Culture

Teenagers Sold “Like Pizza”—What Will Your Church Do?

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The nightmare for Elisia started the day her mother sold her to a man. She was only 12-years-old.

From that tender age her life descended into an appalling downward spiral no child should ever experience—sexual violence, pregnancies (the first at 14), a series of foster homes, and abuse. By the time she reached adulthood, she was locked in a dehumanizing system of sexual violence and under the iron-clad control of a pimp.

The degree of isolation, helplessness, and violation she suffered is unfathomable.

Nicholas Kristof tells the story of Asia Graves in his NYTimes op-ed article, “When Backpage.com Peddles Schoolgirls for Sex.” This 16-year-old Boston high school sophomore was “sold on the Internet ‘like a pizza’ . . . handed over to be raped by strange men every day.”

16-year-old Boston sophomore was sold on the Internet ‘like a pizza’ Click To Tweet

A Global Epidemic of Human Suffering

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Studies estimate more than 27 million people are currently enslaved globally. They are trafficked for sex, forced labor, soldiers, suicide bombers, and organ harvesting. 70% are female; 50% are children. The human rights atrocities and the suffering these numbers represent are mind-numbing. In an effort to visualize what we’re looking at, ponder this alarming image (as I wrote in Malestrom)—the 30% statistic of men and boys trafficked today is “roughly the population of New York City proper.”

Victims come from every country, and every country consumes. Our youths are vulnerable. Pimps are smooth operators. They flatter, groom, and ensnare unsuspecting teenagers in such ordinary settings as shopping malls, schools, and coffee houses. Sometimes parents sell their own children.

Human trafficking is demand-driven. To our shame, demand is epidemic in the USA. Sex trafficking isn’t restricted to prostitution, but comes in other forms. Strip clubs and pornography, for example, victimize trafficked individuals. The pornography problem, currently epidemic among evangelicals, is no private matter for those who indulge. To be sure, it is soul-destroying for pornography clients and destructive to marriages and healthy relationships. But it is also funding the sex trafficking industry.

Human Trafficking in Plain Sight

I was shocked when I first heard a presentation about sex trafficking. Subsequently, I learned more, from Victor Malarek’s The Natashas: The Horrific Inside Story of Slavery, Rape, and Murder Inside the Global Sex Trade and Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s bestseller, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

The shock I felt from reading those books intensified when I discovered I’d actually been hearing human trafficking stories all my life. I grew up on stories of the heroic work of Amy Carmichael. Her remarkable Christian ministry in India centered on rescuing and raising little girls (and later little boys too) whose families were “dedicating them to the temple”—a euphemism for a life of prostitution.

Carmichael’s book, Things As They Are (first published in 1903), is an early version of Half the Sky.

Nor did anyone ever point out that human trafficking is also on the pages of my Bible—in stories I’ve heard and loved my whole life.

No Sunday School teacher ever explained that the young girl Esther was being trafficked for sex when she was rounded up with other young virgins for the king’s harem.

I never heard Hagar, the young Egyptian slave girl in the story of Abraham and Sarah, described as a victim of human trafficking either. Yet she was Abraham and Sarah’s property. They owned her. Hagar worked for the childless Sarah who ultimately gave her slave girl to Abraham to produce a male heir.

No Sunday School teacher ever explained that the young girl Esther was being trafficked for sex Click To Tweet

None of this is what anyone would call “consensual sex.”

“If we are honest, we must admit that Abraham was a human trafficker. He owned human beings—slaves he “bought,” slaves given to him as “gifts,” and slaves “born in his household” (which means he took ownership of children born to his slaves). Slavery was an accepted practice within patriarchy and is a common but hideous thread that winds through stories of leading figures in the Bible. That fact alone is enough to give us pause about patriarchy.”

Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World (67)

These crimes were multi-generational. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, participated in the same practices when he fathered sons by two slave girls. Ten of Jacob’s sons engaged in human trafficking when they sold their younger brother Joseph as a slave.

There’s no way to sanitize these stories or shy away from the ugly truth. The family God chose to be the agents of his purposes for the world were capable of horrific evil. Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the revered founding fathers of our country were human traffickers of African slaves. As we all know, some of them used slaves for sex.

Human Trafficking and the Church Engaged

With biblical texts on human trafficking, Christians shouldn’t need the prodding of a national month of awareness to bring up the subject of human trafficking. These texts, plus the teachings of Jesus, who came “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners . . . [and] set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18) and whose gospel brings redemption, hope, and healing, provide ample opportunities for pastors and teachers to speak out about these image bearer violations. They are compelling reasons for the church to engage. Many Christian individuals and organizations are already in this battle. But many more are needed.

If you’re just now learning about human trafficking or need to refresh your outrage over this egregious assault against God’s image bearers, then buckle up and read this quick tutorial: “55 Little Known Facts about Human Trafficking.” Then read one of the books listed above, or my book, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, where I respond to Half the Sky from a Christian perspective.

Then ponder the question that confronts us all: What will you do?

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