Ending Human Trafficking: Human Trafficking is Sexual Violence

My passion has always been centered around addressing the root cause of sexual violence. Whether I’m advocating for someone who has experienced a sexual assault by an intimate partner, molestation by a family member or family acquaintance, or someone who’s been trafficked, I recognize the root cause of that violence is the same – a culture with deeply embedded beliefs and blind acceptance of violence against women. 

I came to this conclusion after years of searching for the answer to the age old question, why do bad things happen to good people? I looked around me at all of these wonderful and intelligent people in my corner. These people wanted great things to happen in my life, yet even some of them said things which hurt me and caused me to blame myself for what happened to me.

Why is the act of supporting victims of sexual violence still so hard for people? The obvious answer I find many people gravitate to is that people simply don’t care, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I haven’t spoken with anyone who has supported the idea that certain individuals have a right to rape another being. In actuality, the issue of supporting victims stems from lack of knowledge and understanding of the problem.

For most people our understanding of sexual violence is incredibly narrow. This is exactly how [rape] culture needs it to be. Let’s be frank, no one can solve a problem if they don’t see one exists in the first place.

When I give talks on sexual violence in schools and communities I typically start by assuring we are all on the same page. Not only does this mean I give a brief overview of where the talk is going to go, but I want to make sure no one is getting lost in their own minds, with their own definitions and their own experiences.

So let’s start there; When I say “Last night, Jamie was raped” what comes to your mind? Who is Jamie? What gender is Jamie? How old is Jamie? What exactly happened to Jamie? Who did this to Jamie? What is the relationship between Jamie and whoever did this to Jamie? If you want to go even further, what race is Jamie and the person/people who did this?

For most people, Jamie is a young woman who was physically and violently attacked by a man she barely knew. I say most because we all have our own experiences and our own level of understanding when it comes to sexual violence, but that’s exactly the point. In the above scenario Jamie can be anyone, and the offender can be anyone. So it begs the question, why do most people conclude completely different scenarios?

More importantly, how does the way we fill in the blanks impact our ability to respond in a supportive, authentic and helpful manner to victims of sexual violence?

What I have learned is that in order to eradicate human trafficking, sexual assault, pornography, molestation, child abuse, etc. we have to first have the realization that these issues are mingled together. One cannot end human trafficking without also ending the attitudes that allow sexual assault to happen. 

What is the difference in attitudes one has when buying a person for sexual gratification v. sexually assaulting someone without giving money to do so?

The other day I was talking with someone about this and they said, “but… human trafficking is different than sexual violence. isn’t it?” of course this happened after my first read through of the first draft of this post which made me rethink writing it, ha! I asked them to really think about the attitudes that one has when they buy a human verses when they sexually violate them without transferring money.

The answer is, nothing. The attitude stems from a place of selfishness and a belief that one has a right to another person’s body. The vessel that attitude takes to get to where it wants may look differently, but inherently it stems from the same place.

The impact of trauma is the only thing that truly differs in our response to the various forms of sexual violence. Meaning, the victim/survivor of violence gets to tell us as advocates what they need. We [advocates] recognize that different forms of sexual violence have the potential to impact people in different ways, but it isn’t just the form of sexual violence that matters.

For instance, you may meet a victim/survivor of sex trafficking who appears to be handling the situation very well and “moving on” with their life quickly – and perhaps they truly are. Whereas you may meet a victim/survivor of a one time sexual assault by a family member who is continuously seeking mental health therapy and struggling severely.

Our goal as advocates is to meet each victim/survivor where they are and recognize that the trauma definition doesn’t map out the road to healing.

Human trafficking/sex trafficking is a form of sexual violence. It requires a different response than many other forms, but is very similar to the way we help victim/survivors of stalking. With that in mind, I think this truly opens up our capacity as advocates and freedom fighters to really see an end to this travesty.

So tell me, who is your Jamie?

Until next time,

-Jess

 

 

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Ending Human Trafficking: It happens in America?

When you think about victims of modern day slavery, what do you picture? Does your brain immediately go to images of foreign born girls in a brothel? Perhaps you think about the children in Cambodia being sold by their parents? Or maybe you see images of women and young girls with the red hues in Amsterdam. Perhaps you call up images of girls from orphanages in Romania, or Russia?

How many of the victims do you see with the American flag proudly waving in the background?

While it’s hard to determine exactly how many of the 20 million plus victims of human trafficking are in America, and identify as American citizens, it’s still important to recognize that it is happening in the “land of the free”.

According to 2014 statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, run by Polaris, the top three states with the highest amount of trafficking are; California, Texas and Florida. As we read different stats of cases of human trafficking, it’s important we remember that not all victims are safe enough or able to call for help.

I suspect that as we continue to put more emphasis on bringing about awareness and demanding an end to human trafficking we’ll see these numbers increase before they decrease.

You could look at the rates and statistics we have on human trafficking like an ice berg. Really, the statistics are just the tip above the surface.

One of the biggest barriers to recognizing that trafficking happens in America is how we have been able to distance ourselves from victims of human trafficking.

Again, when we think about victims of sex trafficking we tend not to think about our child’s friend in choir, or our neighbor’s wife, or the woman struggling on the side of the road or even the boy sitting next to you in the pew on Sunday mornings. When we think about something so tragic, so awful, so unimaginable, our brains create safe guards to make us feel safer.

It’s not us… it’s them…

Sex trafficking looks different in America than it may in other countries. While we don’t have entire streets dedicated to brothels, we do have lines of strip clubs (which we’ll be addressing in a later post), internet sites and social media accounts advertising for “escort” services, and women on the streets. Children in America are sold by their own parents to other Americans, for money or even for “love”.

Yet, the stories of trafficking, the experiences of those who’ve been trafficked are all the same. Pain, violation, despair, sadness, confusion, isolation, are all common words and themes many victims express feeling regardless of country of origin.

The reality is, human trafficking is so much closer to our homes – in fact for some it is literally in their homes, than people are willing to accept. To truly tackle this issue, our eyes must open to see victims in our own backyard. American women, men, and children are sold/bought in our schools, parks, stores, places of worship, and any other place humans hang out in.

Women, men and children are sold/bought by American citizens. In fact, even when we look at the global rates of sex trafficking, American citizens make up a large amount of the buyers in the “sex” tourism that happens in those countries.

By choosing to ignore the existence of trafficking in America, as Americans, we continue to look past the girl on the corner, or in the magazine, or in the ad, or standing across from us pleading for help.

This is America’s problem just as much as any other countries problem.

Check out these documentaries that dive deeper into how sex trafficking looks here in the United States;

To see how your state ranks in their response to incidents of human trafficking check out  Shared Hope International’s most recent report card!

Until next time!

-Jess

 

 

 

Ending Human Trafficking: Whats culture got to do with it?

 

“… and I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking that you to give it to me. And how could I ask you for less- it is so little. And how could you offer me less; it is so little. Even wars, there are days of truce. Go and organize a truce. Stop your side for one day. I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape…” Andrea Dworkin [Transforming a Rape Culture]

Did you know that adult elephants are chained with the same size chain and stake that they have when they’re a baby? When I heard this, it shook me as I contemplated the reasons why such a strong animal wouldn’t just simply move its leg a bit further, easily breaking the chain and run for freedom. Then I realized that the elephant doesn’t even know it is a powerful animal who’s being held back by a small chain. The chain has become a part of its body – eventually, the elephant doesn’t even know what life is like without the chains.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what aspects of your life are meant to be verses chains holding you back from truly experiencing freedom? I’ve thought about this a lot as I’ve been on my journey in the movement to end sexual violence. I’ve had countless conversations with people in all sorts of formats and the one sentiment that always shows up is; “But Jess, there’s not much you can do about it. Rape is always going to happen…”

Sure, you may call me a dreamer after you finish reading this blog post, but hold up on the judgments just for this series and let’s see if I’m the only one. You see, I believe in the good of human nature, I believe that we were created innately good, but we’ve all adapted, as the elephants have, to the chains in our lives. We’ve accepted lies as truth, captivity as freedom, and acceptance as control.

We live in a system which binds us to a belief that one individual sex is meant for great things; leadership, decisiveness, authority, and control all are seen as innate characteristics to the male sex. We live in a world were anything other than male-dominated leadership is seen as “progressive” or “counter to God’s great plan” rather than simply, “God’s plan”.

It breaks my heart, and I’m sure it breaks God’s heart, when I hear powerful, young women talk about their destiny only in the merging of a potential partners calling and success.

   The reality is, we are ALL called individually to do great, powerful, amazing things for God’s kingdom.

Each human being is a child of God, gifted with wondrous potential, but when we lose sight of this fact for earthly power, we begin to destroy God’s creation. God used women for some of the most important solutions in his plan to win us all back to him.

Women are not plan B in God’s plan for this world, but for centuries women have been treated as if we are. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that it became illegal to beat your wife – as she was legally considered property and you could do what you wanted with your “property”. Even more shocking is that marital rape has only been a criminal act since 1993, and there are still holes in the legislation in various states which lead to continued marital rape with no repercussions.

Here’s the deal, if men are truly the leaders of the world in God’s eyes, then how come the majority of staff and volunteers are female at the shelter I work at? How come the majority of attendees and speakers at anti-violence conventions are female? Why are men not taking a leadership role in this area?

I believe that to end the travesty that is Human Trafficking, the sexual enslavement of our women, girls, and young boys; MEN must take a bigger role. We, as a society, as the church, must move away from the idea that God created men to dominate women and the world around them.

The world was given to Adam and Eve. I believe God’s expectation for us is that we see ourselves equally responsible, equally gifted, and equally qualified under one God.

I believe that until we completely dismantle the patriarchal view that only men are powerful, only men are gifted, we will continue to see the enslavement of our daughters (and sons).

Our focus over the next several weeks on this blog will be to address the many myths we see populating in our churches, in our media, and in our inner circles in regards to sexual violence and sexual exploitation. It is my hope that together, we can fight this fight and lead to the restoration in the millions of people around the world affected by human trafficking and sexual violence. It is my hope we will remove the chains from our legs and see our strength.

We are God’s tools, each of us. Male and female. We are the answer to that little girl’s prayer who has just been raped by 15 men in the dirty night club in Minneapolis.

Until next week.

-Jess

 

 

 

 

Ending Human Trafficking: Whose job is it?

There is a lot of attention being drawn to the subject of human trafficking right now.

In the last 5 years, we’ve seen an increase in different organizations picking up the torch and running after the solution like a gazelle running from a cheetah. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with so many freedom fighters seeking the very same thing I am seeking – the thing God promises is going to happen – that the captives will be free!

It is estimated that there are more than 20 million humans trafficked throughout the world through either forced labor or commercial sex acts. These numbers are astounding, frightening, and disheartening.

I vividly remember the moment I learned about sex slavery. I was with a group of friends when one of the friends asked us if we’d seen the documentary “Nefarious“, many of us shook our heads and our friend immediately said “we’re watching it”. We sat in silence, tears flowing from our eyes.

When the documentary ended we soaked in a moments reprieve before we began to pray. We prayed for those trapped and exploited. We prayed for the buyers and the sellers. We prayed for the Johns. We prayed for everyone we could think to pray for and yet I still felt broken.

I was ashamed I knew nothing about what was happening– my faith was shaken. Why was God letting this happen? My world view wasn’t rose colored glasses before this, but this documentary woke me up. I knew I would never be the same, I couldn’t be. Something had to be done. So, I got to searching God out.

I discovered one of the hardest things in my quest. When I speak with people about human trafficking today, as excited as I am, I’m weary. I’m weary because the fight for justice and freedom starts with the hardest task. It starts by us asking ourselves the very same question I asked when I saw Nefarious, only instead of directing it towards God, we have to direct it towards ourselves – why am I letting this happen?

Like I said, it’s a tough question. I’d wager each of you reading this feel a tinge of anger at my accusation that this is your fault. You’re probably thinking, “Seriously? I’m not buying women and girls! I’m actively apart of an organization bringing about awareness. I stand against porn, etc. This isn’t my fault.”

I wholeheartedly agree– this is not your fault… this is our fault. Each of us have a role to play and until we can hold that responsibility, feel the weight of it and taste the rotten flavor of accountability we will not see an end to human trafficking.

Like I said, fighting for justice isn’t easy. It’s down right humbling. The fight for justice has no room for excuses. There is zero space for distancing ourselves from the responsibility we bare. We are the body of Christ. We are the mouth of God. We are the hands and the feet. When we move, God moves.

I want this space to be a place where we can set down our flesh armor and instead put on the armor of God. Let us come together to hold each other accountable, challenge the lies we have been brought up to believe and create a shift in the way we think in order to bring freedom as God promised.

I want to shake the brittle foundation the devil has created under many of us today, and replace it with the foundation God has set for us. For that to happen, we have to let that foundation crumble.

It will be scary. It will be tough. It will be worth it. 

Hold on tight freedom fighters. God is moving, will you follow?

-Jess

 

 

Welcome to the TJ Blog!

Trafficking Justice’s Blog!

I’m so excited to be on this journey with you! Each week we will be discovering something new, challenging and incredibly important as we fight for freedom!

We will be taking a closer look at the role culture plays in the demand for trafficking, and how to actually look at the work of prevention. It will be a mixture of writing and videos! If you have a great resource you’d love to see up on the blog, please connect with me!

This is OUR journey!

-Jess