Sex Trafficking's Everyday Assault on Human Dignity

There’s a growing movement against sex trafficking in the U.S. - to which I say yes. Yes, please continue to pass legislation like Safe Harbor laws that treat underage girls and boys in the sex trade industry as victims, and not as criminals. Provide these children with social services instead of jail time. Representative Erik Paulsen and Senator Amy Klobuchar’s “Stop Exploitation through Trafficking Act” legislation incentivizes just that. Yes, stay indignant to this crime that reaches every corner of the U.S., because you’re right, it’s wrong.

UNICEF estimates that there are 1.2 million children trafficked each year around the world. How is this possible in a world where, in nearly every country, this is actually illegal?

We must start by recognizing that sex trafficking is not an isolated issue. There’s a complex story behind every victim, and we must ask: why aren’t they safe at home? Who should be protecting them, and why aren’t they?

These children are vulnerable to abuse, so first let’s demystify the word “vulnerable”. Every person has circles of protection: first family, then friends and neighborhoods, and finally public law enforcement. Being “vulnerable” means a person, for many complex reasons, doesn’t have these layers of protection. Too often we take these layers for granted, ignorant of the fact that so many of our neighbors aren’t as fortunate.  

These protective layers are often missing for many reasons: brokenness at home, mental illness, drug abuse, traveling far from loved ones and community in search of work, a public justice system that requires money in exchange for protection.

Lacking these protective layers makes a person more vulnerable to another person taking your life and using it for their own benefit.

Now take a global leap with me. From sex trafficking to other forms of violence like forced labor, all of these abuses stem from an abuse of power.  According to International Justice Mission, an international organization that combats these forms of violence against the poor, sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery in which someone coerces another person into commercial sex or exploits a child in the commercial sex trade. Simply, it is sexual violence as a business.

The reason slavery feels so wrong is because human beings are created, inherently, with dignity. Human dignity isn’t nebulous or elusive: it’s the creation of life, the loving of others, and the growing in community. That is what we’re made for. Victims of sex trafficking or forced labor do not have the freedom to create life for themselves, their family, and their community.

The anti-sex trafficking movement has grown because it’s so blatantly and obviously wrong. It’s the misuse of power. There’s the semblance of a relationship that’s then shattered. There’s the use of one person’s body for another’s economic benefit. Anger and confusion that this happens, even in our own backyards, is rightly felt.

My faith informs me about God’s instructions for us, His people. His commands are concrete: “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” (Isaiah 1:17). I’m grateful that His instructions for us are clear but grand, a vision we can strive towards for a lifetime. Equally we may rest in the promise that God’s new heaven and earth will look like this, where all people will be cared for and safe.

I think we can use this growing outcry against human trafficking, maintain the movement, and use it to better care for our brothers and sisters around the world who may be vulnerable to abuse.  Communities everywhere can pass laws, enforce them, and work together to move past a history of abuse.

Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. There are many organizations already at work, upholding the dignity of others around the world. There are awesome companies that provide fair wages and a global marketplace for artisans, like Noonday Collection and Nisolo Shoes. You can support IJM and other organizations by participating in the fundraiser Dressember, or get involved in a myriad of other ways.

No matter what pulls your heart – whether it’s fighting domestic sex trafficking or the global fight against everyday violence – stay strong in your fight. Realize that change is long, gradual and takes persistence. And be assured that your gut reaction – that everyone deserves a chance to live life freely – is so accurate, and so worth the fight.

-Lauren Walker is an Organizing and Advocacy Fellow at International Justice Mission. She loves empowering advocates to speak up on behalf of victims of everyday violence around the world, and educating our policy makers on the issue. She studied International Development and Psychology at Calvin College. In her free time, she’s exploring Minnesota’s lakes and sipping coffee. And probably taking pictures of both. Photo via