“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
What do financier, Jeffrey Epstein, R & B musician, R Kelly, and Belle Dodson have in common, other than they have all been in the news lately? They are all American, and they differ in race, occupation, fame, economic status, age, and geographic location, but they are each in recent news related to the issue of sex trafficking. The one you are least likely to know about is a young local girl- Belle just graduated from Goose Creek High School. On May 1st, Belle was approached by a man in a black Mercedes in the gym parking lot as she was walking into school for her college decision day. The man flashed a wad of money toward her and said, ““Do you want to make $1000 a day? You would never have to come back to school or go home again.” Fortunately, Belle had the wherewithal to leave the situation quickly and report it to school authorities. But what if Belle had been vulnerable to this man’s offer? What if she had been someone whose family life was unstable or she was failing and bullied at school… vulnerable and with a need to escape negative circumstances in her life, like so many teens today?
Have you noticed lately that more often there seems to be some breaking news about the topic of sexual exploitation and trafficking? On July 8th, in an interview about Jeffery Epstein in the wake of his recent indictment in New York for sex trafficking hundreds of 14 to 16-year-old girls over a period of years, Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) made the following statement recently on national television:
“Human Trafficking is a scourge of our time. We celebrated the Fourth of July just last week in America…the end of slavery is something that we celebrate in America rightly, but I don’t think a lot of Americans understand that there are actually more slaves around the globe today than at any point in human history.”
Human trafficking is broadly described as the business of stealing a person’s freedom for profit, generally for sex or forced labor. The Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act of 2000 defined sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” For children under 18 years, no force, fraud or coercion is necessary for prosecution of a trafficker.
According to the International Labour Organization, there are an estimated 40.3 million victims of human labor and sex trafficking in the world, resulting in a $150 billion-dollar industry. Twenty-five percent of trafficked people are children, and 75% are thought to be women and girls. Males are also trafficked, but are likely underreported. In America, approximately 1 in 7 endangered runaway children are likely to be sex trafficking victims, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children. The numbers vary across studies because of the difficulty gathering reliable data in an underground industry.
The most disturbing fact about sex trafficking is that underage girls, as young as 8 years old, yield the highest price with consumers. A 2014 study estimated that a girl enters sex trafficking in the US at 12-14 years of age. The majority of Epstein’s victims were 14-15 year olds from low income families, recruited by other girls in his service in their middle and high school cafeterias. And to bring the issue closer to home, the appalling truth is that sex trafficking and victimization is alive and active in Charleston, our “holy” city, as in many other tourist towns. As Americans, we fought for freedom in the very birth of this great country, but as Christians, our responsibility is even greater to those who are in any form of bondage.
Jesus’ stated mission statement speaks to His commitment to freedom for the oppressed. He declared,
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set those free who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:19 NASB)
The scroll from which Jesus read that morning in the temple was Isaiah 61:1-2. In these verses, both prisoners and captives are specified. Why? I am no theologian, but common sense suggests that prisoners are incarcerated because they are guilty of some crime, and captives are in bondage due to the actions of another. On the surface, Epstein and the girls he lured into sex trafficking would appear to fit the descriptions of prisoner and captive. Epstein served 13 months in prison and is a registered sex offender (although there is outrage at the leniency of his sentence and the manipulation of our criminal justice system given the scope and nature of his criminal behavior). His victims who have spoken out are clearly still suffering in their captivity emotionally and relationally. *
Jesus’s aim is to set both the prisoners and captives free, and open the eyes of the blind- literally and spiritually- so that we can see others through His eyes of justice, hope, and compassion. We must also remember that in the broadest sense of the word, we are all guilty of wrongdoing and deserve punishment as prisoners, and we are all under some oppression and captivity living in a fallen world. Therefore, our lives are a journey out of this bondage to sin, and as we gain personal freedom through the healing power of Jesus Christ, we are called to share this good news in power and action though all the world.
Additionally, as followers of Christ, Jesus declared that, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things (miracles) than these…” (John 14:12 NIV). How should this mandate inform our response to issues of human bondage today, particularly in the form of the sexual bondage and objectification of human beings? Even in the secular world, a human outcry is emerging; sex trafficking is frequently the top headline on American news, airports now have strategic messaging seeking to empower captives of trafficking to escape and encourage reporting of suspected exploitation, all of which create greater public awareness and action around the problem.
However, as encouraging as an increase in social awareness highlights the plight of human slavery and government endeavors to address these atrocities through human justice, there is no human remedy powerful enough to heal the ravages of such abuse. Only the saving grace of God through our Savior, Jesus Christ, who came to give us spiritual sight, heal the brokenhearted, and set the prisoners and captives free, can reach into the depths of such complex trauma. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17, NIV). As the Body of Christ, we can be assured that the One who came to set us all free will equip us to usher in His healing presence, even with those most brutally wounded in this world. Indeed, it is for freedom that we have been set free.
See websites for the Polaris Project, the Human Trafficking Hotline, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for more detailed statistical information regarding the information provided in this article. To learn more about the experiences of Jeffery Epstein’s victims, go to https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article222090545.html*
Life Resources is addressing the crisis of sex trafficking this fall by helping train professionals who work with these populations in a one day continuing education course on September 13 at Charleston Southern University.
Please also mark your calendars to join us on Thursday, October 10th for The Gathering, where Ebony Jones will share her remarkable story of redemption from the world of sex trafficking, that propelled her into advocacy work with the State of California as a certified consultant and trainer for the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Ten percent of the evening’s fundraising will go to our local safe house for sex trafficked girls, Doors to Freedom.
Dr. Barbara Boatwright is a Clinical Psychologist and the founder of Life Resources, a non-profit Christian emotional and relational resource center located in Mount Pleasant, S.C. For more information about Life Resources and these two upcoming events, visit their website at www.myliferesources.org.