Human Trafficking — Worldwide and at Your Local Hotel
The TownePlace Suites is a Marriott hotel in Springfield, Virginia. My family and I have passed by it many times on our way to church, the doctor’s office, and so forth.
The TownePlace was also, until a few days ago, the home of three women being held against their will. A fellow named Jamon Murphy was coercing them into prostitution. Acting on a tip to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, detectives arrested and charged him with a variety of crimes, including counts of commercial sex trafficking and abduction with a firearm.
These are for starters; other charges are possible.
In recent years, hotels and motels have become places where for trafficked women are housed. Their “owners” — the brutal men who dehumanize and threaten them into submission — like to remain on the move. Hotels provide for the fast getaways on which these monsters rely.
But trafficking in persons — otherwise known as slavery — cuts across borders and cultures. Estimates vary, but around the world, at least 20 million people, maybe as many as 30 million – are forced into sexual bondage, coerced labor, and involuntary domestic service.
And then there are the thousands of “child soldiers,” largely in Africa. Little boys who sometimes are forced to kill their own parents and then pressed into gruesome kinds of warfare.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has issued a major report on the buying and selling of human beings in our time. Here are some of its key findings:
- Nearly 80 percent of those trafficked are victims of sexual exploitation.
- The majority of trafficked persons are women and girls.
- “In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.”
- About 20 percent of those trafficked are forced into various kinds of labor – working in the fields or serving as “house slaves” in domestic settings.
- “Worldwide, almost 20 percent of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100 percent in parts of West Africa).”
Internet Access and High Profits
Why has this “industry” become so big?
For one thing, the Internet enables the men who use women and girls (and young men and boys) to do so privately. Their transactions of money and flesh can be secured online. Street corners, dark alleys, and cars parked in abandoned lots are becoming old hat.
In addition, the profit margin is high. The sex trade brings in large incomes for the men who cajole and then terrorize the people they are using. “It’s the third-largest and fastest-growing crime worldwide (because it combines) high profit and low risk,” explains Bradley Myles, deputy director of the major anti-trafficking initiative Polaris Project.
Trawling Among the Vulnerable
Then there’s the reality that in the developing world, many women are seduced into sexual slavery with the promise they will go to work in big city hotels or restaurants. Then they can send money back to their families in rural or poverty-ridden areas.
Over the years, I’ve partnered with several anti-trafficking ministries. In the developing world, it’s common for a “people broker” to go into disadvantaged areas and smooth-talk his way into the homes of the vulnerable. The next thing they know, the women he has drawn into his web are in a car or van headed to some metro area where they know no one. They are raped and told by their “employer” that their families will be brutalized if the women try to flee.
Here at home, young people on the streets are very vulnerable. “A study in Chicago found that 56 percent of prostituted women were initially runaway youth and similar numbers have been identified for male populations,” according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. “Runaway youth are often approached by traffickers at transportation hubs, shelters or other public spaces. These traffickers pretend to be a boyfriend or significant other, using feigned affection and manipulation to elicit commercial sex or services from the victim.”
How widespread is this problem? At least 500,000, and possibly as many as 2.8 million, young people live on the streets for at least a week every year in our country.
What can we do?
(1) American adults need to get their acts together. Sexual and physical abuse of children is a horror too sick to be imagined. Or should be. And kicking troubled kids out of the home without giving them any recourse is heartless. There are always alternatives. Care from loving relatives or family friends, church and youth ministries, counseling or rehabilitation centers, and so forth.
(2) Watch for the warning signs of trafficking. If you see something suspicious, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline — 1-888-373-7888. Or call 9-1-1. Observing unescorted young women dash from a motel to a nearby convenience store and back in the middle of the day is a safe bet that they’re not there for fun. The Polaris Project and others note that among the indications of trafficking are:
- The appearance of malnourishment
- Evidence of physical abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
- The person has few or no personal possessions
- Is always under escort or observation.
- Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves
- Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
- Can’t explain well why she is where she is or what she is doing
(3) Become involved in a ministry to those being debased in the sex or force labor industries. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability lists 50 such ministries. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have a major national program for fighting trafficking.
(4) Act and pray. Pray for the victims. Pray for those using them. Pray for law enforcement to find those being enslaved and arrest their predators. Pray for the broken families all too common in our society. And act: Ask your pastor what your church is doing to help the trafficked, the homeless, and the abandoned in your community. If nothing is being done, consider what you, personally, can do to spearhead such a ministry through your own house of worship.
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless,” commands God’s Word. “Maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (Psalm 82:3). Sounds like a pretty fair description of the trafficked, doesn’t it?