An Introduction: From Bystander to Braveheart

An Introduction:
From Bystander to Braveheart

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Edmund Burke

After watching a documentary, hearing some facts about modern-day slavery, or finding out someone you love was recruited by a human trafficker, the one thing you know for certain is that you must get involved. You simply can’t remain a bystander any longer. You must do something. But what?

Maybe awareness of human trafficking has been nudging you to get involved for a while, but you don’t know where to start.  Perhaps your church has no entry point and the pastors don’t seem interested. Besides, how can one person make a difference? What can one person do?

Many churches still haven’t joined the fight against this travesty, and the idea of starting a ministry to rescue victims is overwhelming. Even worse, it could be dangerous. That’s why this guide offers a variety of options for one person or one church to start by doing ONE thing. And, you may even be surprised at how existing ministries in your church are already participating in abolitionist work.

Refusing to look away

Modern-day slavery and its cultural underpinnings involve complex issues. Taking the time to educate yourself about what’s happening right in our own neighborhoods will help you formulate an effective strategy—one that’s do-able—to fight against this travesty.

It’s helpful to keep a few basic facts in mind. Human trafficking is:

  • the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, second only to drugs.
  • involves both labor trafficking (to be addressed in future sections) and sex trafficking. Sexual slavery is considered a part of labor trafficking, however much of labor trafficking does not involve sex. Its victims may make bricks, harvest cocoa beans, work on oil rigs or in restaurants and hotels.
  • clandestine. Because most of these crimes go unreported, no one really knows how many victims there are. However; the general consensus is that there are at least twenty million victims or more.
  • profitable. According to the International Labor Organization, modern-day slavery is a $150 billion-a-year industry. Roughly two-thirds of this enterprise appears to come from the commercial sexual exploitation of women, children, and men
  • dependent upon demand. Increasing demand for cheap labor and/or sex slaves increases the risk for victims.

Sex trafficking is:

  • defined as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or when the victim has not yet reached 18 years of age. Teens younger than 18 have not matured enough to comprehend the issues involved in sexual relationships. A study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice in San Diego found the average age of entry into “the life” is 15. Many abolitionist organizations estimate that age as young as 12 or 13.
  • lucrative for pimps, who make up to $35,000 per week.
  • taking place in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. It occurs on the street, in strip clubs, massage parlors, and hotels. Pimps market American girls at truck stops, electronic music festivals, sporting events, and on websites such as Backpage.com.

Because Every ONE Free deals primarily with issues related to sex trafficking, this initial draft focuses on the awareness and prevention of that exploitive form. It also includes ideas for simple ways to support survivors. Moving forward, we plan to eventually expand this guide to include insights on rescuing girls and on getting involved in the fight against labor trafficking.

Identifying high-risk kids

Poverty (unemployment), human rights (disregard for the value of life and dignity), ideology (casual sex), the breakdown of family relationships (single parents), and orphans (the foster care system) have created a perfect storm for sex slavery in America. Though no one knows the number of victims, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that about 300,000 kids in the United States are at risk for the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Foster care kids are at the greatest risk. Often they’ve been abused, and frequently they run away. Once on the street, traffickers target these teens—empathizing with their plight, promising a place to stay, food, clothing, and other necessities. Eager to be taken care of, these kids are easily enticed. And, sometimes they prefer the travesty of being trafficked to the abuse they suffered at home. They are too naïve to realize that they are being exploited.

At the same time, traffickers watch for vulnerable teens from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Consider:

Autumn

A high school cheerleader, she normally respected her mom’s rules for dating. Any guy she went out with had to meet her mom and/or stepfather first. They wanted to know exactly where she was going. But one night changed everything.

As Shaun walked up the front drive, Autumn’s stepfather started berating her mother. His face flushed red with anger, he poured his beer on her mom’s head as she pleaded with him to stop.

Embarrassed and afraid, Autumn fled out the front door and into Shaun’s arms. No one knew who she was with or where she was going.

Shaun was not like the other boys Autumn had dated. He came from a poor part of town. He’d dropped out of high school after a stint in juvenile hall. Autumn didn’t want a life like her mom’s. Miserable angry people lived in two-story homes with swimming pools and shuffleboard courts. Her parents proved that money couldn’t buy happiness. Far more important to Autumn was someone who cared about her. Someone like Shaun, who listened and made her feel safe.

Autumn was at risk for human trafficking.

Matt

Spending most of his free time in his room playing video games, he seemed depressed but his parents didn’t know how to help. They didn’t realize he’d started frequenting a video chat room. His self-esteem dependent upon his prowess at the game, Matt became desperate to get to the next level. Completely unaware of the dangers, he asked the guild manager for help. Agreeing to take Matt to the next level, the manager requested a naked photo in exchange. Matt complied.

The problems escalated from there. Within minutes the perverted manager distributed Matt’s photo to a porn ring. Blackmail involved expectations of increasing sexual content, then an actual sexual encounter.

Boys like Matt are at risk for being trafficked.

Aiden

Her parents worked long hours and never had time to interact with her. When Aiden’s beloved grandmother died, the girl needed a friend and a charming young man started paying attention. He listened and made Aiden feel cared for. She became increasingly dependent upon his approval.

Keira

When her dad got laid off from his job, she could no longer afford a dress for prom. When a good-looking guy offered to buy her a gown, she refused. But he seemed so nice, they started texting. His growing generosity led to increasing involvement.

Samantha

A college freshman looking for work, Samantha’s new friend convinced her to take a modeling position. Before she realized it involved much more than she’d bargained for, Samantha was in too deep.

Melissa

Providing food and shelter for her little girl, Melissa couldn’t do it alone. When she met a guy willing to help with expenses, survival sex helped pay the bills. Additional money started being offered by his friends.

Each of these scenarios are entry points for victims of human trafficking. Girls without fathers and longing for love are at risk. Boys lonely and insecure are at risk. LGBT kids kicked out of their homes are at risk. College students in need of money are at risk.

After-school programs are one of the most significant ways to fight human-trafficking. Volunteering to coach sports, tutor, be involved at YWCAs/YMCAs or in Girl/Boy Scouts, church youth groups—all offer opportunities to mentor children/teens, who may need someone to listen to their hurts and dreams. When a mom offers her home as a “safe place” for children-at-risk, they may find the support and encouragement necessary to keep them from listening to a trafficker’s lies. Many nonprofits offer volunteer opportunities to mentor kids at risk, perhaps your church does, too.

But once a young person starts being trafficked, addressing the problems becomes far more difficult.

Identifying victims

Most of the time, victims of human trafficking don’t realize they are being exploited. They’ve been groomed by pimps who know how to create emotional dependency. As that dependency increases over time, so does the brainwashing. This results in distrust of those who might help set them free—especially law enforcement. Hearing that they are damaged goods again and again convinces victims that they are worthless—no one else will ever want them. In a psychological phenomenon known as “capture-bonding” (or the “Stockholm Syndrome”), hostages begin to empathize with their captors and even express sympathy for them.

Victims frequently insist that their captors are “boyfriends” and defend them or protect them from prosecution. Though irrational—victims of rape, beatings, and torture often mistake a lack of abuse from pimps as an act of kindness. One young girl said, “I know my ‘boyfriend’ loves me, because after he beats me, he says he’s sorry. No one else has ever done that.” Some kids are even trafficked by their own parents or other relatives.

That means educators, health care workers, or other concerned adults can be the first line of defense. Signs of trafficking victims may include:

  • an older boyfriend
  • evidence of being controlled either physically or psychologically
  • another person speaking on behalf of the victim (e.g., at a doctor’s or hospital visit)
  • no identification, such as a driver’s license or passport
  • physical bruising, signs of abuse
  • few personal possessions
  • a normally outgoing girl shutting down and becoming more reclusive
  • disorientation, not knowing what city or state they are in
  • consistent school absences around the weekend
  • falling asleep in class
  • depression

Being overwhelmed by the needs of girls and boys who evidence these concerns is legitimate. They are daunting. By the time victims have been sexually exploited, they need multiple services from experienced professionals. Distrustful and with few employable skills, survivors usually require prolonged emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical healing. And that requires extensive experience and resources. Still, they also need love, kindness, transportation to and from appointments, someone who cares.

If you suspect someone is being victimized, collect all the information you can, then call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888. They will assess the situation and point you in the right direction.

So what else can you do? What if your church wants to start a justice effort as an outreach into the community? The way Every ONE Free started and grew into a model for other communities is the topic of the next section.