November 19th, 2012 at 7:00 am
I stumbled across a web page the other day that created a deep sense of sadness within me. It’s a page of the Tampa Bay Times which presents mug shots of people arrested in the area.
Five mug shots appear near the top of the page. When you click on the photo you are taken to information about the person including name, age, birth date and criminal charge. There is an arrow to the right of the five mug shots, which, when clicked, takes you to another five, and then another five, and then another five.
On the day I saw the site the crimes included driving under the influence, driving without a license, battery, prostitution, drugs, grand theft, misdemeanor theft, and on and on.
The people cited for driving offenses looked pretty “normal.” But the other offenses often revealed faces reflecting deep brokenness — sadness, hopelessness, defiance, pain. Some of the offenders smiled, as if to mock the process, including one 28-year-old man charged with “battery (victim over 65).”
Two categories of offenders caught my particular attention because their faces had the look of shattered lives — those arrested on drug charges and those booked on prostitution. It’s what their eyes “say” that is shocking; it’s as if their souls are crying out for help in the midst of desperation.
You also could see the difference between the prostitutes in their 20s and those in their 30s and 40s. The younger ones were often attractive, but with the older ones you could only see shadows of a beauty that had passed away sometime in the woman’s past. It was not just a matter of age taking its toll; it was much, much more than age. Looking at these women, I hurt for them and I wondered if human trafficking had played into the destruction of their lives.
Confronted with such a terrible reality, those of us who follow Christ know that none of these offenders and the thousands more like them around the country are beyond the love of God. No matter how low these fellow children of God may have slipped, Christ can still bring purpose, fullness, and hope to their lives. Redemption always is possible.
The jails and prisons of our communities are full of people who need to feel the love of Christ that has so changed many of our lives. And there are many others in our communities who are on the verge of being behind bars because of lifestyle choices. Good “church people” are needed more in these places than they are in church buildings.
A prayer: Help us, Lord, to help those who need Your help.
The Dallas Morning News carried an excellent opinion piece in its Feb. 23 edition about children and prostitution. The article, by Malika Saada Saar, expresses a broad national perspective. In Texas, we are actually doing better than reflected in Saar’s article, but we still have lots of work to do.
Saar points out that about 293,000 U.S. children are “at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex, according to a 2011 FBI report on trafficking. Most are girls ages 12 to 14. They often are abducted or lured by pimps and traffickers, beaten into submission and sometimes even branded with the pimp’s name.” She tells of one 15-year-old girl being abducted on her way home from school.
The trafficking of children is a deep tragedy in and of itself, but a secondary tragedy occurs when the justice system treats them like criminals (prostitutes) instead of victims. This secondary problem can be attributed to inadequate laws, uninformed officers, and the lack of places for trafficking victims to be sent for protection.
In Texas, we have made some genuine, bi-partisan progress in changing laws regarding child prostitution, and the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission has been a critical advocate in making these changes. In the 2013 session, the legislature made the following changes:
HB 2268 (John Frullo) and SB 1052 ( John Carona) streamlined the investigations of Texas law enforcement officers into aspects of human trafficking taking place on the Internet.
SB 92 (Leticia Van de Putte) created a diversion court program for victims of human trafficking. In particular, the bill helps recognize victims of human trafficking as victims, not criminals, particularly in situations involving allegations of prostitution (many victims are minors and cannot legally consent to sex—this bill treats them accordingly). This addressed a key aspect of Saar’s article.
HB 2725 ( Senfronia Thompson) created parameters to help ensure the confidentiality of human trafficking shelters and their occupants.
Two years earlier, in 2011, the following bills also helped shore up the Texas fight against human trafficking:
HB 2015 (Thompson and Van de Putte) added minor prostitution to the list offenses eligible for “child in need of supervision.” This addressed one of the legal shortcomings cited in Saar’s article.
SB 24 (Van de Putte and Thompson) mandated urgent recommendations from the Attorney General’s 2011 report that added human trafficking to lists of crimes in the penal code, government code, and family code, code of criminal procedure, and civil practice and remedies code. The bill also addresses important victim protections.
HB 289 (Jim Jackson and Jane Nelson) added human trafficking to the list of activities that cause a common nuisance in a community, allowing another avenue for law enforcement crack down on human trafficking operations in Texas.
HB 1994 (Randy Weber of Pearland and Van de Putte) made it permissible for local communities to hold a mandatory, day-long session for first-time “johns” (offenders who seek a prostitute), otherwise known as a “John School.” These sessions educate johns on the risks of having sex with a prostitute, including the reality of human trafficking, health risks, and other harms that come to their personal life and the community.
We can all add a big “thank you” to the Texas Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry for helping us make progress against these terrible crimes.
Before the Civil War, the average cost of a slave was about the equivalent of $40,000 in today’s currency. Today, a person can be purchased for about $90. And the number of slaves in our world today is much higher than it was at the height of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade years ago. Something must be done to change this dark reality.
Though their ministry is not specifically to women caught in trafficking, Brett and Emily Mills, founders of Jesus Said Love, have come across trafficking rings as they have been about caring for exotic dancers and strippers and sharing the love of Christ with them. Their belief is that Jesus loves all people, yes, even strippers and that the church should be reaching out to them out of love. Below is a story originally published in Oct. 2012 that shares about what God is doing through the faithful obedience to love the women He has placed in their lives.