We must remember that sex trafficking is not an action movie nor is it a faceless, abstract issue too huge to comprehend. Every victim of sex trafficking is a woman or child with a story, a family background, a name.
Last week’s headlines about President Donald Trump signing the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act into law mentally took me back to a girl I once met.
We sat across the table from one another in the capital city of a former Soviet country in Eastern Europe. A victim of human trafficking and a missionary. Two women in our twenties. She was a pastor’s daughter. So was I. We had a lot in common.
I shared about being sexually abused as a child by a friend’s older brother. She had been trafficked by a man who pretended to be her boyfriend. She felt such shame, she confided to me, as she looked with wonder at the photos of my husband and baby son, daring to hope that one day she would have such a life. It can happen, I assured her.
She was taking her traffickers to court, the safe house caregiver told me as I prepared to depart. A gutsy, courageous move. This tiny, brunette wisp of a girl with huge, sad eyes was bravely standing up to the men who had exploited her. She was seeking justice.
Her name is Miriam, and for me, she is the face of global sex trafficking.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of this issue. Almost 30 million women and girls are modern-day slaves according to the 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. That is more than the population of the state of Texas or the entire country of Australia. Many of these women and girls experience sexual exploitation and trauma. Ninety-nine percent of sex trafficking victims are female.
The thought of millions of women and girls enduring sexual exploitation can feel crippling in its horror and scope. How in the world can anything change? How in the world can we hope to make a difference when faced with such a massive, intricate global problem?
The answer lies not in the vastness of the problem but in the immediacy of the solution. As the director of a safe house for trafficked women in Moldova once told me, “We are not about causes. We are about people.”
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Sex trafficking can sometimes feel sensationalized. The graphic details of rape, torture and enslavement of women who have been trafficked and exploited are frequent news items around the globe. And movies like “Taken” can sensationalize it even more, making the reality of sex trafficking into an action movie with glamour, suspense and a tidy resolution after 90 minutes.
We must remember that sex trafficking is not an action movie nor is it a faceless, abstract issue too huge to comprehend. Every victim of sex trafficking is a woman or child with a story, a family background, a name. Many have suffered early abuse in childhood and then been exploited because of economic need or through the promise of a relationship and love. Every woman and child who has been sexually exploited deserves to be treated with dignity and to have justice, to be treated not just as a victim but as an individual with intrinsic value.
How can you help this to happen? There are many ways. Volunteer with or contribute financially to organizations that seek to prevent sexual exploitation or provide after care for women who have been exploited. Seek training in your church or community to better understand how sexual exploitation happens and how you can be a part of the solution. Support organizations that provide legal services for trafficked women or who are working to change laws to empower victims. Use your vote to support politicians who have an interest in ending sex trafficking and helping bring about justice for the exploited.
The new federal anti-sex trafficking law is a good step toward ensuring justice for sex trafficking victims who were exploited online in the U.S. We can work together to end sex trafficking. One law, one step, one person at a time.
As we engage with the enormous horrors of global sex trafficking, as we consider what our course of action should be, we must do so in the light of this truth: True liberty and equality is about freedom, justice and fullness of life for every person.
This is true for Miriam. This is true for you and me.