A decade ago, you might have heard the word “trafficking” and thought of rush hour. Now, thanks to the efforts of state and federal agencies and legislators, law enforcement and countless volunteers, many know human trafficking “is a form of modern-day slavery that occurs when a person is deceived or coerced in situations of prostitution, forced labor, or domestic servitude.”
Definitions and numbers
United States federal law defines sex and labor trafficking crimes as follows:
Sex trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act … in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age” (22 USC § 7102).
Labor trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery” (22 USC § 7102).
In Texas, approximately 314,000 people—a little less than the population of Corpus Christi or more than twice the population of Waco or Midland—are being trafficked at any given time. Victims of labor trafficking make up 235,000 of those, and 79,000—just under the population of New Braunfels—are minors who are victims of sex trafficking. Those numbers are staggering.
Across the nation, the problem continues to increase. Reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline increased by 20 percent in 2019. The increase in sex trafficking during the pandemic could have been immeasurably greater.
This crime damages more than those trafficked. The financial cost alone to the entire Texas economy is more than $7 billion.
If you add to the overwhelming dollar figure the intangible damage to health and longevity of the victims, you realize the issue is about more than stewardship. It is about loving our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37), caring for the least of these (Matthew 25:40), and practicing religion that is “pure and undefiled” (James 1:27).
Thankfully, the body of Jesus Christ is not turning a blind eye to the suffering of trafficked people. Many ministries are caring for victims and are working to end the demands for human trafficking.
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How you can make a difference
I am involved through Refuge of Light, a ministry that exists “to provide a safe haven, redemptive rescue and restoration of female victims of domestic minor sex trafficking through advocacy, awareness and holistic care.”
Refuge of Light provides residential care for domestic minor victims of sex trafficking in Texas. During my 15 years with this ministry, I have learned effective ways Christians can care for trafficking victims.
Get information from reputable sources. So much disinformation exists on social media, even if posted by well-intentioned people. I recommend beginning your research with these sites:
• The Child Sex-Trafficking Team is an effort of the State of Texas Department of Family Protective Services, the Governor’s Office, and agencies and faith-based initiatives to inform and equip Texans.
• The Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
• The Polaris Project manages the National Human Trafficking Hotline—1-888-373-7888—and maintains data and resources for referral of trafficking victims.
• The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has been around since 1984 and offers many helps, including hosting the listing of missing children.
Engage others in your church and community interested in learning more about the problem of human trafficking. Pray for and speak with your church leadership. In Texas, we have several groups working locally to address human trafficking. There may be a ministry like Refuge of Light near you. Make sure churches and other reputable entities endorse them before you volunteer or give.
Support and encourage law enforcement and the justice system as they continue to rescue victims and prosecute traffickers. Pray for agencies that provide government resources for trafficked people. Communicate with your elected officials to find out how they are engaged in addressing human trafficking. Use your voice and vote to advocate for solutions to trafficking. You can find your elected officials here.
Help stop the demand. The desire for cheap products increases human trafficking. Advocate for fair wages and labor practices. Research purchases, considering the impact upon the laborers.
Pornography fuels the demand for those “recruited” into sex trafficking. It damages families. On average, a child sees pornography for the first time before age 12. This addictive danger rewires the brain, damaging the user and perverting God’s plan for healthy sexual behavior. Help families protect their children through internet safety training. Speak out against the damage pornography does to marriages.
Combatting pornography is also a financial stewardship issue. Online porn takes in $3,000 per second. That’s over $250 million a day. That much money could fund a ministry like Refuge of Light for 500 years.
A 6,000-pound steel bar hung by a chain. A cork was suspended weightlessly on a thread beside it. With seeming futility, the cork struck the steel each second. After a few minutes the steel moved. Eventually, the cork and the steel swung as synchronized pendulums.
Human trafficking is like a 6,000-pound steel bar. Even if you feel like a tiny, weightless cork, you can make an impact.
Jay Abernathy is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodville, Texas, and president of the Refuge of Light board of directors. He also is a member of the Baptist Standard board of directors. The views expressed reflect the Standard’s commitment to the redeeming and reconciling work of Jesus Christ.
Click here for another article about combatting human trafficking.