply that ordinary people do nothing.” In this system, the same world that is quite satisfying to some of us is utterly devastating to many others, especially vulnerable women and children trapped in sexual slavery in the United States and around the world.

The Kingdom of God

I’ve written other posts to raise awareness of human trafficking and sexual assault, but our hope is in more than just awareness and government initiatives; what we look forward to is the opposite of the patriarchal world system: the kingdom of God.

This kingdom is the rule and reign of God, the sphere in which God’s intentions for the world are carried out. Sinclair Ferguson defines the kingdom of God this way: “The kingdom is the rule and reign of God, the expression of his gracious sovereign will. To belong to the kingdom of God is to belong to the people among whom the reign of God has already begun.”

In Luke 17, the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, and he replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20–21). (Darrell Bock explains that a better translation is “among you” or “in your midst.”)

The point is that Jesus is the king and the sign that God’s kingdom has come. Bock writes, “The Pharisees confront the kingdom in Jesus. They do not need to look all around for it [the kingdom] because its central figure is in front of their eyes . . . to see the kingdom, look to Jesus and what he offers. . . . The way to God’s kingdom is through Jesus. He controls the kingdom’s benefits and represents its power and presence.” The kingdom has come—it has come in Jesus Christ, and those who are united to him through faith have entered the kingdom.

In God’s vision for the world, captives are set free, and women and children have no need to fear violence, abuse, or exploitation. Male domination over and exploitation of women, in any form, should be resisted because it is evil. God calls his people to stand with the vulnerable and powerless and to resist those who use their power to oppress and harm others. When Jesus declared that he had come “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18), he showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the very center of his mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Now his people, the church, can join in his mission to work against evil and oppression and proclaim liberty.

Our hope is in Jesus as king, not primarily in politics, though we do believe that God can work through political systems to do good (Rom. 13:1–7). As Scot McKnight puts it, “The Christian’s primary ‘politic’ is a church that follows Jesus as King, that votes its conscience not on the basis of a political ideology but on the basis of the gospel, and that strives to influence society through the church. That is, its politic is not the eschatological hope of the federal government but in the one who is King over all.”

If you are moved to take action against modern-day slavery, the answer is not to boycott the Super Bowl. Instead, here are 14 things you can do to fight human trafficking and help victims. Specifically, please pray for the perpetrators on sexual exploitation. You can also read about how churches can work toward ending trafficking in their city.

Elimination Of Violence Against Women

Elimination Of Violence Against Women

Each year, the United Nations designates November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explains,

Violence against women and girls takes many forms and is widespread throughout the globe. It includes rape, domestic violence, harassment at work, abuse in school, female genital mutilation, and sexual violence in armed conflicts. It is predominantly inflicted by men. Whether in developing or developed countries, the pervasiveness of this violence should shock us all. Violence–and in many cases the mere threat of it–is one of the most significant barriers to women’s full equality.

The Bible teaches us that because of sin, suffering and violence entered the world. One expression of sin which is seen throughout Scripture and human history is the pervasive male domination of and violence against women. Here are some of the numerous ways that women around the world continue to experience violence and oppression.

Domestic violence

Women and children are the predominant victims of domestic violence, which is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior—physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal—used by one individual to maintain power and control over a partner in an intimate relationship. In the United States, every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Nearly 33% of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority. Sexual assault affects millions of women, men, and children worldwide: One in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes. Most victims of sexual assault are female, and those responsible for sexual assaults are predominantly male and usually someone the victim knows.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of people by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them. Victims of trafficking are forced into labor or sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. The U.S. State Department estimates there are about 12.3 million adults and children “in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world.”

Rape in warfare

There is a long history of rape being used in war as an effective weapon to create fear, shame, and demoralization among the victims and their communities. During war, women and girls have been systematically beaten, raped, and mutilated, often in front of family, as part of a strategy to exert dominance and bring about cultural and ethnic devastation. Rape in warfare is used as a reward and morale-booster for soldiers and also as punishment for civilian communities who resist armed aggressors.

Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is a traditional ritual practiced in some regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The term refers to procedures involving removal of the external female genitalia or other cutting of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. There are many negative health consequences including pain, infections, and difficulty with urination, sexual activity, and childbearing. An estimated 140 million women and girls have undergone the procedure, and an estimated 3 million girls will experience it every year.

Girl soldiers

Today, as many as 300,000 children, some as young as eight years old, serve in armed government or rebel forces around the world. Child soldiers have been reported in many regions, but they are most prevalent in Africa. Children are either forcibly recruited or “volunteer” out of threat, desperation, and lack of alternatives. Child soldiers are sometimes forced to commit atrocities against their own family or neighbors to make sure they can never return to their community. About thirty percent of child soldiers are estimated to be girls. In addition to being involved in combat, girl soldiers are frequently subjected to rape and sexual violence, or given to military commanders as “wives.”

Jesus cares for the oppressed

Male domination over and exploitation of women, in any form, should be resisted because it is evil. God calls his people to stand with the vulnerable and powerless and to resist those who use their power to oppress and harm others. While this is taught throughout the Bible, we see it most clearly in the ministry of Jesus, who gave special care to women and children.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:17

In making this declaration and in his ministry Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the very center of his mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet his teaching and his example show us that the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power.

The White Umbrella (Book Highlights)

The White Umbrella (Book Highlights)

“It’s horrifying and absurd to think that there are currently more slaves on earth than at any other time in human history.”[1]

–Louie Giglio

“Outside of my home, I lived a normal life. I made good grades, played sports, and had a few close friends. But on the inside, I felt dirty and worthless. I felt like I needed to hide. Sometimes I wanted to die. If anyone had paid attention, they might have noticed how the light in my face had been extinguished.”[2]

–Sex trafficking survivor

–Mary Frances Bowley. The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.

 

Sex trafficking and sexual assault occur every day in our communities and all around us. Every year, thousands of girls are forced into sexual exploitation, most of them under the age of 18. The emotional and spiritual suffering this causes is immeasurable, but there is hope.

The White Umbrella is an important new book in the fight to raise awareness about the horrors of the sex trade. Authored by the founder of an Atlanta organization fighting childhood sexual abuse and exploitation, the book tells the true stories of victims, survivors, volunteers, and experts in order to bring the painful human reality of the sex industry into sharp relief.

The book tells stories of survivors as well as those who came alongside to help them to recovery. It describes the pain and the strength of these young women and those who held a “white umbrella” of protection and purity over them on the road to restoration—all realizing that it is the God who loves us, enters into our suffering, and stands with us that makes hope, healing, and new life possible.

In The White Umbrella, we meet Shelia, who at the age of twelve was kidnapped, gang-raped, and forced to sell her body for months before she escaped; Jessica, a girl who’d been abused so often she was afraid to speak; Angela, a woman who was abused as a girl and who became a second mom to a survivor named Shelby; and Mary Frances, who leads a model program for survivors of sex trafficking. Each has a dramatic story of both suffering and hope to tell.

The stories highlight the way that our stereotypes often blind us to the suffering occurring right around us. As the author writes, “Most abuse victims are not easy to spot, and there is no stereotype for a sexual abuse victim. She does not necessarily have to come from a single-parent household with a low socioeconomic status. Her ethnicity does not make her trauma more likely, nor does the city where she lives. Instead, she could be a work associate, a child in Sunday school, or a kid at the neighborhood bus stop. Well-meaning people often act upon misguided assumptions about who is abused, yet so many of these hurting children are slipping right under their good natured noses. The reality is that there is no profile for these silent sufferers.”[3]

The stereotypes about those exploited in the sex trade have tragically often led to misguided crackdowns that treat the victims as criminals, further alienating them and doing more harm than good. One of the stories here is a heartbreaking example, as an underage girl survives kidnapping, gang-rape, forced drugging, and imprisonment, and finally escapes to find help, only to be “arrested and put in a juvenile detention facility—all for a crime she never wanted to commit.”[4] The tragedy is increased when survivors are faced with such shame and judgment not only in society, but in the church: “Girls who are survivors of sex trafficking are branded on the streets as prostitutes, sometimes quite literally as their pimp burns his mark on their neck or ankles. But they did not choose this work, and it is doubly tragic when these young women are branded once again by stigma and shame when they walk into the wider community, and even the church.”[5]

Thankfully, The White Umbrella offers more than just stories of exploitation and suffering, but concrete advice for how to connect with and come alongside survivors on their road to healing. Drawing from her own experience, the author shows that “we have seen the most effective recovery by our girls take place in the context of relationships. We have the credibility to help girls and women only when we offer them an authentic, ongoing connection. After all, it is only through our relationship with Jesus that we are restored to our Father.”[6] Entering into someone’s deep pain as a conduit of God’s love is difficult, but ultimately rewarding: “Walking with someone through crisis recovery is scary, disappointing, exciting, and thrilling. Most of the time, you feel helpless and out of control. That’s where your dependence on God can flourish—and you can both get more out of it.”[7]

This book offers principles and guidance to anyone with a heart for these hurting young women and children and a desire to help. It is a resource for individuals or organizations seeking to learn what they can do to assist these victims in becoming whole again, and will help anyone trying to connect in a meaningful way with someone who is in crisis. Crucially, it points to Jesus as the healer and redeemer of the abused and the suffering, the one who is both the source of hope and healing and the motivation for us to wake up and work for freedom for those in captivity: “Jesus Christ came to set the captives free, and Christians have the amazing and humbling opportunity to be His hands and feet in this redemptive rescue. Christ calls us to reach out not only to those who are in physical captivity in brothels and bad situations, but also to those who are captives in their own minds to lies and distorted understanding that was formed by terrible experiences in their past.”[8]

God loves to set captives free and bring hope to the suffering, and as Christians we are invited to join him on that mission.

 

Download Chapter 1 here.

Check out The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking. For more resources on sexual abuse, browse the Human Trafficking and Sexual Assault categories on the Resurg, and see Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.



[1] Mary Frances Bowley, The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 13.

[2] Ibid., 22.

[3] Ibid., 62.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 62.

[6] Ibid., 193.

[7] Ibid., 194.

[8] Ibid., 71.

Facing Up To Sex Trafficking

Facing Up To Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is the work of the devil, and it’s all around you.

KIM’S STORY

With some caution, and even reluctance, let me offer you a very concrete and very real picture of what this means. Kim (not actual name) is 18 years old and has been prostituted all around the United States since she was 13. She has been sexually abused and assaulted more times than she can count. The first abuser and rapist was her father, followed by her brother, two of her mother’s boyfriends, and a new step-father.

She ran away from home at 13 to live with her 18-year-old boyfriend, who groomed her to be a prostitute through his friends. He abused her and then sold her to another pimp when she was 14. This man got her pregnant soon after buying her, and he gave the baby to his family so that Kim had to stay with him and do whatever he demanded in order to see her baby.

Over the next few years, paying men forced themselves on her every night. She has been kidnapped, tortured, and on more than one occasion threatened with death. Over the last five years, she has been abused by thousands of men and women. Beneath it all, the guilt, shame, and sense of defilement she feels is overwhelming, and she has often wanted to end her life. But then she wouldn’t be around for her daughter, and that has kept her from committing suicide.

How can Christians and churches care for a woman like Kim? Should we point her to non-Christian social workers for “getting help” and then invite her to church when she is more stable? Do we send her to progressive churches that offer self-esteem therapy sprinkled with religious language? Do we shrug our shoulders and assume she is beyond help?

If none of these options are correct, how do gospel-centered Christians draw a woman like Kim to the full hope, healing, and promises of the gospel of Jesus?

TRAFFICKING: MODERN-DAY SLAVERY ABROAD AND NEXT DOOR

Kim’s story is horribly tragic, but sadly common. The average age of entry into prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 300,000 American children are at risk for sexual exploitation, and that an estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of minors occur every year within the United States.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is defined as the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of people by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them.

The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people are trafficked annually. The U.S. State Department estimates an even higher number: about 12.3 million adults and children “in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world.” Human trafficking deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, is a global health risk, and fuels organized crime.

Victims of trafficking are forced into labor or sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. According to the United Nations, sex trafficking brings in an estimated $32 billion a year worldwide. In the U.S., sex trafficking brings in $9.5 billion annually.

The United States is a significant destination country for international trafficking: foreign women and children are transported into the United States for purposes of sexual and labor exploitation. The U.S. State Department estimates that approximately eighteen thousand foreign nationals are trafficked annually into the United States. Victims come from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Most such women and children are forced to work in massage parlors, commercial or residential brothels, escort services, and strip clubs.

Sex trafficking also happens to United States citizens within U.S. borders. The Department of Justice estimates that more than 250,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry annually. The average age of entry for girls into street prostitution, again, is between 12 and 14.

Traffickers coerce women and children to enter the commercial sex industry through a variety of recruitment techniques, such as the lure of love, protection, wealth, designer clothes, fancy cars, and exclusive nightclubs. Pimps move from city to city looking for children and young women who are easy prey—the lonely, desperate, and alienated. They particularly target runaway, homeless, and foster-care children. Often these children have run away from home in order to flee incest and other forms of abuse.

Once a pimp moves a victim from her hometown into a strange city, he can easily force her to work as a prostitute. Thousands of children and women are victimized in this way every year.

PROCLAIMING LIBERTY TO CAPTIVES

My wife and I have been involved in reaching out to victims of the sex trafficking industry for a number of years. In the summer of 2009, I was finishing my sixth year of teaching in the University of Virginia’s sociology department, specializing in violence against women. My wife Lindsey was working as a case manager for sexual assault and domestic violence victims. We both cared deeply about the issues of sexual assault and sex trafficking.

We knew that many churches are not aware of, comfortable with, or equipped to confront these issues, and we knew the pitfalls of churches making social justice their primary mission—to the detriment of gospel proclamation. Still, we loved the idea of serving in a place where the fight against sex trafficking and sexual abuse was treated as a natural outgrowth of the gospel ministry, not a replacement for it. We believe that wherever the gospel of Jesus is preached, lives will be transformed, healed, and freed. People who have been freed from spiritual slavery to sin will in turn want to proclaim freedom to others who are still in bondage, of whatever kind.

That summer we received a call to start an anti-sex-trafficking organization in Washington State. Washington State is a hotbed for sex trafficking, with its major shipping ports and the important north-south Interstate 5 corridor. Sophisticated criminal networks smuggle thousands of people from around the world into and out of Washington. Seattle itself is one of the top cities in the United States for underage prostitution.

When the offer came, it didn’t take long for my wife and me to make the decision: we were moving to Seattle. Not only was Seattle a strategic place to fight sex slavery.

Soon after we had settled into our new home in Seattle, my wife and I finished writing a book on gospel hope and healing for victims of sexual assault called Rid of My Disgrace. Around this time, we met people who were interested in starting an outreach ministry to women and girls working on the streets.

A ministry called REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) was born. Volunteer teams were trained to go out in the evenings, strike up conversations with the women and girls, offer practical help, and invite them to churches. Rather than immediately launching into either evangelism or rescue attempts, the teams learned how to navigate the difficult waters of coercion, dependence, and mistrust that often ensnare workers in the sex trade. This approach seeks to build relationships and trust that ultimately lead to opportunities for real help and for sharing the gospel.

REST organized teams of female volunteers to visit known track areas, strip clubs, massage parlors, and bikini barista stands (a growing Seattle phenomenon). While these venues do not, strictly speaking, provide prostitution, they often serve as gateways to more serious forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. REST also built teams to do weekly Bible studies at a juvenile detention center to reach at-risk girls, teams to help and counsel men who are trying to buy sex, and teams to regularly pray for the battle.

The fruit of these initial efforts was very encouraging: many women and girls escaped the trade, connected to the church, and gave their lives to Jesus. Some immediately began serving with REST to help others escape the sex trade. Others, however, demonstrated how difficult it is to leave a pimp because of the coercive emotional and psychological control they experience.

PURE RELIGION

Historically, the Christian church has at its best been known for its exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful apologetic for the gospel. The 4th-century church provides one example:

In his attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion in the empire, [the Emperor] Julian instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for strangers. Referring to Christianity as “atheism,” he asked, “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism?” He therefore instructed the priest to establish hostels for needy strangers in every city and also ordered a distribution of corn and wine to the poor, strangers, and beggars. “For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.”

Similarly, in more recent history, Christians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led the charge for the abolition of slavery, again providing a strong apologetic for the Christian faith and visibly embodying Jesus’ mission to proclaim liberty to captives. The growth of modern-day slavery in the heinous form of sex trafficking is another opportunity for Christians to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus to the marginalized and oppressed, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world.

Moreover, responding to this epidemic in our communities is a way the church can practice the charge of James to practice “pure religion” (James 1:27) by caring for vulnerable women and children.

SIX WAYS CHURCHES AND INDIVIDUALS CAN FIGHT SEX TRAFFICKING

Many churches may not have the resources to start a ministry like REST. But there are still many ways to help. Here are six ways churches and individual Christians can help fight sex trafficking:

  1. The single most important step is to get informed and inform others about the prevalence of the sex trade right under our noses, not only in cities, but also in the suburbs. A recommended reading list on human trafficking can be found here on the Resurgence.
  2. Read our book Rid of My Disgrace to learn about the effects of sexual assault and sex trafficking, and the hope and healing for victims that is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  3. Support organizations that are fighting trafficking: a) REST; b) International Justice Mission; c) Love146; d) Not For Sale; e) Unearthed Pictures; f) Abolition International.
  4. Get involved.
  5. Be an informed consumer.
  6. Join a local or state anti-trafficking group.

EPILOGUE: KIM’S STORY CONTINUES

After meeting some REST volunteers, Kim started going to a church and getting connected to healthy community. Through REST, she was offered a safe place to stay where she could begin healing. Though she struggled on and off with going back into prostitution, she has found freedom and hope in Jesus for the first time. She is now actively involved in reaching other girls who are trapped in the sex industry with the message of Jesus and the freedom of the gospel.

Isn’t Porn Harmless

Isn’t Porn Harmless

There is a myth that porn is harmless. “It’s just a few consenting adults, doing what they want with their own bodies,” the thinking goes.

But this simply isn’t true. In reality, pornography is deeply involved in the exploitation of women and children as well as being destructive to its consumers. Porn is much more than an individual decision—it is part of a system that preys on women and children, and its viewers are participating in, contributing to, and being shaped by that destructive, enslaving system.

PORN FUELS THE SEX TRADE

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and it is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. According to the United Nations, sex trafficking brings in an estimated $32 billion a year worldwide. In the U.S., sex trafficking brings in $9.5 billion annually. I’ve written about the sex trade before.

The primary way porn fuels the sex trade is by building the demand. The sex trade consists of supply and demand. The supply consists of women and children who are either forced into exploitation at home or lured away from their homes with promises of jobs, travel, and a better life. The average age of girls who enter into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, and even younger in some developing countries. Traffickers coerce women and children to enter the commercial sex industry through a variety of recruitment techniques in strip clubs, street-based prostitution, and escort services. Thousands of children and women are victimized in this way every year.

The trafficking industry would not exist without demand. According to researcher Andrea Bertone, the demand consists of men who feed a “patriarchal world system” that preys on women and children.

PORN SHAPES SEXUAL DESIRES

Pornography shapes the appetites of men, women, and children to accept and even enjoy the exploitation of women. As Robert Jensen writes:

There are a few basic themes in pornography: 1) All women at all times want sex from all men; 2) women enjoy all the sexual acts that men perform or demand, and; 3) any woman who does not at first realize this can be easily turned with a little force.

It is important to note that porn is not just a “men’s issue,” as 28 percent of people admitting internet sexual addiction are women. Approximately 9 out of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. The average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old and in most cases it is unintentional. The largest consumer of Internet pornography is 12- to 17-year-old boys.

Porn teaches its consumers that women exist for the pleasure of men and that their purpose is to be degraded and dehumanized for men’s excitement—and that they like it, even if they pretend not to. But this is part of the lie of pornography: many women in porn are there against their will and are being exploited. According to Jensen, “There is evidence that force and coercion are sometimes used to secure women’s participation . . . that psychological and physical damage is common and that heavy alcohol and drug use are routine.”

PORN EXPLOITS CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIMS

Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist and Director of the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that most women involved in the sex industry are adult survivors of sexual abuse. Research indicates that the number is between 60 to 80 percent. Simply put, most women in the porn industry are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and porn perpetuates their exploitation. Additionally, 20 percent of all Internet pornography involves children.

PORN SUPPORTS “RAPE CULTURE”

The physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the women and children in porn is heartbreaking, but equally insidious is porn’s effect on men and the culture by normalizing the degradation and dehumanization of women. Jensen explains, “As pornography has become more acceptable, both legally and culturally, the level of brutality toward, and degradation of, women has intensified.”

The prevalence of porn means that people are becoming desensitized to it, and are seeking out ever harsher, more violent, and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much violence the fans want. As one pornography director put it, “People just want it harder, harder, and harder . . . what are you gonna do next?”

Robin Morgan’s phrase “Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice” captures the link between the production and consumption of pornography and violence against women and children. The point is not that porn causes all viewers to sexually abuse others, but that it creates what some researches call “rape culture” by normalizing, legitimizing, and condoning violence against women and children.

PORN HIJACKS CHILDREN’S SEXUALITY

Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hi-Jacked Our Sexuality, explains the implications of porn: “We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn. … Given what we know about how images affect people, this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behavior and attitudes towards women.”

Mary Anne Layden argues: “There is evidence that the prevalence of pornography in the lives of many children and adolescents is far more significant than most adults realize, that pornography is deforming the healthy sexual development of these young viewers, and that it is used to exploit children and adolescents.”

PORN LIMITS MEN

While porn is not just a “men’s issue,” it remains pervasively a male problem. William Struthers, a bio-psychologist, explains the effects on men: “Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and has a long-lasting effect on their thoughts and lives.”

Porn limits male self-expression and has proven to be psychologically detrimental to some viewers. Frequent pornographic stimulus changes the neurological makeup in the brain—it actually rewires the viewer’s brain.

Everyone involved in the supply chain, from production to consumption, is participating in the economic juggernaut that is the porn industry, whether they realize it or not. And many of them are unaware of the harm being done to themselves and others. This industry fuels the global sex trade, builds the demand for exploitation, severely distorts sexuality, exploits abuse victims, and normalizes the degradation of women and children. That’s why porn is much more than a private, individual decision.

Sex-Trafficking At The Super Bowl

Sex-Trafficking At The Super Bowl

On February 5, 2012, over 100 million people will watch Super Bowl XLVI.

Few of them will know about the horrific crimes that will be committed during and around the event in Indianapolis.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched program on TV every year. But many people don’t know about its dark underside: the Super Bowl, like other large sporting events, is a magnet for sex trafficking and child prostitution. It is possibly the largest sex trafficking event in the US. As more than 100,000 football fans descend on Indianapolis, sex traffickers and pimps will also arrive in droves to take advantage of the demand.

WHAT IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING?

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of people by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them.

The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people are trafficked annually. The U.S. State Department estimates an even higher number: about 12.3 million adults and children “in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world.” It deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, it is a global health risk, and it fuels organized crime. Victims of trafficking are forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. According to the United Nations, sex trafficking brings in an estimated $32 billion a year worldwide. In the U.S., sex trafficking brings in $9.5 billion annually.

TRAFFICKING IN THE UNITED STATES

The United States is a destination country for international trafficking: foreign women and children are transported into the United States for purposes of sexual and labor exploitation. The U.S. State Department estimates that approximately eighteen thousand foreign nationals are trafficked annually into the United States.

Victims are brought to the United States from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Most women and children brought to the United States find themselves forced to work in massage parlors, commercial or residential brothels, escort services, and strip clubs.

Sex trafficking also happens to United States citizens residing within U.S. borders. The Department of Justice estimates that more than 250,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry annually. The average age of girls who enter into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old.

Traffickers coerce women and children to enter the commercial sex industry through a variety of recruitment techniques in strip clubs, street-based prostitution, and escort services.

FROM VICTIM TO SLAVE

Domestic sex traffickers particularly target vulnerable young girls, such as runaway, homeless, and foster care children. In the United States, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13. Incest and other forms of abuse often drive children to run away from home, making them vulnerable to the slick tactics of sex traffickers.

The pimp seduces a recruit with the lure of love, protection, wealth, designer clothes, fancy cars, and exclusive nightclubs. Pimps move from city to city looking for children and young women who are easy prey, those who are alone, desperate, and alienated. Once a pimp moves a victim from her hometown into a strange city, the pimp can easily force her to work as a prostitute. Thousands of children and women are victimized in this way every year.

SUPER BOWL

Large sporting events like the Super Bowl are prime targets for sex traffickers because of the high demand generated by thousands of men pouring into an area for a weekend of fun. The 2010 Super Bowl saw an estimated 10,000 sex workers brought into Miami. Despite efforts to crack down on sex trafficking at the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas, there was still a tremendous number of women and children sexually exploited. In the past, attempted crackdowns by law enforcement have misfired by treating prostitutes as criminals to be locked up rather than victims to be rescued, but new efforts are gaining traction: a bill moving through the Indiana legislature aims to toughen the state’s sex-trafficking law before the Super Bowl.  This year the event is actually near the Detroit-Toledo corridor, which has one of the highest incidences of trafficking in the country.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS AN ATTACK ON GOD

Human trafficking is a sin against the victim and a sin against God. Evil is anti-creation, anti-life, and the force that seeks to oppose, deface, and destroy God, his good world, and his image bearers. Simply put, when someone defaces a human being—God’s image bearer—it is ultimately an attack against God himself.

The victim’s experience of trafficking is not ignored by God or minimized by the Bible, and it is not outside of the scope of healing and hope found in redemption. God’s response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and re-creation because of the gospel of Christ. And that should be the church’s message.

Christians and churches need to be awakened to the modern-day slavery occurring in our cities. Convinced of the problem? Here are some practical ways you can make a difference.

6 WAYS YOU CAN FIGHT HUMAN TRAFFICKING

  1. Get informed and inform others. A recommended reading list can be found here.
  2. Read Rid of My Disgrace to learn about the effects of sexual assault and sex trafficking and the hope and healing for victims found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  3. Support organizations fighting trafficking:
  4. Get involved
  5. Be an informed consumer
  6. Join a local or state anti-trafficking group