The U.S. sex trade flourishes: who’s in charge?

By September 16, 2010

USA (MNN) — For a crime to run as rampant as the United States sex trade, there must be many masterminds sitting behind it. Who are these men and women, and what drives them to perform such heinous acts? In Part Three of our four-part series on U.S. sexual slavery, we will learn more about the mindset of these oppressors.

So what kind of a person gets into the business of trading flesh? Much like the victims of the trade, traffickers are generally without a specific profile. Still, Gary Haugen, president of the International Justice Mission, says two characteristics are universal in traffickers from the United States to Cambodia: "The two common factors you're going to be able to rely upon regularly [are] greed and a capacity for violence."

Other factors include the belief that they won't get caught. "This is what we would see in the mind of traffickers: they fundamentally have no fear of God. They don't think they're ever going to be caught in whatever it is that they're doing or brought to account," explains Haugen.

They could be right, too. Although the United States' laws are superior to those of many countries when it comes to the conviction and sentencing of pimps and traffickers, this has only encouraged secrecy within the crime. "In the United States, we have very sophisticated law enforcement, very capable law enforcement, and it also has a significant motivation to address the crime. So trafficking in the United States tends to be much more organized, then. It tends to be much more aggressively hidden," says Haugen.

Traffickers work to hide their trade by burying it under hard-to-trace mediums. While pimps used to have their prostitutes primarily walk up and down streets, Pat McCalla, partner of Food for the Hungry, says many transactions now occur on the internet. This makes it difficult for police to identify exact locations of trafficking activity, and traffickers know it.

Regardless of the general ease at which traffickers believe they can make money and get away with the marketing of flesh, the fundamental issue lies in their hearts. Haugen says the only way to change the mentality of these men is through the earth-shattering truth of Christ.

"Something has taken place in their life: such a degradation that they have forgotten that they were made by a loving God, and made for love, and made for goodness. And instead, [they've] chosen–made very conscious choices–to deliver themselves over to a path of evil."

Even these violent and greedy men deserve to be told about their Savior. But Haugen says the best way to begin this process is actually to put them behind bars. "[Convicting perpetrators] is one of the most important things that International Justice Mission does–it brings the truth to the sex trafficker. It brings the truth that there is a God that's paying attention."

When IJM arrests traffickers around the globe, they alert other ministries to the presence of these men in prison. Then other believers can go in and explain to these men and women–who may for the first time begin to understand that they are responsible for their actions–the reality that they are a sinner, the grace of Jesus Christ, and His plan for love.

What's your role, though? Most of us are likely not the ones arresting traffickers or visiting them in prison; still there are tangible ways to help bring these traffickers to justice for the sake of the people they exploit, and for the sake of their own souls.

Haugen suggests one way to get involved is to evaluate the laws of the state in which you live. States with comprehensive laws against trafficking of minors and clearly defined penalties for breaking these laws, generally have less of an issue with human trafficking. McCalla pinpoints Minnesota as one of the states with clear laws in which trafficking has become close to a non-issue. On the other end of the issue, York Moore of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the past has pinpointed Ohio as a state with unclear laws and thus a growing rate of trafficked children.

Although the United States does have sophisticated laws in place, they are still not enough to have eradicated the problem. Some examples of holes in the system include states in which clients (also known as "johns") are given a fine no more than the equivalent of a parking ticket, for paying to rape an underage girl because they "didn't know" she was underage. Prostitutes are also often arrested and treated as criminals rather than victims. Laws that allow johns to go free and victims to be jailed could be changed if enough people were to speak up.

Haugen gives an idea of what to look for in the legal system. "State by state, it is very much worth looking at the state law provisions. Are they comprehensive enough? Are the penalties strong enough? Are they protecting the rights of the victims and distinguishing them in the way that law enforcement treats them from the perpetrators? These are all important things to be looked at on the state level."

Besides contacting state officials to make changes in the law, it is essential to pray. Pray about your role in abolishing modern-day slavery. Pray for victims, and pray for the traffickers.

"[Pray] that [traffickers] would turn from being agents of evil, and actually see the glory and goodness of being agents of love in the world. That's a fantastic and almost unimaginable transformation, but I think that's precisely the scandalous business that Christ is in.

Join us tomorrow for the final installment of our four-part series on sexual slavery in the United States. To view Part One in the series, click here. To view Part Two, click here.

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