Published in the Rains County Leader on January 20, 2022:
January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. During this month, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services makes fighting against human trafficking a priority, and strives to improve awareness, services, and prevention efforts to help eradicate trafficking in Texas. In keeping with this goal, I want to share some of what I’ve learned during the research for the novels I have written about human trafficking, specifically about child sex trafficking.
Before I wrote the first book, my perspective was very narrow. In my mind, this unspeakable crime was limited to the back alleys of foreign countries or a few mega-cities in the U.S. where orphans or run-aways were snatched from a hopeless existence and forced into something even worse. And it didn’t include children.
Then, one Sunday evening, a couple from Tyler visited our church. They had founded an organization called For the Silent whose mission statement reads, in part: we work to end sex trafficking and exploitation by empowering the voices of vulnerable and exploited youth. Their visit was a real wake up call.
Numbers are all over the place depending on which expert you read, but everyone seems to agree that over a million children are trafficked each year, and the average age when children are introduced into sex trafficking is 11 to 14. One study estimated there are 79,000 child sex trafficking victims in Texas. Not only is sex trafficking not limited to faraway places, it is not limited to nameless, faceless children who live in another reality. It is happening to girls – and sometimes boys – just like my grandchildren, the children and grandchildren of my friends and neighbors, the children I see every week at church or in the grocery store.
One of the stories the couple told that night was about a thirteen-year-old girl who was targeted by a trafficker. She was an innocent, small-town girl who was approached by a stranger asking for directions. During their brief conversation, he gave her a non-threatening compliment and then said good-by. Over the next several months, she “ran into him” frequently, and he “groomed” her. At first they just talked, and then he began giving her small gifts. Their friendship grew, the gifts became larger, and she fell in love. Then, their relationship changed and he began to sell her to one man after another. He controlled her with fear and threats and violence.
After I heard about this girl, I knew it was a story that needed to be told, so I wrote a book about sex trafficking. Of course, I wanted to tell a good story, but more importantly, I wanted people to understand that sex trafficking is real and that it is here and now. I also want them to know there are things that can be done to fight sex trafficking. Jesse and Mrs. G, characters in the book, are a couple of examples, but not many of us can offer cover-up tattoos or manage a rescue ministry. Everyone can get involved, though. Here of some of the ways how:
The most important weapon in this battle is prayer. Pray for the arrest and prosecution of the traffickers, for the rescue and restoration of the victims, for the recognition and protection of the vulnerable.
Visit the websites of organizations that fight sex trafficking and read about the extent and reality of this crime. A list of several such groups is at the end of this column. And there’s always Google or whatever search engine you prefer.
These organizations always need help. Each organization has a different list of needs, and whatever time or talent you have to offer can probably be used in some way.
In addition, they always need money. If your schedule is already full, maybe you can donate to the cause.
Maybe politics is your thing. Find out if there are any initiatives on the table to get more funding to fight sex trafficking. Write your governor, senator, congressman, county commissioner, anyone who might have some influence to either propose or support such an initiative. Research other attempts to fight sex trafficking and throw your support behind them.
Get involved one-on-one:
Personally, I’m not a big picture person. I prefer to try and reach the vulnerable before they become victims. I believe in working with kids one-on-one to make them feel worthy enough that they won’t fall for the schemes of someone like the villains in my books.
Most churches today have an active children and student ministry that requires lots of adult volunteers to spend time with the kids in groups and also one-on-one, taking time to look them in the eye and say, in actions and sometimes in words, “you are important” – “you matter.” These opportunities to interact with kids include, among others, nursery, Sunday School, Adventure Club, Bible Club, AWANA, Vacation Bible School, children’s choir, and camp.
Not into church? How about sports teams, cheerleading, FFA, all the many secular organizations for kids that always seem to be looking for coaches, team parents, adults who will give their time. Or what about becoming a mentor? Contact the counselor at a school in your area and make yourself available.
If you think you can’t make a difference, remember the story about the little boy and the starfish. He was at the beach after a huge storm and there were millions of starfish washed up on the sand. They were drying out in the sun and would soon be dead. He walked along picking up one after another and throwing them back in the water. An old man was watching him and said, “Son, you’re not doing any good. There are too many for you to make a difference.” The boy smiled and picked up another small starfish. As he threw it into the water, he said, “I made a difference to that one.”
If each of us does something to help one starfish, or one trafficking victim, we really can make a difference.
Poiema Foundation: https://poiemafoundation.org/
Be Lydia: https://www.belydia.org/
U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking: https://usiaht.org/
Operation Underground Railroad: https://ourrescue.org/
Redeeming Zoe: https://www.redeemingzoe.org/
Saved In America: https://www.savedinamerica.org/
A 2nd Cup: https://a2ndcup.com/
Truckers Against Trafficking: https://truckersagainsttrafficking.org/