A hush fell over the room. A visiting speaker began to talk about the 300,000 girls, boys and women who live in our communities and are victims of human trafficking every year in the United States. It’s not as uncommon as we might like to believe.
When our visiting speaker said that runaways are trafficked in the first 48 hours after leaving home, I heard my friend gasp. She later told me that her teenage granddaughter had left her nice suburban home after being expelled from school for non-attendance.
Now she was connecting all the dots. It became obvious to her that this young woman, who had been active in her church youth group, had at one time lived on the streets as an addict and been managed by a pimp. Pimps are predators who seek out vulnerable victims, particularly runaways, homeless youth or children experiencing trouble at home.
In addition to those United States citizens, more than 12 million people worldwide are trafficked for forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing illegal trade in the world. It is a modern day form of slavery and a crime against humanity, and symptoms are often hidden and hard to recognize.
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There are numerous inconsistencies in the stories of those who are enslaved. They may have few or no personal possessions with them. Controlled by addiction, they are dependent on their traffickers for livelihood and are forced into prostitution for money for their pimp who provides food and shelter.
Until my parish held classes on human trafficking, very few of us, if any, had any idea how prevalent this crime is in our suburban community and across the United States. In our state of Illinois, child welfare officials have launched a public awareness campaign to combat the trafficking of youth in prostitution and pornography schemes. Some children who are recruited are as young as 9 years old.
Since that first class, our congregation has held two five-week sessions on the subject. As faith communities, we need to learn more about this issue.
By the grace of God my friend’s granddaughter recovered from her addictions and trafficking. She is now a mother of two young children. May more victims be rescued in the future to enjoy productive lives.
Elizabeth McKay is a retired community college administrator. She chairs the adult education team at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. This Voices column ran in the March 2016 issue of Gather magazine.
You can find human trafficking resource materials on Women of the ELCA’s website. Read the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Message on Commercial Sexual Exploitation. The Polaris Project operates the National Human Trafficking Hot Line. Call 888-373-7888 or email [email protected] to report suspected trafficking. For more information, visit their Action Center.