10 ways you may not realize how your life is affecting sex trafficking

Exactly 5 years ago I began down a path of connecting with people who I thought were vastly different from me. This began with those who were in drug addiction, then those who were homeless, then those in prostitution, then those in domestic violence, and eventually those in human trafficking.

You know what happened as I met them?

It stopped being “them.”

And it became “us.”

First, I found that many of my own hurts and wounds were very emotionally similar to those in the “broken” culture. Hey guess what? I’m just as broken! And I think we’re all there– we just have various ways of coping or covering shame.

Second, the economics of my life choices became increasingly obvious. You see, I realized, as in Economics class, that making one choice is a choice for something and a choice against something else. All of our choices and actions and voices and thoughts affect those around us. We affect our culture by the choices we make and don’t make.

And I’ve come to find some very clear ways we contribute to sex trafficking around us, though normally unknowingly. However, ignorance is not bliss. So here are some ways you may not realize that you are contributing to sex trafficking around you.

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1. Calling prostitutes “sluts” and “whores.”

This unfortunate name-calling is perpetuated not just in our culture’s movies and music, but also in passing comments from average people and saintly church-goers. It’s a way of removing someone else’s lifestyle from our own connection so that we aren’t also soiled.

This practice also gives us permission to look at a woman who has on provocative clothing as someone we have permission to denigrate and look down on. “She dresses like a slut,” or “What a whore” are phrases that stiff-arm women far away from ourselves and “normal” people, and then categorizes them as simply sex objects who want to express their physical power.

Which, my friend, is far from the truth.

And it totally overlooks the reality that in the sex industry there is often very little choice involved, which brings us to the next point.

2. Believing that those in the sex industry are there by choice.

Prostitution is simply the exploitation of vulnerability. Statistics show that up to 95% of those in the sex industry have experienced sexual abuse in their past. Why do you think the correlation? Think about it— growing up, these children never understood the right they had to their own body. Then, when they grew up, all of a sudden someone offers money for what others have taken freely. It was a natural progression, but only because exploitation has been their normal expectation.

Another aspect of this lack of choice is the reality that most women chose this work because they didn’t have any other options for income and were in extreme circumstances. Funny how that works– they chose sex work because they didn’t have a choice.

This is a hard one to explain, because many of us do not understand what it means to be totally and wholly lost and without hope, to deal with not just having no way of taking care of yourself, but also dealing with emotional trauma and deep soul wounds. It must take a lot of courage to decide to perform sex acts with someone you don’t know in order to pay the bills and put food on the table.

I’ve talked to strippers, high-end escorts, street prostitutes, and massage parlor escorts, and every one of them said they were there for the money because they didn’t have another way to bring in a real income. And once they were in long enough, it was an endless cycle and nearly impossible to get out.

3. Having a limited, “slavery” view of human trafficking.

Yes, trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. But it’s slavery with a different face.

Slavery simple means forced against their own will. And many in prostitution are forced and exploited outside of their will.

But they are not in physically chains. Yet you can be certain to know that the emotional bondage is very real and controlling.

I had a friend who came to live with me for a while who was escaping her boyfriend who had literally beaten her with hangers, burned cigarette butts into her skin, stabbed her multiple times, and she still defended him and blamed it all on herself. You see, the chains we need to be aware of are the chains of mind control, brainwashing and manipulation.

And those kind of chains are the most frightening and most damaging.

4. Not being aware of children.

It’s hard to hear, but children are being used as sex objects. In America. In our cities. In our neighborhoods. On our watch.

It’s easy to overlook kids as just tiny humans and not take their non-verbal and verbal cues seriously.

But here’s the reality: the U.S.Department of Justice states that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 years old.

And that’s trafficking. And it’s happening to at-risk children as well as not-at-risk children everywhere. Be sensitive to the children around you, especially ones that may be “acting out.” It may be for a reason.

5. Watching “free” porn.

It’s a sad fallacy that just because you don’t pay for porn, then of course you’re not actually supporting the industry.

The reality?

Somebody pays, and it’s typically the girl behind the camera.

You see, the fact that trafficking exists means that there is more demand than there is supply. The more clicks, the more proof to the leaders and marketers of the sex industry that the demand is still there. And they will do whatever it takes to supply that demand.

6. Thinking, “Well, she likes it.”

We may think that a prostitute or porn actress really loves her job.

Think logically about this for a moment: Why would she say she doesn’t like it (to you or anyone else)? If she doesn’t feel safe around you, if she doesn’t trust you, if she knows she’ll get beaten if she doesn’t perform or bring in enough customers, then of course she’s going to tell you whatever you want to hear. Of course she’s going to act like this is the best life ever. Because she knows to be honest would mean losing her income, or losing her health, or coming to grips with her hurt and trauma beneath the surface.

Which brings me to the next point…

7. Being brutally insensitive to trauma.

Here’s the thing about trauma— when you try to explain your feelings and hurt and then someone blames you for it or gives a pat, sympathetic answer, it’s a slap in the face and a trigger to run and not trust anyone ever again with those feelings.

Those that have experienced varying versions of trauma (whether verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, etc…) are in desperate need for help and sometimes that plea for help may come out in odd ways or with unexpected reactions.

But often what they need most is for someone to empathize and just be with them in the moment.

We continue to perpetrate survivors of trauma by not listening and by walking away in their deepest hour of need.

8. Expecting survivors of trafficking to be OK with simply attending a community group and reading their Bible every day.

Survivors need therapy. Though many won’t say that or admit to it (who wants to admit they have serious issues? Yeah, me too), they’ve been through mental warfare and need emotional intensive care. This is not church small group stuff. This means professionals and years of work and tender care.

9. Taking people at face value and assuming you know their story.

You may be surprised to realize how many prostitutes, strip club dancers, and abuse survivors there is living inside your inner circle. We all have hidden lives, do we not? And often by not being vulnerable ourselves, we place this plastic film over our lives that looks like strength but smells like shame. It keeps us protected, but also keeps others at bay.

If we’re not vulnerable about our pain, then why would anyone else share with you about their hurts? or their struggle with sex? or their shame of prostituting?

10. Trying to rescue those who are being trafficked.

This is the one I’m the most guilty of (though believe me, I have been guilty of all of the above at one point or another). It’s easy to see this huge problem and decide to go on saving campaigns and rescue the victims from destruction.

The reality? This is just another power play.

It’s yet another way that these women are experiencing control from yet another person or group.

It’s deciding, “Hey, what’s happening to you is bad, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a decision for you that is obviously the best choice for your life. I know this is best. We’re going to do this.”

That friend I mentioned earlier? I was incredibly overwhelmed with feeling the responsibility to save her from this terrible man and terrible mental state. And it was seriously stuff.

But all I did was push her farther away, because then she was the victim and not the friend.

I’ve had a change of mindset. As Bob Goff says, “I used to want to save people. Now I just want to be with them.”

I used to want to fix people

So how can you make a difference today?

First of all, think through your thoughts. How do you think about those in the sex industry?

Secondly, think about your choices. How are some of your seemingly small decisions contributing to human trafficking?

Lastly, support one of these anti-trafficking organizations today. It’s Giving Tuesday and after days of shopping, make a real effort to give directly to help survivors of human trafficking.

Here are some organizations that I have personally worked with and/or volunteered with in Chicago. They are all doing amazing work in our city.

CAASE

What I love about CAASE is their focus on Ending Demand. They have an educator who goes into local high schools and middle schools to talk with boys about the realities of the sex industry and the fallacies they are seeing and hearing around them.

They also take the lead with legal advocacy in Chicago and Illinois. At the end of the day, if the laws don’t change, then longterm change is not possible.

New Name

Through New Name I have been able to do outreach in massage parlors in my neighborhood and come to a better understanding of international sex and labor trafficking. Massage parlors are very difficult as there is a huge language and cultural barrier. But New Name has a fantastic approach and view of these women and we are there to love and support and help however needed.

If you want to donate to New Name, please mail a check to PO Box 632, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137.

The Dream Center 

Last year I spent a lot of time with the Dream Center and was able to get involved with a street prostitution outreach. This was my first time “on the streets” and I was very humbled by my lack of understanding and lack of sensitivity. I found so much of this life is about survival and control. The women and men who work in the Dream Center are truly some of the most courageous people I know.

They have housing and after-care for girls who have been trafficked and women who have been in the sex industry and/or drug addiction. This is a place absolutely over-flowing with love and care.

So if this article has been helpful in your understanding at all about human trafficking, please share. Also, please feel free to email me or comment with questions or additional insights. This isn’t about pushing my opinions; I want this to be all about starting conversations.

So let’s have conversations that love and help people.

 

How To Be A Mom Of Justice: Fighting Human Trafficking While Juggling Tiny Humans

Growing up in a family with 5 other siblings, justice was all about me getting the same amount of cookies as my brothers.

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Some of my favorite tiny humans

Lord help us all if one child got more pieces of candy than the others. For my parents, I’m sure managing “justice” was a full-time job. We were extremely vocal is there was even a hint of unfairness in the distribution of sweet goods.

So for parents to think about stepping in the world of social justice can seem daunting. Managing the demands and schedules of tiny humans who at times believe the world revolves completely around them and their Fisher Price toys is a very demanding task.

However.

It is possible.

It is possible to do justice,

to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God.

It is possible to raise a generation that is aware of children, women and men that are enslaved in sexual exploitation.

It is possible to create a force of world changers who don’t just care, but also act.

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Example of an awesome mom juggling tiny humans! Shout-out to my sister-in-law Kristin

And this doesn’t happen on accident.

This is a word for moms. The mom that can’t imagine adding one more thing to her plate. The mom who can hardly get her child to share her Barbies with the neighbors. The mom who is overwhelmed with getting from one meal and one nap to the next.

Your life and your role is unspeakably important.

And I’d like to introduce a grain of thought that you can live for justice actively with your kids.

But it may look different from the way I live. In fact, it will look different from mine. I’m in a totally different season of life. Your ways will look different, but your impact will also be different, and perhaps greater. In having children, your impact opportunity is exponential. Think of that! It’s not all about how much you accomplish; it’s about multiplying your compassion many times over in your children’s lives.

That’s the kind of math we need in this world.

Moms (and Dads, of course), here’s some things to think about as you approach living an active life seeking justice in your community.

You are not separate from your family.

Whatever you choose to do, do it with your family, with your children. Teach your children about these realities. Don’t hide the realities of human trafficking from them.

Research child trafficking. Read. Watch. Become aware.

Become aware of the realities of child trafficking and prostitution in America and in your very city.

Missing child or runaway report? That child will most likely end up in child prostitution or some form of sexual exploitation.

Foster care and social services? Most of them have gone through some sort of trauma, many of them from sexual and/or physical abuse and are at risk to traffickers and pimps.

As a mother, as a parent, you will have an understanding and anger inside of you that is more direct and empathizing than those without children.

But don’t pursue this out of guilt or revenge; pursue it because you know love and justice are two sides of the same coin.

Allow your heart to melt. Your actions will naturally follow as an overflow of your heart.

And then share with your children. Appropriately, of course, but you can be a good judge of how much they can process at what age.

But whatever you do, don’t hide them from it. Because otherwise we will one day have a generation of sincerely ignorant and insensitive adults who turn their gaze away from really uncomfortable realities that they could actually have an impact in.

Ask your kids what they think you as a family should do to help.

You may be surprised at the amount of creativity and generosity that your kids have. Why not ask and see what they come up with?

This is also about empowerment. If someone feels like they are contributing to a solution, then they will begin to own it for themselves.

Release control of your “perfect house.” Bring broken people in to mess up your perfection.

I’ve noticed an interesting culture of the “perfect-organic-range-free-germ-free home.” The kids can only eat perfectly wholesome food, this is where everything “goes,” schedules cannot be tampered with, and life in general revolves around the total interests of the kids.

And believe me, I know kids thrive and grow under healthy, consistent structure. And, please, someone give them regular naps!

But still, I think there needs to be a safe place where imperfect people can walk in as imperfect and feel accepted.

What if someone “dirty” comes into your home? Will your kids (or you) reject them because they don’t fit into the system?

What if you had a schedule that showed your kids that helping others is more important than playing video games?

What if it was all about “This is simply how we live as a family” instead of “Geez, this is another thing we have to add on top of our already crazy schedule?

For instance…

Our whole family participates in yearly 5k’s to raise awareness about human trafficking.

We go to a local orphanage every Tuesday at 4:00pm and give them cookies we made.

We bring a few kids over from local social services once a week for family game night in our living room.

Every time we give our children allowance, we require that they give 10% of it to raise money to the local safe house for formerly-trafficked girls.

A few more ideas come to mind…

Choose a country that is under the blight of poverty, violence and trafficking. Pray once a week as a family for that country and do research so you can talk about it with knowledge and understanding.

Find an organization that is doing sustainable work in that country, build a relationship, get real names to pray for, and send handmade notes and cards to the ones in the recovery shelters.

Save up and take a vacation as a family to that place as a missions trip.

Overall, it’s about being intentional, being purposeful with your life.

Don’t let life control your life. Teach by example that we can make decisions about what our life practically looks like. We’re not victims of our circumstances or appointments.

If it’s simply a part of your life and values, then you don’t have to worry about “not doing enough” or having to carve out extra time.

But remember, at the end of the day, you are raising a generation of world changers…

So don’t discount the impact you are making to the world by simply being a faithful mom.

We become what we look at. So if your children are spending 18 years of their lives watching your virtues of faithfulness, love, justice, kindness, and generosity, will they not become that themselves?

Start with who you are. Take care of you. Take inventory of your soul.

And then live out loud.

I can’t think of a better way to be a mom of justice than that.

*****

Want to learn about human trafficking and exploitation in America and the world? These are my personal resources.

Here are some the most helpful organizations that I follow on Facebook and use for learning:

Not For Sale

Exodus Cry

International Justice Mission

A21 Campaign

The Abolitionist Movement

Here are organizations that sell really beautiful products that are either made by survivors of trafficking or support them:

WAR Chest Boutique– International free-trade products made by women survivors of trafficking

Bought Beautifully– International free-trade products that support survivors of exploitation

Starfish Project– fair-trade jewelry that employs previously trafficked women in Asia

Colette Sol USA– handmade women’s shoes to fight human trafficking

Cozzee– fair-trade coffee supporting survivors of trafficking

Conferences you seriously need to check out or see if you can stream:

The Justice Conference– Chicago, IL

Abolition Summit– Kansas City, MO

Global Prayer Gathering– Washington, D.C.

Books that have impacted my life and moved me to action:

God in a Brothel– by Daniel Walker. Stories of an undercover investigator’s experiences in saving women and children from sex trafficking around the world.

Possible by Stephan Bauman. A call to reconsider what it means to sustainably impact our neighborhoods, villages, and cities.

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. The story of the remarkable life of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce.

Films that nailed it in showing the realities of trafficking:

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls– award winning documentary on the global sex trade

Demand– documentary that is produced by Shared Hope International and focuses on demand factors for sex trafficking

Dispatches from the Front: Islands on the Edge– documentary highlighting the realities of human trafficking in Southeast Asia

Love the one in front of you

How do you change the world?

Heidi Baker said it well:

Love the one in front of you.

Change does not happen through programs and speeches and books and status’s and tweets and music and community groups and fundraisers and blog posts.

One day we have to realize that the only person responsible for making change happen in our community and city and country and world is ourselves.

I cannot control my circumstances or the people who appear in my day. But I do have everything to say about my choices in response to each and every person in front of me every day.

I used to search out change, dream about changing the world, create plans of action to really impact the world.

And then about a year ago a subtle change happened and I really didn’t realize it until others called it out. I think it’s because I was just living who I was in my natural environment but my perspective on people had shifted somehow.

Just over a year ago my vision for Greenville unexpectedly became This is my city“, and when you own something you naturally act differently towards it.

Suddenly the homeless person walking by my company to buy alcohol and drugs across the street to feed his addiction was my problem. When Michael’s trailer became condemned and he had nowhere to live that was my problem. When a friend came to my house after being abused for months that was my problem. When a couple driving through Greenville needed their laundry done that was my problem. When a new friend quit a strip club job because of her choice to follow Jesus and had no place to live that was my problem.

It was pretty difficult. And often awkward. I mean, seriously. Whenever someone admits need and you give them something, it’s pretty awkward. It would’ve been so much easier to complain. “I can’t believe there was an open drug deal outside our office. We work in such a bad neighborhood.” “Why doesn’t Salvation Army take care of Michael? That’s what they’re there for.” “Man, people always have an agenda when they ask for something. They’re such manipulators.” “Wow, some men are just abusive pigs and some poor girls just fall for it. Let’s pray about it.”

I would say the past year I’ve been stretched financially more than I ever could have imagined. My heart was split open over life stories. I had several emotional breakdowns. I had to deal with using my last dollar to provide for someone and then watch them use money they were given to buy dress shoes and eat out. I had to learn to be rejected, and then to forgive, and then to keep giving when my ability and desire was completely wasted away. I had to deal with other people (Christians) upset about my generosity because it interfered with their lives. I often felt alone and unable to know how to make decisions.

So, yes, from that perspective it was hard. Loving was challenging. Giving was an obstacle.

And yet…

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Look, you could offer to totally pay off my school debt (which is a lot) in return for the past year and I would laugh and say to you…

I told you the struggle, but now let me tell you the joy.

The joy of inviting that laundry couple over for dinner and hearing them tell me how they met Jesus radically a few days earlier, having the husband drill me about why I live the way I live, and then laughing at their ridiculous story of “rafting” down a river in Louisiana on an air mattress. The joy of driving Michael to church a year after we met him, watching him get baptized while I am wrecked into tears about his crazy story and our experiences. The joy of standing next to my friend during worship as she raises her hands in tears in praise to God for freeing her soul and I have to stop singing because I realize that only a month ago she had been in a strip club, broke, lonely, and had no hope to cling to. The joy of realizing that all the promises of Isaiah 58 are mine to claim and then watch them unfold in my life.

I didn’t search for these joys. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to find someone and impact their life. I think I realized who I was, which is a chosen child of God, which means the Spirit lives in me, so I naturally think and act like Jesus, so when a person in need is in front of me, I simply act like Jesus did.

Sometimes that was surprising. Sometimes it was celebrated. Sometimes it was impressive. Sometimes it seemed like I became a celebrity.

Can I just say that when we know who we are that acts of love and kindness and generosity and healing are completely normal? Why is it not normal that we have the homeless living with us? That we feed the hungry out of our paycheck? That we personally give our good clothing to those in need?

Isaiah 58 became my rallying cry and my source of promise when things got in deep and dark. And FYI, it’s for all of us. And it’s not figurative. It’s literal.

We are all world changers. The question is will we live up to our potential? And I believe that potential is very simple: Love the one in front of you.

One. just one.

And it’s funny. After you love one, suddenly it becomes two. And then three. And pretty soon people start thinking you’re this courageous, impressive person and you’re like, “Um, I’m just living. like a normal person. that knows Jesus. Hey, you can too! We’re really not that different.”

Stop the meetings. Stop the bullet points. Stop the noise. And let’s live our normal day with Kingdom eyes and watch some pretty freakn’ amazing things start happening.