Human trafficking and the U.S. Church

By November 26, 2015
Legalized or tolerated prostitution is a magnet for sex trafficking. (Photo, caption credit: Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department)

Legalized or tolerated prostitution is a magnet for sex trafficking.
(Photo, caption credit: Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department)

USA (MNN) — Colombian police busted three major human trafficking rings this week, two of which were sending women to China.

Yesterday, Indonesian police arrested two men involved in local prostitution who also had international ties. Human trafficking isn’t just an overseas problem, though.

Amy Richey of EFCA ReachGlobal says it’s a challenge for the U.S. to grapple with, too.

“There’s no quick ‘Band-Aid’; there is no way to just walk in and say, ‘Here’s the 5-step program to end human trafficking,'” she states.

“However, we need to break it down so we can understand and grapple with it. It’s like planning for a big Thanksgiving dinner – if you don’t buy the turkey, you can never have the meal.”

The face of human trafficking

Exact statistics are difficult to pin down. However, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports over 24,000 alerts of suspicious cases were submitted to them last year. In addition, the NHTRC received a 26-percent increase in calls directly from survivors of modern-day slavery.



Those survivors might not be who you have in mind.

“There are some typical groups [of people who are vulnerable to human trafficking],” Richey explains. “Disenfranchised youth, teenage runaways, immigrants, battered and bruised women, exploited children; the list goes on.”

Typically, these people groups become vulnerable to human trafficking when life gets “messy.”

Broken and abusive families fill the foster care system. Shattered foster children fill local and county jails. Abused and/or desperate women sell themselves on street corners.

Challenges like these aren’t easy to overcome, and usually require Christ-followers to journey with individuals through hardship. As in the Good Samaritan parable, it requires risk, as well as the willingness to move outside cultural and personal “comfort zones.”

But, Richey observes, “If we can find points of intervention, and get involved in the messiness of people’s lives, we can help prevent this atrocity from ever happening.”

How the Church can stop human trafficking

As Richey explains here, prevention is the easiest way to end human trafficking. Stopping the cycle before it starts is more effective long-term than rescue efforts.

Once entangled in the underworld of sex trafficking, it’s very difficult for victims to break free.

  • MNN_amy richey human trafficking_cropped

    When explaining the complexity of human trafficking to individuals and church groups, Richey uses the visual aid pictured here. (MNN photo)

    The cost – Sex slaves are an extremely valuable source of income for traffickers and pimps. According to the International Labor Organization, each victim brings their pimp approximately $21,800 USD per year.

  • The logistics – Traffickers and pimps keep a tight leash on the women and girls they control, and employ a wide range of tactics. Even when victims want to escape, they’re literally unable to break free.
  • The motivation – Sex slavery doesn’t just damage women and girls physically; it wreaks havoc on their minds, emotion and will. In the same way an animal is “broken” to stay within set physical boundaries, people are conditioned to stay within certain parameters.

When explaining this concept to individuals and church groups, Richey uses the visual aid pictured above.

“It helps people understand the context and the complexity of the issue,” she explains, identifying different-colored strings that represent the people ensnared by human trafficking and factors that keep them there.

The complexity and enormity of human trafficking can make it seem like a hurdle that’s impossible to overcome. However, there are a few places you and your church can start that often get overlooked.


According to the latest data, the U.S. foster care program is “home” to nearly 400,000 children.

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

A third of the children who are eligible for adoption will wait more than three years for a “forever family.”

“Oftentimes, they end up as runaways or in the juvenile justice system,” Richey says. The Polaris Project reports one of six runaways in 2014 were likely child sex trafficking victims.

Buddy-up with foster kids, Richey suggests, or become a mentor. If there are foster parents in your church, form support groups to help them navigate the rough waters of fostering. Help them be a Christ-like example for the kids in their care.


The pornography industry amasses an estimated $13 million annually, and every 39 minutes a new porn film is created in the United States.

“It’s naïve of us to think this is not impacting our churches, and we need to have open and honest conversations. We need to hold people accountable, and we need to make sure that church youth groups are talking about difficult topics like pornography.”


Human trafficking isn’t limited to sexual exploitation. The definition of human trafficking also includes forced labor. As families consume everyday products and services, Richey explains, they need to be aware of the business practices behind it.

With the gift-giving season fast approaching, take time to research the practices of companies on your family’s “wish list.”

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

“Chocolate is an industry that’s just notorious for using children in different parts of the world, and then not even paying the children that are working [for them],” says Richey.

It’s a cultural shift that will take years to unfold, she adds, but it’s still one that desperately needs to be started. Learn more about EFCA ReachGlobal’s efforts to end human trafficking here.

Loving the “least of these” is part of being a Christ-follower. “Jesus told us to live our life in a way that other people would see His Light, and that we would be the flavor, we would be the salt, to our world.”

Please pray the U.S. Church becomes more aware of, and involved in, the issues on its doorstep.

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