January: Human Trafficking Awareness Month

By January 16, 2017

USA (MNN) — The issue of human trafficking is one that makes people uncomfortable.

(Photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

(Human Trafficking Awareness graphic courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

It reveals a casual disregard for the sanctity of human life — by determining that the worth of a person has a dollar value.  Bethany Christian Services’ Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations, Kris Faase explains, “The idea for most of us that people, our brothers and sisters, would be trafficked is abhorrent. That’s what makes us so uncomfortable. It seems so unreal and dissonant with what we value, as Americans.”

However, trafficking is happening in our communities, right under our noses, and it makes us feel the weight of responsibility to do something about it.  That’s mainly because of the people traffickers seem to target.

“When we talk about trafficking, we’re talking about someone who is vulnerable, who has been taken advantage of, and are often tricked or seduced into a relationship where they’ve then become trafficked.”

More specifically, 60 percent of runaways who are victims of sex trafficking had been in the custody of social services or in foster care.  Faase says, “Traffickers look at foster children because they’re vulnerable.  Foster children have been placed in a foster family because of abuse and/or neglect.  While we know there are many foster families that care deeply and want to take care of kids, it’s still, by definition, a temporary family.”

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, meant to raise awareness among Americans that human trafficking does not just happen in other countries, but in states and communities across the United States.  In fact, says Faase, “The biggest day of the year for human trafficking in the United States is that sort of ‘All-American’ Super Bowl Sunday.  It’s happening here, in our communities, right underneath our noses.  It’s here.”

Sex trafficking falls under the umbrella of human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that an additional 300,000 American children are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

(Picture courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

In spite of the bleak picture, Faase says there are solutions.  “One of the things we do is have a very strong foster care program, but we also do work in family preservation, to keep families strong, to keep them together, and to offer them that protection that kids need.”  There is a growing need for families willing to open their hearts and homes to children and teenagers who have been removed from their families because of neglect or abuse.  These children need a loving family who will walk with them during a time of crisis and welcome them unconditionally into a caring home.

Plus, there are older foster children who are nearing 18, a time when they’re in a kind of “No Man’s Land” between being a self-supporting adult and being a child.  Only for these kids, says Faase, there’s no support net, which makes them especially vulnerable to traffickers.

“Another thing we do is with our Community Center for Transformation, right here in Grand Rapids (Michigan).  It’s a program that looks to meet the needs of kids who are aging out of the foster care system, therefore, kids who have no permanent family.”

Why is this part of the solution?  It brings community to them.  “We’re bringing these kids into a program where they develop not only life skills and job skills, but they also develop community, and that community provides that protection that family does, in many ways.”

(Photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

(Photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services)

The final piece of this puzzle is the spiritual picture.  Often, the abuse a child survives creates a deep emotional scarring which can lead to behavior issues, and eventually, bouncing from home to home.  While the hope of Christ doesn’t guarantee a perfect transition for foster families, it does equip His followers with ways to live and answers for some traumatic hurts.

Faase reminds us, “We’ve just celebrated Christmas; the coming of the Light that was Christ, and that is Christ.  We’re called to be light.  The hope of Christ comes, I believe, when we are the light, when we, through our love and compassion, reflect the light that God has graced us with and we reflect it into the darkness.”

We, as the followers of Christ, are called to be prayer warriors, to be grace warriors, and to fight hard for those who can’t fight for themselves.  Awareness means more than just gathering information — it also means sharing the facts, getting behind a group making a difference, or getting involved personally to make a difference.

A final thought on this call to action — William Wilberforce, who pioneered the end of the Atlantic slave trade, said this: “Of all things, guard against neglecting God in the secret place of prayer.”

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