As a parent I know a thing or two about sweeping things under the rug.
Even though this is typical household behavior, the practice extends beyond the confines of the living room. It takes place in our lives, relationships, governments, and businesses. Instead of toy parts and game pieces, it’s issues of injustice like corruption, slavery, discrimination, and malpractice that get brushed under the rug and out of sight of the public eye.
It hides in the shadows of our cities. Threatening the soul and virtue of our civilization.
Especially when it comes to the issue of sex-trafficking.
This particular form of injustice runs deep. It is sinister and complex. It leeches our global community, draining our dignity and humanity.
Sex-trafficking is a massive transgression against mankind. A giant evil that is easily swept under the rug of society.
I am privileged to work at a church that is working against sweeping these things under the rug, with people who are fiercely committed to bringing the light of justice into the dark shadows of our world.
I’ve asked my co-worker, Hollis Johnson, to do just that.
Hi Hollis, share a little bit about how you got involved in fighting sex-trafficking, and the work you’re a part of now.
I first came in contact with this issue in Thailand while working with a ministry in the red light district in 2010. During this time I realized that God was going to use the most broken and shameful parts of my story to help redeem myself and other women. And that’s what God does. He uses our brokenness to make something beautiful and show his goodness and glory. Since Thailand, I have been to several other parts of the world and right here in Charlotte to minister to women who have been sexually exploited. I am also finishing up my masters in counseling so that I can further assist those coming out of the sex trade.
About two and a half years ago, I was given the opportunity to start an anti-human trafficking ministry at Forest Hill Church and the church has been so incredibly supportive of this work. Every time things get hard and I think it’s time to walk away, I just can’t. God has burdened my heart for his people, and I will continue to fight however I can for their freedom.
Before we get too far, define human-trafficking for us.
Human trafficking is broken down into two categories, labor trafficking and sex trafficking. While both are an issue and there are reportedly 20.9 million people enslave in the world today, my focus is on sex trafficking.
According to US federal definitions to be identified as a sex trafficking victim there must be these two things present:
- Evidence of force, fraud, or coercion
- Exchange of goods for a sexual act
Now, if we are talking about minors, any exchange of goods for a sexual act is considered sex trafficking. There does not need to be force, fraud, or coercion. When we use terms like child prostitute and child bride, we are talking about sex trafficking victims.
Another important thing to note is the blurred line between prostitution and sex trafficking. I have yet to meet a woman who has prostituted herself who has not already (and usually starting as a child) been sexually abused. This is a MAJOR problem! There are so many factors that contribute to someone entering into the sex industry, so the question, “did someone really choose this life,” seems rather subjective.
According to womenslaw.org, “Women in prostitution have a death rate that is significantly higher than women who are not involved in prostitution. One small study of 130 prostitutes found that 68% of the prostituted women interviewed met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was in the same range as combat veterans and victims of torture.”
With the Super Bowl a few days away, I’ve heard mixed opinions about sex-trafficking activity and the Super Bowl. From your perspective, how are the super bowl and sex trafficking connected?
First of all, I want to say that this is not just an issue that arises with the Super Bowl and that this is something that happens everyday. The more we can raise that awareness, the better. Men and women are falling victim to sex trafficking every day, and that is what we need to highlight.
But yes, this problem gets worse when more people are present. So take the Super Bowl, really any large event with a lot of people and the demand for sex trafficking will increase. Escort services, after parties, strip clubs and cabarets, these all usually entail sex trafficking as people are looking to have a “good time.”
I have always been curious to understand how sex-trafficking appears to go unnoticed, yet it permeates our country and world.
People see what they want to. If people don’t want to talk about the problem of pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs then we are not going to ever fully address and recognize the issue of sex trafficking.
We are talking about the use of people, the sexual exploitation of another human being – and whether they are a consenting adults or not – we as a society should not accept that this is okay. The woman standing on the street corner selling herself or turning tricks in a hotel room all night (yes, this happens in Charlotte, North Carolina), the young boy being exploited on the other side of your computer screen (yes, child pornography is on the rise), the massage parlor in that strip mall offering sexual services on their menu (yes, this place exists in Charlotte, as well), none of this is okay and yet we so often CHOOSE to look the other way, or do things when we think no one is watching, or avoid certain areas of town.
We have put a price tag on people, and somewhere along the line we decided that this was acceptable. The last I heard, sex trafficking was a multi-billion dollar industry (see Polaris Project link below). This is only possible because there are people willing to pay for these services.
How is sex trafficking harming us socially, morally, and spiritually?
Look at our relationships, look at the decline of marriages and rates of divorce. This issue does not just harm the victim of trafficking, but it hurts us all. Research is now coming out about the harmful effects of watching pornography. People are paying for a fantasy that only hurts them in the end.
And the music industry and celebrities endorsing this idea of “pimp culture” Words like “pimp” and “hoe”, these are real terms that our culture throws around not realizing that this is a harsh reality for some.
We are talking about people’s worth, their value, and their identities. Sex trafficking strips this away from its victims – literally as traffickers often take any form of identification away from their victims and then put a price on what they can offer customers.
What is being done about sex trafficking locally, globally, at the government level, and through the local church?
So much has happened over the last few years, that while it still feels like there is a lot to do, Charlotte has really stepped up. When I first moved back to this city four or so years ago, there was maybe one anti-trafficking agency in existence. Now there are at least ten agencies or ministries directly involved in awareness campaigns, providing services to survivors, and regularly doing outreach.
Local agencies are taking curriculum into schools to address this issue. They’re participating in helping shape legislation and local response to this issue. They’re also offering direct services, aftercare, and housing to survivors.
Other local efforts involve the North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NCCAHT) , the Human Trafficking Roundtable, Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force.
At the government level the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was the first federal law to address issues of human trafficking. Since then it has been reauthorized through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013.
In 2014 North Carolina passed the SB 683 Safe Harbor/Victims of Human Trafficking Act, which:
- Protects victims, especially minors (consent of minor is not a defense)
- Increases penalties for perpetrators (pimping is now a felony, engaging in sexual acts with prostitute is now a felony)
How is the effort making a difference?
I could tell you about the larger effect that is happening, the awareness being made, the conversations in churches happening to address these problems, the growing number of organizations offering housing and recovery programs to survivors…
But instead, I focus on the one. The one story I heard where a woman made it out the industry with the help of law enforcement, went through a recovery program, and is now a survivor advocate for this issue. The one young man I know who was trafficked as a child and is now working for the very agency that helped him leave the sex industry.
Numbers and statistics don’t mean that much to me. But I have met real men and women with real stories of unimaginable pain and horror, and that was enough for me to take action. And what keeps me going, what tells me that we are making a difference is just one story of someone’s freedom. If we can help just one person than we are making a difference and we are having an impact.
How can readers get involved?
The first thing I tell people is to educate yourself on the issue and pray. The only way we are really going to make an impact on the fight against human-trafficking is if we do it with the Lord. So pray hard for the agencies trying to make a difference, for the men and women being trafficked daily, for the traffickers that they would have a real heart change and stop, and for the customers that they would seek help instead of buying sex.
If you are ready to take action, contact a local anti-trafficking agency and see what they need help with. All of them could use financial support, as well as volunteers who don’t mind doing the unglamorous jobs (administrative, driving clients to and from appointments) or someone who is willing to really walk alongside a survivor as she chooses daily to stay out of the life.
On Eagles Wings Ministries
Present Age Ministries
Lily Pad Haven
Compassion to Act
Market Your Mind
Fashion & Compassion
International Justice Mission
Hollis Johnson works with the outreach team at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her focus is on identifying ways for the church to engage in local anti-trafficking efforts and how we can best support those in our city already fighting this issue. Her previous work experience includes working for a missions organization, volunteering with both local and global anti-trafficking ministries, and joining a small film team in Southeast Asia for a documentary on sex-trafficking. After encountered the issue of human trafficking in Thailand in 2010, she has since traveled to over 30 countries, mostly for volunteer work. She has had stories published on Halogen TV, Speak Up Magazine, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Contact Magazine. She has two blogs, http://hollisjohnson.theworldrace.org and https://holliscarling.wordpress.com.
- https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking stats on labor and sex trafficking
- http://sharedhope.org/the-problem/what-is-sex-trafficking/ great link from Shared Hope International that further breaks down the definition of sex trafficking
- Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women, Potterat, Brewer, et. al. Am. J. Epidemiol. (2004) 159 (8): 778-785 (2004)
- Melissa Farley, et al. 2003. “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74
- http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/ harmful effects of pornography