What I learned last weekend about slavery

Last Saturday, I attended a symposium on human trafficking put together by my good friend who recently quit her day job and is pouring herself into this issue. Presenters included law enforcement officers, several men and women who run organizations to help victims, and musical and spoken word artists. It was eye-opening to say the least. That's exactly what it was meant to be. Who knew this was happening in our own back yard? How can a wrong be righted without this awareness among ordinary citizens? The stories we heard were graphic and shocking. 

Here is some of what I learned: Minnesota has the largest number of homeless youth per capita in the country. Not New York or California, but Minnesota. This doesn't even count the youth that are homeless but part of a homeless family. A homeless youth on his or her own will be targeted by a trafficker within 48 hours of being on the streets. Nationwide, the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 13 years. This trafficking is a form of slavery, quite literally, and is the fastest growing black market crime. In Minnesota alone, 8,000 to 12,000 women and children are being sold for sex. Some are locked in rooms and forced to provide services to a steady stream of customers; others are on the streets to attract customers under the watchful eye of their "owners" who will use baseball bats or any other means to make sure they stay on the job and bring in a certain daily quota. This doesn't happen only to girls from the wrong side of the tracks. Rich kids get trapped too. Traffickers are trained to see the vulnerable in shopping malls, on the streets, and, in rapidly increasing numbers, on the internet and lure them by affirming their beauty, promising to take care of them, pretending to be their boyfriend and so on, and then the trap is set. Overall, considering sex and labor trafficking together, an estimated 27 million people are enslaved worldwide. 

Nationwide, there are few law enforcement officers dedicated to human trafficking and fewer than 100 recovery beds for rescued women and children, with long waiting lists for those beds. Few churches or civic groups want to host awareness events and fundraising for this cause is difficult because the topic is too dark, too scary. To be honest, I don't even like having such darkness on this blog.

So what can an average person do? Here are some ideas from the symposium:

  • Pray. Never underestimate the power of prayer against evil. Check out Exodus Cry, which is a prayer movement to end human trafficking.
  • Watch. Be alert for children and women who may be victims; be alert for venues for this activity. Brothels with enslaved women and children can be (and are) in suburban homes as easily as city apartments. Here is the national human trafficking hotline: 888-373-7888.
  • Give. The people and groups that work against this evil need money to keep going. Some of the organizations discussed include: Source Ministries, Breaking Free, Mission 21, and Not For Sale.
  • Reject. Whenever possible within your sphere of influence, reject the normalization of pornography and all other forms of selling women and children. The experts say this normalization of porn in mainstream life directly increases the demand for the services of sexual slaves by increasing the appetite of customers and dulling their sense of right and wrong.
  • Buy. Look for fair-trade products. The coffee and chocolate industries are particularly likely to use slave labor. Fair-trade producers do not. Buy clothing and other products from companies who do not use slave labor. Check out Free2Work for a phone app that gives you corporate responsibility info from a barcode scan.
  • Love. If you have children or grandchildren, love them, love them, love them. Love them. Attend to them; care for them. Don't cause them to go looking to strangers for what they need from you at home: care and feeding, assurance of their value and beauty, security, attention, relationship. If you have a child who is a prodigal, always always keep an open path home.