AG: Human Trafficking Prevention

Some may wonder why January has been designated as Anti-Human Trafficking Month, when there’s a day as well? It sounds confusing. So, here’s a little clarity: Jan. 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. This focus was established by the U.S. Senate in 2007.

The national emphasis continued to embrace awareness, but quickly grew from a single day to an entire month focused on prevention. Why?

When we first learn about a problem, we become aware. It’s like finding orange traffic cones along the road after a storm indicating there’s a pothole. Jan. 11 is like an orange traffic cone. When people see the danger and consequences, they respond with God’s compassion for the victims.

But if there’s a pothole after every rainstorm, someone eventually asks, What can we do to prevent that? National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month was established in 2010 by presidential decree. A focus on human trafficking for an entire month allows us to better understand why it is happening. The focus is prevention. To understand how to approach prevention, we need more knowledge of the issue.

Philippians 1:9-11 says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.” It is not enough to care; we need knowledge and understanding.

Let’s start with three resources to provide knowledge and insight so that communities can experience God’s love abound.

1. Faith-Based and Community Tool Kit  
This resource is a collaborative effort from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign The tool kit recognizes that church leaders need to be equipped with resources because they are trusted messengers, force multipliers, cultural key holders, community investors, and most importantly, congregational influencers. More insight can be gained by listening to an interview with the Program Advisor.

2. Sweat and Toil App
How do we begin to teach our children about human trafficking? Isaiah 58:6 calls us to free the oppressed and treat those who work for us well. The Sweat and Toil App is an easy tool to use with children, youth, and even adults to learn about our connection to trafficking. The app shows where child and forced labor are used to produce products we use. One mom shared that when she shopped for blueberries, she and her daughter looked up blueberries on the app and discovered that children in Argentina were harvesting them. They decided to buy locally produced oranges instead. People may complain, It’s not that simple. However, it is a place to begin so that we are aware of the labor that goes into our products. Every choice we make impacts someone else. This insight is a life lesson we want our children and youth to understand.

3. Listen to Survivors
This curated list of 10 survivors of human trafficking provides a firsthand understanding of the elements of human trafficking: force, fraud, and coercion. The list also gives perspectives on best practice survivor care, the role of churches and community, and how their stories could have been different. We are cautioned in compassion work, Do nothing for us without us. It is the same here and we need to show up.

At a recent Vanguard University Ensure Justice conference, child labor trafficking survivor advocate Bella Hounakey emphasized the immense value of church support:

“The shame, the guilt, the regret that you carry as a survivor follows you. It’s like being hunted by your own shadow. The more you’re around a community that reminds you of the goodness that God has in you, [the more] you start identifying with the ways that you’re being perceived by this community of people. I thought I had depleted my community of support. They were a group of people, believers, who were committed to the entire me. . . . They took the time to build trust with me, they took the time to understand me, and they didn’t force anything. So, I knew that for the first time in my life, somebody really just wanted to help me without asking anything in return. It took a really long time for me to conceptualize that, to understand that this group of people wanted to give me a ride after school without asking anything in return. Those were ways that they helped. They were present, consistently.”

There are other efforts that call our attention to modern slavery and human trafficking. The United Nations chose July 30 as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The World Assemblies of God Fellowship Commission on Sexual Exploitation, Slavery, and Trafficking participated in a global look at awareness, action, and advocacy.

Remember, love abounds in knowledge and insight. Start with these opportunities.

Rev. Sandi Morgan directs Vanguard University's Global Center for Women and Justice and is co-host of the Ending Human Trafficking podcast.