When Bethany Hoang (now director of the International Justice Mission Institute) turned in papers on modern slavery for her seminary classes, her professors docked points from her grades for lying. Eventually she learned to bring in stacks of reports from the CIA and the U.S. State Department to back her citations each time she turned in a paper. Even so, her arguments met skepticism. It isn’t any wonder. The U.S. State Department didn’t even establish the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons until 2000, and it didn’t release its first report until early 2001.
The numbers are staggering. According to most sources, as many as 27 million people are held in involuntary servitude or forced labor around the world. To put that into historical perspective, it’s more than twice as many people as died in the Holocaust. It’s more people than 400 years of the Transatlantic slave trade trafficked. The State Department estimates that as many as 30,000 people are trafficked across the U.S. border per year, headed for destinations both foreign and domestic. 200,000 slaves live within the borders of the U.S. today. 17,500 of those people are children. Researchers report that 80% of all slaves worldwide are women, and 50% are children. Those in highest demand worldwide are young girls between the ages of 10 and 16, forced into prostitution, or as I should state more accurately, raped for profit. Human trafficking is the fastest growing black market trade, and is on a trajectory to surpass both arms dealing and drug dealing within the next few decades.
Slavery is real, and it is thriving. Log on to www.slaverymap.org to spot reported and prosecuted incidents near your home. The numbers of people involved, and the personal testimonies of those who’ve lived the nightmare, are shocking. They can be enough to make us throw up our hands in despair of ever addressing the problem. But this weekend, I met people who fight it every day, who understand the temptation of despair but choose instead to place their hope in the promises of God.
This weekend, I attended Freedom Summit 2009 in Mountain View, California. It featured representatives from the International Justice Mission, the Not for Sale Campaign, Slave Free, The Hagar Project, Starfish, Trade as One, and many other abolitionist organizations. The San Jose Police Department was on hand to promote the South Bay Coalition Against Human Trafficking. The attendees were a diverse group from all races, and all ages. I saw retirees and college students squeeze between families with junior highers in tow, all gathered in the same room to hear heroes of the modern abolitionist movement speak.
The overwhelming theme of the conference was not anger, as some might expect, nor was it tragedy, an attempt to tug at heartstrings to get at purse strings. Instead, each presenter spoke of the source of their passion for abolition: Christ the Savior. It is the image of Christ who, laying down His life, rescues us from the clutches of the Evil One and calls us His own that moves these men and women to give up all they have, some of them risking death for their work, and show the love of Christ to the oppressed by imitating Him in His greatest work.
On the opening night of the conference, David Batstone, founder of the Not for Sale Campaign, told the first of a weekend full of compelling stories. An unmarried, middle aged woman in Cambodia began speaking to some street kids one day, and learned they had been sold by their families into slavery from many different countries in the region. They were all sent first to the karaoke bars in the city to feed the city’s booming sex tourism trade (a trade fueled primarily by western businessmen) , and when they’d proven their loyalty they were allowed on the street as beggars. Horrified, the woman dashed into the first karaoke bar she saw. Sure enough, at the bar there were two little girls, no older than 10, being forced to flirt with an older man. She blinked, then darted forward, grabbed one girl under each arm and fled. Less than a year later, those two little girls had been joined by more than 100 others as this woman waged her own personal war on the sex trade in her country. Now, with sponsorship from Batstone’s organization, she runs a small village of rescued children.
This unambitious woman is an image of Christ the Savior for those children. She’s an image of Him for me, as well. Though her methods aren’t sophisticated, she was so moved to action she couldn’t do anything more than grab the children and take them away from those who would do evil to them. My heart hopes I’d do the same, but I have to admit, though I’ve been aware of human trafficking for a number of years now, I’ve cataloged it along with other injustices that make me burn with anger, but don’t move me to much action beyond hand-wringing. After attending Freedom Summit, I’ve decided that must change.
This is a bit heavy for my first post on this website. I think it should be. Over my next few posts, I’ll share the wise words of the presenters from Freedom Summit, as well as some practical things that everyone can do to fight this most evil of black market trades on a daily basis. I’m excited about this. Like our forefathers and foremothers from the last century, today’s leading abolitionists are Christians. It is a movement sprung from the words Christ read in the synagogue in Nazareth to begin His public ministry:
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.
Let us carry on the noble tradition, and follow where our Savior has led us. ‘