I was introduced to the world of human trafficking several years ago on a trip to Athens, Greece, in my role as director of new initiatives at Mission to the World (MTW).  As I spoke with the pastor I was working with about my past experience with street children and my heart for working with people in exploitive situations, he made arrangements for me to visit a ministry that did outreach to the brothels in Athens.   I had seen “Taken” and was shocked at the story it told, but nothing could compare to seeing women trapped in the horrors of being trafficked from their home countries to be sold into the world of “sex for sale.”

The images I saw haunt me to this day, but I must say, many more have been added.  I have had the opportunity to see the horrors of sex trafficking in Bulgaria, Thailand, Cambodia and sadly enough even here in our own country.

Shortly after my trip to Greece I was introduced to a ministry here in Atlanta dedicated to the rescue of women caught in the sex trade. Their training and friendship opened my eyes to the need in our own country and also in my own back yard.

The issue of human sex trafficking strikes at the very core of our families and church communities and is growing at a rapid pace throughout the world.

A few numbers from a report from the Polaris Project shows the magnitude of the issue.

  • There are an estimated 2 million children exploited by the commercial sex trade.
  • The human sex trade is a $32 billion per year industry
  • It is the second largest illegal business following drug sales and newer statistics show it is about to surpass the sale of drugs
  • In the US, 14,000 – 17,000 people are trafficked into the US every year
  • An estimated 100,000 – 300,000 children are prostituted in the US each year
  • Average starting age of a victim in the US is 13

The list could go on. There is a lot to be done to stop the cancer of human trafficking and exploitation of those who are vulnerable to this trap.

One might ask, is this really happening around me and if so, what can I do?  I would say, it is happening around each of us on a daily basis.  While it might not be out in the open, it is certainly there.  From massage parlors, to truck stops, to pornography it touches all of us.

Where does this fit in the role of the church? God has called His children to care for the persecuted and to reach out to those who are mistreated. While the mandate from Micah is used often, I think we must never grow deaf to the command to walk justly and do mercy.  The church can become more aware of what is happening in their community in the realm of young girls and boys being lured into the business of sex trafficking.  How can we do this?

  • Be aware and sensitive to the signs that might be there, such as questionable massage parlors and nail salons.
  • Note how desensitized we have become to the way women and young girls are portrayed in the movies we watch and the TV shows that are aired.  Learning to turn them off is a beginning.
  • Pray for God to raise up those who are willing to stand in the gap and be a spokesperson for the vulnerable ones who are easily drawn into the industry.
  • Raise awareness in your congregations, schools and businesses of the growth of sex trafficking.  With the rise of public media and internet usage, pornography has become one of the largest contributors to the demand side of sex trafficking.

Mission to the World has teams across the globe that have taken the challenge to address the issue in their countries as a part of their church planting role.  They have found organizations that are fighting the issue and joined with them as the arm of Christ to bring healing, helping hands to reach those who are exploited.

In Atlanta, MTW has also organized a training opportunity for churches who are interested in learning more about the problem in the US and how they can be effective in their own communities.  We are partnering with an Atlanta-based organization to bring together panels of experts from law enforcement, government agencies and private providers to share the issue, what they are doing and how they are all working together to stamp out the problem in our communities.  There will also be opportunities to participate in street outreach, service projects, and ministry to those who have been rescued. The goal of the training is to equip participants in several ways: a) to be more aware of how to pray for the issue b) to recognize and become more aware of the problem in their communities c) to be equipped to take action or join with organizations in their community who are actively engaged in working with those caught in the world of trafficking.

The next training will be offered in March 2014.  For more information contact Opal Hardgrove at opal.hardgrove@mtw.org