Many women dressed in red gathered at the Indiana Statehouse on March 8 to take a stand against human trafficking. Sponsored jointly by United Methodist Women of Indiana and Church Women United, the Legislative Day provided education, time with legislators and a plan of action.
I became passionate about this issue because my friend, Derek Loux, was passionate. He helped me realize that children are bought and sold not only in far off lands, but also right here in our own communities. Derek understood that slavery breaks the heart of God.
I was asked, “Why are you taking a whole day to do that? Isn’t that a Federal Issue? The state legislature can’t really do anything about it, can they?”
Not so! The truth is that we need stronger laws and better enforcement at every level – local, state and federal. Although the United States has the largest child sexual exploitation industry in the world, those responsible go largely unpunished. In fact, in 2009, only 43 people were prosecuted for human trafficking in the United States. Those who purchase children for sex are even less likely to be prosecuted than those who sell them.
Darlene Brady, an officer with the Indianapolis Office of the Department of Homeland Security, shared that traffickers enslave adults and children through control, manipulation, violence and the victims’ ignorance of American laws and customs. Those who come to this country illegally and do not speak English are particularly vulnerable. For instance, an owner of an Indian restaurant in Kansas City brought undocumented workers to the United States on tourist visas. Once here, they were told that they could buy their freedom by working in his restaurant 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Of course, they would never be able to earn enough.
They were forced to live in squalid conditions, with 16 men in a two-bedroom apartment. Their mistreatment came to light only when the body of one the men who had died of untreated pneumonia was dumped near the apartment.
Another speaker, Lisa Williams, a survivor of childhood sexual exploitation, said that 300,000 American – yes, American – girls, ages 12-14 years, are kidnapped, coerced or lured into the sex trade each year. Sold by pimps, who force them to bring in $1,000 to $1,500 per night. They must often service from 10 to 25 men to ‘earn’ enough. They are regularly beaten, choked or killed for failure to bring in the quota. When a child finishes her shift, she returns to horrible living conditions.
Williams said some have been kept in cages designed for dogs. If they are lucky, they will get a fast-food hamburger to eat. Personal hygiene often takes place in a gas station restroom.
Williams founded Living Water for Girls. This 10-bed residential facility in Georgia is one of the few places in the U.S. equipped to help survivors overcome this kind of trauma. Living Water received a $10,000 grant from the Women’s Division this past year.
It was estimated that 7,000 children were brought to Dallas to be sold for sex during the 2011 Super Bowl. Advertised on Internet sites, like Backpage, a man could order a young girl as easily as a pizza and have her delivered to his hotel room just as quickly. With the 2012 Super Bowl being held in Indianapolis, it is clear we need to act now to prevent that from happening in our state.
Here are some ways that all of us can help these at-risk children:
- Change our language for human trafficking. Children who are 12-14 years old are not “prostitutes,” but victims. The men who pay to rape them are sexual predators.
- Urge your local, state and federal representatives to pass and enforce strong laws that punish both pimps and those who purchase children.
- Speak out against pornography. It fuels the demand for sexually trafficked persons.
- Educate yourself and your church. CNN recently did a series called “Selling the Girl Next Door,” which does an excellent job of exposing human trafficking in the U.S. Great resources are also available at www.humantrafficking.org.
- Report suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 or The Department of Justice Hotline at 888-428-7581.
- Give to ministries that advocate for and help trafficked persons, such as: www.livingwaterforgirls.org, www.juliancenter.org, www.orphanjusticecenter.com, http://new.gbgm-umc.org/advance/ (#333615 & #3021031).
One of Williams’ most striking comments was “Once you know about this, you can’t pretend that you don’t.” I hope she’s right.
Beth Ann Cook serves as pastor of First UMC in Bedford. Ind.
“Once you know about this, you can’t pretend that you don’t.”
– Lisa Williams