Locations & Times

Can We End Human Trafficking?

January 17, 2024

By Dr. Sandie Morgan, Director, Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University

Can you imagine a middle school-aged child hacking cocoa pods on a plantation on the West Coast of Africa instead of attending school? Or small boys and girls diving in lakes in Ghana to untangle fishing nets? These are some of the ways children, as well as adults, are trafficked through force, fraud, and coercion across the globe. Many of the products end up on the shelves of our stores.

But the stories are not just in other countries; they are in our own backyard. Recent news has uncovered children as young as twelve being exploited in poultry processing plants just 20 miles from my Orange County, California home. The first labor trafficking victim in Orange County was a 12-year-old Egyptian girl sleeping in the garage and serving as a maid for a family with five children. Shyima did not go to school and had never been to a dentist.

When I interviewed Tracy Webb on the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, she was a Senior Trial Attorney, Cyber Crime and Child Abuse Policy and Prosecution, Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Los Angeles. Tracy told the story of a little girl we'll call Brittany who lives in the suburbs in a happy family with cautious parents who have rules about internet use. Still, she met a man who said he was a talent scout and told her she was beautiful. He built trust and eventually asked for headshots. It was exciting when he contacted her about a not-to-be-missed Hollywood casting call that she was perfect for. He sent her an electronic plane ticket and told her a taxi would pick her up the next night at 11 p.m. after her family was in bed. When Brittany left the house that night, a cab was waiting for her outside and took her to the airport. As the plane neared LAX, an alert flight attendant noticed she was anxious, and Brittany told her what was happening. An air marshal met the plane. One of the traffickers was arrested at baggage claim, and investigators found the IP address to locate the other traffickers. More children were recovered at that location. Brittany was safe and was returned to her shocked parents. Brittany was not homeless or sad, but she was vulnerable because she had a dream of being a model. 

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Unfortunately, the stories seem endless. What can we do? There are many needs, and amazing people are responding to those needs with emergency services. But sometimes, it feels like we are so busy sending ambulances to rescue those who have fallen off the cliff that we have not stopped to think about building a fence to keep them from falling in the first place. I believe the Church is uniquely designed to prevent human trafficking. 

In the forward to the book my friends and I wrote, Ending Human Trafficking, a Handbook of Strategies for the Church Today, Ambassador John Richmond, a former human trafficking prosecutor, told the story of a survivor. She told him that the only thing the trafficker could not take from her was the ability to pray. One thing she prayed for was that people would do more than know about human trafficking and have distant compassion. She prayed that people would take smart, strategic action! What does that look like for people in our churches? How do we demonstrate God's love to those most vulnerable to being exploited?

Philippians 1:9-11 tells us that we need knowledge and insight if we want our love to abound. We can start with learning the vocabulary in the public square, just like Paul did at Mars Hill. Human trafficking is a complex economic crime. It is about money. It exploits the most vulnerable, like the widow whose sons are going to be taken as slaves in 2 Kings 4:1-7. This is my favorite story of human trafficking prevention in the Bible. Prevention happens by engaging the whole community. Read the story. It is amazing as the prophet starts with what she has in her hand, a small vessel of olive oil to light her lamp. The community gives her empty jars. Then, she obediently begins pouring the oil until every jar is filled. Now, she's an olive oil entrepreneur and her sons are safe. We never learn the names of the boys. What can we learn about prevention from this story?

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In the anti-human trafficking movement, prevention is the first P in the federal and international model to combat slavery. January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. How can we explore opportunities to prevent human trafficking? Can we mobilize the power of our community? We can embrace the call to do prevention. It is not glamorous, and no one will remember your name, but it is an answer to the survivor's prayer for smart, strategic action!

What can you do right where you are? Choose one thing from this list:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn about the issue of human trafficking. Read books and attend conferences. Subscribe to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. It's free.
  2. Support Fair Trade: Choose products and services that are certified as fair trade to ensure that you are not inadvertently supporting businesses involved in human trafficking. Start with choosing clothing brands that prioritize ethical and manufacturing practices that avoid exploitative labor.
  3. Promote Internet Safety: Educate children and young adults about online safety, emphasizing the risks of online predators and human trafficking recruitment.
  4. Promote Ethical Supply Chains: Advocate for companies to adopt ethical supply chain practices and ensure that their products are not associated with forced labor or human trafficking. Ask companies for their policies.
  5. Engage Faith Communities: Work with churches to incorporate anti-trafficking initiatives into their programs, sermons, policies, and community outreach efforts.
  6. Volunteer in Your Community: Serve in prevention-focused programs like after-school, homeless, and job training. If you have professional skills, volunteer in aftercare.
  7. Start a small group to study the book Ending Human Trafficking, a Handbook of Strategies for the Church Today.

The call to action is clear: educate yourself, your community, and your church. Embrace the uncomfortable conversations and dismantle the stereotypes that allow trafficking to persist. We want to be the answer to the survivor's prayer for smart, strategic action. The knowledge and insight that Paul calls us to leads to discernment. The remainder of Philippians 1:9-11 calls us to the best, pure, and blameless work that brings praise to God. The call to action is that our love will abound, and we will learn how to do our part, no matter how small, in ending the tragedy that is human trafficking.

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