“Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4
We as Americans have a profound disconnect from the realities of human trafficking. In our minds it is a movie plot, a third-world issue, a self-created lifestyle. It would be too hard for us to truly personalize such a heart-breaking reality. It’s hard to accept that it isn’t just kidnapped children or cultures overseas, that the truth is human trafficking is something our very own culture has created a demand for. Beyond that, not only have we created the demand, but we have created the supply that will feed it. The reality is we ourselves are broken people, living in a broken culture, full of other broken people, and the cycle of brokenness keeps thriving.
The biggest shock to our system is the fact that it isn’t just the evil pimps and kidnapped children forced into the lifestyle that have created this epidemic. The reason we keep ourselves so pleasantly disconnected from human trafficking is because admitting the absolute truth would place on us the personal responsibility that it is not just “society’s” problem, but it is our problem.
There may be a reason human trafficking isn’t talked about; why we accept this profound disconnect in our lives when it comes to an issue as significant as modern day slavery.
Understanding that in our everyday lives we encounter modern-day slaves without even going out of our way is just inconceivable. Yet, that discounted product you bought may have been made by modern-day slaves, that pedicure was possibly done by a woman who came to our country with the promise of a fulfilling career and has instead been tricked into manual labor for little to no wages, that woman sitting in the bar isn’t waiting on her boyfriend but is instead looking for a client so she doesn’t get beaten by her pimp. Modern-day slaves aren’t kept hidden from view, they don’t need to be. We as a society are so blinded to their reality that they are completely invisible while in plain sight.
We would like to think that our lives are protected from the atrocity of slavery, but the truth is there are more slaves today than there have been ever before. The truth is that not only our culture, but we personally, contribute to an ongoing desire and necessity for slavery. The truth is that our brokenness creates more brokenness whether we desire to or not. That decisions we pay no mind to have consequences we could have never imagined. And one aspect of modern-day slavery is too uncomfortable for us to talk about, especially in the church. Which is where we should be talking about it the most, especially since we are not yet a part of the solution and are still a part of the problem.
Luckily, some are willing to talk about it. Ending sex trafficking is the heart behind this organization. Trafficking Hope Louisiana is one of only a handful of organizations in the United States committed to the immense task of completely eradicating sex trafficking by raising awareness throughout the community, empowering churches and organizations, and treating victims rescued out of slavery at their live-in facility, Hope House. The very work that is to be done speaks to the blindness we as a culture still have when it comes to the issues revolving around human trafficking.
It is a fight that cannot be done alone. It is a fight that has no one-size-fits-all solution, a fight that requires an immense devotion of time and financial responsibility. In fact, the blindness we have had towards sex trafficking for so long has done much to hinder the ability of organizations like Trafficking Hope Louisiana to successfully do the work they are called to do.
I remember when I personally began doing work with the organization five years ago. I told God, “I don’t want to get too deep into this.” I didn’t want to hear the stories of the victims for fear of opening up personal wounds that I had suffered. Yet, immediately I began to receive messages from people that I had known for years saying, “I see you are working with human trafficking, let me tell you my story.”
These people, whom I would have never guessed had been through anything like what they described, poured out their stories. It truly is our neighbors, our friends, and our kids. George Mills, President of Trafficking Hope Louisiana, recently told a group he was speaking to, “I could take the residents of Hope House and put them in the room with you all right now, and none of you would even be able to tell who they are.” It truly is happening in our own backyards. It’s happening in all areas of our community, it’s happening in our schools, it’s happening in our churches. It’s not even a matter of “if” or “when,” it is a matter of “it has been” and “it will continue.” The time is not just “now,” the time to act has already passed us up and every second we wait is another second wasted.
Right here in Baton Rouge we are in one of the very hubs of the human trafficking epidemic. Our geographic location, high rates of poverty and childhood homelessness, as well as an overflowing foster care system only uphold the typical issues that perpetuate a culture ripe for sex trafficking, placing us at the top of the human trafficking list. Much work has been done, but there is so much work left to do, and the work will be never-ending as long as this is the culture in which we are raising our sons and daughters. It is a problem that requires work from all sides.
Every single person taken into this program requires a different method of care, which is where George’s background comes in. It is a completely individualized, continuous treatment plan that spans from their spiritual lives to addiction treatment, mental health, trauma recovery, education, and even basic social and life skills. Some don’t know how to shop for themselves, how to feed their children (40 percent of the women come to them with children), or how to eat in a restaurant. Many struggle with the basic realization of the abuse they have actually suffered.
It is truly trailblazing work and creating a successful treatment program that will be able to be proven and used with other organizations is key to continuous work throughout the United States with this epidemic. The program has been reworked once since its birth and is continually in a process of growth.
George says this about the movement, “What needs to happen is this: we have a box that we think human trafficking is in. First of all, human trafficking is just a politically correct word for ‘slavery.’ It’s much easier to say someone is being trafficked than someone is being enslaved. So, our box is a woman being forced to have sex with someone, and we call it trafficking. But sexual slavery includes chat rooms, pornography, strip clubs, anything where dollars are changing hands for sexual activity. And the truth is there is no way you can know if that person is a willing participant in that or not. Peel back [the layers] even more and the truth is [no one comes into that lifestyle without pre-existing conditions that led them there].” Breaking open that box certainly has major implications in the successful eradication of modern-day sexual slavery.
But there is only so much individuals and organizations can successfully do without the support and financial backing to continue. We need to stop stuffing the problem back down into the shadows where we are more comfortable with it, and we need to bring it out into the light, front and center. Luckily, we have an organization like none other right here, dedicated to partnering with the community to make a difference in our city and in our nation, not just for our culture today but for the culture we are leaving behind for future generations.
For more information about Trafficking Hope Louisiana and Hope House, or for information on how to become involved in the fight against modern day sex slavery visit: www.traffickinghopela.org. Also, keep an eye out for “Caged No More” in theaters January 22, and mark your calendars for the Faces of Hope Gala March 19.