February 11th, 2013 at 8:24 pm
It’s 3 a.m. and sleep escapes me again.
Images clutter my mind: young girls tucked in brothels instead of snug beds. A six-year-old African boy losing his underwater fight with a tangled tuna net. A sweet little girl, wielding a machete, who will never taste the chocolate she is forced to harvest. Thoughts of frightened middle school girls climbing into the cabs of parked 18-wheelers interrupt any hope of pleasant dreams. A glance at the clock reminds me that only a few hours remain before I meet the morning’s demands; yet I know that violated teens working to satisfy their pimp’s quota of truckers, desperately hope for daybreak to end their horror, if only for a brief while.
Human trafficking interrupts!
It destroys the dreams of people longing to escape poverty. It robs innocence from young children. And it messes with my life.
I looked forward to my early retirement. I had great plans to enjoy my grandchildren, tackle some neglected hobbies and to take life a bit easier. All of that changed the afternoon I stumbled onto a documentary investigating young women being forced to work in Asian brothels. I sat in horror, watching emaciated girls, younger than the students I teach every Sunday, waiting in squalor for their next depraved customer while their toddlers played under filthy cots. And I knew those precious babies were being groomed for the same life of bondage.
Why had I been clueless to this tragedy? How could I have allowed my tidy Christian life to become so insulated that I had no idea that 27 million people were trapped in slavery?
Months of research left me staring at a Goliath and a looming question: “God, why don’t you end this tragedy?” He whispered, “Have you and the rest of my children asked me to move?”
So I invited a small group of women to pray with me once a month alongside Interstate 1O, a major human trafficking route in our nation, and our church’s anti-slavery prayer group was birthed. Local ministries, politicians and law enforcement requested prayer for safety, wisdom and rescued girls. Our list of petitions grew and so did our burden for victims in our city.
God began opening opportunities to educate our congregation and to support a local ministry serving teens at-risk of being trafficked. We gathered toiletries and clothing for a new safe house for under-aged survivors and assembled bags to thank local police officers involved in recent sting operations. It seemed like each week God was handing us another stone to throw at this giant. One act of obedience had led us to form a new women’s ministry, one ready to raise our sling shots.
Two years later, this tragedy continues to mess with my life. I can no longer sip on coffee or snack on chocolate without asking if the beans have been harvested by a slave-child. I research a company’s supply chain before I buy a new cotton shirt, making sure there is no hint of a sweat shop. I keep a cautious eye on customers patronizing questionable nail salons as well as young girls hanging out at the local mall. My husband and I have become very intentional in helping impoverished families begin cottage industries, in hopes they won’t become desperate enough to sell their young daughters to trafficking rings. Our Christmas shopping is no longer completed at the mall, but from village women providing for their families. My retirement now is filled with petitions, public awareness events and great purpose.
But mostly, I continue to pray. Staring at this evil, I realize only God can end the constant demand for sexually exploited women, cheap labor, child soldiers. So, like the persistent widow begging for justice, I fight this monster on my knees. Not only do I plead for a way of escape for vulnerable victims but also for the Church fully to participate in His plan to set captives free.
I’m grateful for the many groups working to end human trafficking, but I know that only the children of God can offer real freedom, liberty that only comes from relationship with Jesus. Other warriors are called to enter brothels and border checkpoints; I am called to enter His presence by a busy freeway, in a crowded mall and in the 3 a.m. darkness.
By Robin Moore, member of Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston.
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.
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