Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When Lives Become Commodities

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)

From the moment He thinks us into being, God has great dreams for us, a miraculous plan to bring about His glory through us. From the moment God has created us, the devil too has plans. His plan is to thwart God's glory in any way possible. Sounds like a great trailer to a movie, no?

Photo by Ira Gelb via Flickr
There seemed to be a lot of articles in the days leading up to the Super Bowl about human trafficking, and about sex trafficking in particular. While such a sad connection, it was also encouraging to know that more and more people are taking notice of the atrocities that still exist in the world today, though we need to be clear that it is not just a Super Bowl phenomenon. Millions of people every day are sold into slavery - yes, slavery, and yes, in this day and age. 

While it does seem overwhelming, I take to heart the words of Jesus when speaking of the poor. He told us the poor we would always have with us. He then told us He would be coming in the disguise of the poor. In a similar way, until that last day comes, so long as God is at work in the world, the devil is too. Take encouragement from this - the devil does not fight against things that are not of God! No, I don't want that {enter derogatory term here} on my back, but at least I can take comfort in knowing that there is something worthy of God where evil is lurking. So it is with this. 

Human trafficking has been around since the beginning of time. Let's not forget the story of Joseph, whose brothers sold him to Egypt. His own family, right? Still happens today, but without quite the musical happy ending. The statistics are hard to find, precisely because it is such a stealthy operation. We are happily at a time in human history where the majority of our culture, would balk at the open sale and trade of people for labor or for sexual pleasure. Or wait...would they?

How many in our culture unfairly employ those who are not legally in the country? How many of those workers may be involved in some type of human trafficking? How lucrative is the prostitution and pornography industry? There is most certainly a connection between that industry and the proliferation of human trafficking as a lucrative black market industry. Numbers are hard to come by, but The Polaris Project, a leading organization in the fight against the modern slave trade, has arrived at some estimates based on their work and interaction with various governmental agencies.

While awareness without action is
not enough, it is the first step.
Join the End It Movement on Feb. 27
 to increase awareness of human trafficking.
It is estimated that there are approximately 27 million people worldwide forced into modern-day slavery. This could be either forced labor (indentured servitude) or forced prostitution. 1 million children are involved in international sex trafficking. Sick yet? They also estimate that the human trafficking "industry" generates approximately $32 billion per year (2005 statistic). $32 billion.

These are international statistics. The more frightening reality is that it is incredibly difficult to track how many US citizens are affected each year within the country. The last estimate the project gives from a Department of Justice study in 2000 is that 244,000 US children and youth are estimated to be at risk of child sexual exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation (read: prostitution, in case that wasn't clear by the fancy language). 

In addition to these numbers, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Anti-Trafficking program estimates 17,000 people are trafficked across US borders annually and forced into slavery. 

Again, these numbers can make your head spin, and the covert nature of the operations can make it seem like there is nothing we can do to help. That is exactly what the enemy wants us to believe. We know, we are promised in the name of Jesus Christ, that there is hope for all humankind, however. Even if such atrocity will never be completely eradicated in our time, we can take steps to loosen the bonds of evil. We can do more than just be aware - we can act and re-humanize human life. We can be in the business of guarding each person's dignity, recognizing their souls are each handcrafted by God. We can continue to advocate that people are not commodities, "things" to be possessed and thrown away like the latest toys and tools. This is truly why the pro-life movement is such a critical one, but that's a tangent for another day. 

Not each of us will feel called to act. As many injustices as there are in the world, we cannot all fight all the things. If you do feel moved by this issue, there are many things that we can all do. Many may seem small against such an overwhelming backdrop, but as Mother Teresa was fond of saying, without those little drops in the ocean, the ocean would not be the same.

  • Pray! Human trafficking is a work of evil. Invoke the name of Jesus and pray for the victims, the abusers and for guidance on what what you might do to help. Unleash the power of the Holy Spirit to fight the battle. The USCCB has designated St. Josephine Bakhita as intercessor, and her feast day, February 8th, as a Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking. A21 also has an excellent prayer resource.
  • Many of those youth who are vulnerable to sex trafficking are runaways or "throwaways" - no family or poor family connections. Make an effort to know the children in your neighborhood and keep an eye open for those who are marginalized. 
  • I shared this article from Momastery on Facebook. I think the teacher is brilliant. While this addresses bullying, I think it points to something so much deeper. We can begin to notice the ones who may feel unnoticed, unlovable, and therefore more vulnerable. Look for patterns among your own children's lives and circle of friends. 
  • Raise your children to befriend the marginalized (and do the same yourselves). No one wants to be known as the one who hangs out with the dejected, but that is the stuff heroes and saints are made of - raise heroes and saints (and become one yourself)!
  • Do not live in isolation. I know we would always sigh and roll our eyes at my mom when she would strike up a conversation with ... well, everyone. The thing is, while she is a talker, that is precisely the way we can first become aware that something wonky is going on. 
  • Be men and women who are chaste and recognize the dignity of the human person. Raise sons and daughters who do the same. So long as there is prostitution, so long as there is pornography, there will be sex trafficking. If we can begin to chip away at the market, the business becomes less lucrative.
  • Get involved with immigrant communities in your area. Be a welcoming neighbor, a helpful hand as they settle. Serve as an extra set of eyes, ears and spidey sense. 
  • Know your neighbors. Know their families, their employees if they have any, their patterns. So many stories of rescue involved neighbors who were concerned and called authorities, or provided a safe place for an indentured servant while authorities investigated allegations. Uncomfortable? You betcha! As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us, "The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." Every.single.one.of.us...and "them."
U2 provided their latest single, "Invisible" for free download to help the Red campaign in the fight against AIDS. While dealing with a different issue, I think the sentiments expressed are quite fitting to this battle as well. 

I’m more than you know
I’m more than you see here
I’m more than you let me be
I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I am here...

There is no them
There is no them
There’s only us
There’s only us
There is no them
There is no them
There’s only you
And there’s only me
There is no them

Let's keep on fighting the good fight, shall we??

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  1. So sad and scary...I honestly was so shocked when I started reading things right before the Super Bowl...great list of suggestions too lady! :)

  2. my two oldest granddaughters are involved in supporting a ministry to girls who have been rescued from this scourge.