Human trafficking is no longer a problem in far away, developing countries. The problem has grown to epidemic levels around the world, including the United States. Revealing some of the darkest levels of the human heart, sex trafficking is topic that makes us uncomfortable. But in order to end its grip on so many lives, we must confront the truth about this terrible evil and bring God’s light to the darkness.
Whether sold by their families, kidnapped, or abandoned, children and young women are considered nothing more than commodities for sex trade brokers and human traffickers. However, these individuals are God’s precious creation, someone’s daughter, sister, wife, mother, or loved one. They suffer in ways most human beings never will, and those rescued experience a slow road to recovery requiring helping hands and divine healing.
Learn about one woman’s journey through sex trafficking by watching the short video “Sarah’s Story” LINK
Sarah’s story is fairly typical for the millions of women who find themselves trapped in the hellish nightmare of sex trafficking. Family dysfunction and abuse are often catalysts leading into the sex trade as their own addictions and threats of violence then begin to compound their suffering. In addition to the physical and emotional wounds these women face, most cannot imagine breaking free. They have no hope. Here are two more victims’ stories, based on real individuals but with certain details altered to protect their identities.
“Growing up in Fort Worth, I had always been a good girl—quiet, polite, laid back. I liked to read and made good grades. My family went to church and I wanted to believe in God, only it was hard after my stepfather began molesting me when I was eleven. I tried to tell my mom but she told me to quit lying and trying to spoil her happiness. After that I felt so ashamed and couldn’t bear to tell anyone. Finally, when I was sixteen I came out of my shell and began hanging out with the party crowd at my high school.
Soon I was dating a guy ten years older who dealt a little weed and meth. He got me hooked and from there it wasn’t long before I dropped out of school and began turning tricks to get money for drugs. After my boyfriend left me, a much older man offered me a job at his club in Atlanta. I took it but his club turned out to be nothing more than an old rundown hotel in a strip mall where we lined up while truckers and businessmen decided who they wanted. Of course, I hated it and wanted out. But where was I going to go? I hated myself so much that I couldn’t imagine anyone caring enough to help me. So I just kept turning tricks, and doing anything else I could to forget.”
--Rachel, aged 32
“I grew up in a large family—eight of us—in a small village in Cambodia. My parents were very poor and when my father died, my mother did not know how we would eat. So she sold me and my little sister—I was ten and she was nine—to a man who gave her forty U.S. dollars. We cried but I hoped this would help my mother and my little brothers and sisters.
The man put us in a van with four other girls he had bought and we drove all day and all night. When we stopped, he told us we were near Bangkok and that we would be expected to work if we wanted to stay alive and if we wanted our families back home to stay alive. Then an older woman took us into a big house with many rooms and gave us some food, and then we took baths and put on pretty new clothes and lipstick. I could see the river out the open window and hear men calling to one another from the docks below.
Within a month my sister was taken away. I do not know where she is to this day. I hope she is still alive. I stayed at the big house and men came, mostly men from Europe or America, and did whatever they wanted with me. I tried to run away once to look for my sister but the old woman caught me and beat me. So after that, I just quit hoping anything would ever change.”
--Maly, aged 17
Many people unfamiliar with how trafficking works struggle to understand how children and young women can be lured or coerced into such dangerous situations. While many dynamics are often in play, most victims are already vulnerable and may feel they have few or no other options. After they’ve been enslaved in the sex trade, they typically feel too ashamed, too dependent, and too afraid to leave their captors—even when given opportunities.
Here are some of the warning signs and characteristics of potential victims as well as those already snared by sex trafficking:
- evidence of physical, mental, or emotional abuse;
- inability to speak on one’s own behalf;
- inability to speak to an official alone;
- excess amounts of cash on hand;
- working for long hours, often with little or no pay;
- presence of older male or boyfriend who seems controlling;
- loyalty and positive feelings towards trafficker;
- exhibition of fear, tension, shame, humiliation, nervousness;
- lack of ability or unwillingness to identify him/herself as victim; and
- over-sexualized behavior.
If you suspect someone may be the victim of trafficking and are unsure how to proceed, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Once that call is made, you can discuss possible ways to handle the situation with a trained expert. For example, the hotline counselor can connect the case to the appropriate trafficking law enforcement agency, FBI, or Homeland Security and the victim can obtain services. If you’re worried about being wrong in your assumptions, remember it’s better to offend someone you suspect of being a victim than to ignore the distress signals of an actual victim.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6, NIV).
“Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both.” (Prov. 17:15, NIV).
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV)
1. Apply the following questions to both Rachel’s and Maly’s situations.
- Was she lured into this situation and deceived? ___________
- Did she agree to do what she is doing? __________
- Is she free to leave and talk to family and friends? ___________
- Is she physically, sexually or psychologically abused? _________
- Is she paid? __________
- Does she fear something bad will happen to her, or to a family member, if she leaves? __________
- Has she been trafficked? _________
There may seem to be little doubt both these young women are victims of sex trafficking. However, it’s not always simply a matter of leaving their situations just because they want to or can.
1. How would you explain the barriers they face to someone unfamiliar with or skeptical about trafficking?
2. What surprises you most about victims of sex trafficking? What troubles you the most? In what ways can you relate to their suffering?
3. What would you do if you suspected an acquaintance in your neighborhood was a victim of trafficking? What would you want to say to this person? Where would you send them for help?
WHO C.A.R.E.S.—YOU DO!
Based on the area(s) you checked the most in the previous session, choose one of the following C.A.R.E.S. areas and complete its homework assignment.
Other than your church, identify at least one agency, program, or ministry in your area that offers assistance to victims of human trafficking. Give them a call and offer to pass along information about their program to your group.
Choose a film or documentary on the topic of human trafficking (see the C.A.R.E.S. Toolkit resource list) and watch it with another friend or family member not in this group. After watching it together, tell your viewing companion what you’ve been learning about victims of human trafficking.
Contact a city, regional, or state law enforcement agency and request available information about assistance for victims of human trafficking. Let them know you’re participating in this group and make them aware of any resources your church has available for victims.
Reach out to a teacher, counselor, or administrator in the school district where you live and ask if anything is currently available to educate students—in an age-appropriate way, of course—about the warning signs for traffickers trying to lure students. If they are without educational material, direct them to the Trafficking Hope website (which can recommend speakers and educational resources or other helpful materials).
Locate the nearest shelter, transitional home, or halfway house that serves those delivered from the sex trade and human trafficking. Inquire about what resources they need the most (Bibles, beds, clothes, food, money, etc.) and report back to your group. If possible, work with others in the group to meet at least one of these needs.
Ask God to deliver all victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking from their captors as well as the emotional, psychological, and spiritual chains of the enemy. Pray that victims would find the strength to leave their situations and experience the hope that only comes from knowing God. Pray that more resources would become available for victims of trafficking and that the church would take a primary role in meeting the needs of victims. Close by thanking God for this group and what you’re all learning so you can help free victims from the snares of human trafficking.