In the midst of growing political polarization, nearly everyone can agree that human trafficking is a grave injustice. As defined by the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is “modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” For Christians, this begs the question: how can we love our international neighbors enslaved in the merciless conditions of trafficking? We might be quick to answer with suggestions like the church, missions, and prayer. While these avenues are absolutely necessary in the fight against human trafficking, there is one practical and extremely influential form of action that is often overlooked: political engagement.
ENDING HUMAN TRAFFICKING THROUGH POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
Political engagement can be an intimidating term, and many immediately deflect it with responses such as “my vote doesn’t matter anyways” or “I’m not into politics.” However, this is an inadequate response that reveals a lack of understanding of our citizenship responsibilities, and how and why we are called to political engagement.
In Citizenship is Our Common Calling, Stephanie Summers writes,
Citizenship is our common calling. In calling us to citizenship, God invites us to develop our abilities to accurately discern the well-being of our political communities. In calling us to citizenship, God also invites us to examine the relations of our political communities to those of other nations in God’s world. In so doing, we tangibly respond to God’s calls to do justice and to love our neighbor.
This vision of citizenship calls us to pursue public justice for all of our neighbors, both domestically and globally. As Katie Thompson writes in Loving Our Neighbors Through Political Engagement,
God calls us to citizenship here on earth, exercised for the well-being of our political communities. This requires that we engage the systems of government as part of our pursuit of justice for all… Without publicly just laws, the poor and vulnerable will continue to be exploited. While our churches are often well-versed in our role as “the hands and feet” ministry to the poor, our call to distinctive Christian citizenship requires that we love our neighbors by looking to the well-being of our political communities.
While human trafficking is illegal in nearly every country in the world, it continues to be the fastest growing criminal industry. In the global fight against human trafficking, we must examine the systems and structures that allow it to happen. This requires that we examine the systemic issues that allow this injustice to persist. Unchecked governments and law enforcement officials lead to corrupt governments and officials, both of which are a major cause of human trafficking. Although laws are in place to abolish human trafficking, accountability is difficult and corruption tends to favor the perpetrators. Corruption in police departments, the judicial system, government offices, and border control can contribute to the continued trafficking of millions of women and children across international borders.
Hearing about the horrors and evils entwined in human trafficking pulls at our heartstrings and begs for action. As Christian citizens, we must do the work to hold institutions responsible, and advocate for stronger policies and practices both in our country and across the world.
When addressing any issue, our first responsibility should be to educate ourselves. Dive into research, books, articles, and documentaries about human trafficking. The State Department’s Trafficking In Person’s Report (TIP), The Global Slavery Index, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls Documentary, Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof, The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen, and The Slave Next Door by Kevin Bales are all great places to start. Human trafficking is a massive issue, but you can narrow your research focus to a country or region of the world you are interested in or passionate about. Human trafficking can take on several different forms such as bonded labor, sex trafficking, and organ trafficking. Focus on one aspect and dig a little deeper. Ask yourself: what actions against human trafficking have individuals taken before, what work is currently being done on the issue, and who are the key players fighting the injustice?
Human trafficking thrives when people are unaware of its reality. When human trafficking becomes an out of sight out of mind issue, we don’t realize the dire need for action and advocacy. Once we bring this issue to the forefront of our churches, communities, schools, work places, and social circles we become a manifestation of Proverbs 31:8, “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all those who are vulnerable.” If we choose to remain silent this injustice will continue to grow. If we educate others, we are rallying people towards the prevention and eradication of human trafficking.
Advocacy encompasses many activities by an individual or group with the ultimate goal of influencing decisions.
In Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures, the authors introduce the notion of transformational advocacy as,
…intentional acts of witness by the body of Christ that hold people and institutions accountable for creating, implementing, and sustaining just and good policies and practices geared toward the flourishing of society. Transformational advocacy challenges injustice and obstacles to human flourishing at whatever level it is practiced by humbly engaging with people who can address the wrong, trusting God’s Spirit to change all those involved as well as the institutions themselves.
Advocacy can range from spreading awareness about human trafficking to meeting with your state or local representatives to discuss tangible ways you can address the issue locally, nationally, and internationally. While an individual, church ministry, organization, or community group can make vital contributions to ending human trafficking, to be most effective, we must address the laws and corrupt systems, which requires government involvement.
Exodus Cry and International Justice Mission (IJM) are two examples of organizations initiating change through political engagement. Exodus Cry, originally birthed out of a prayer house, is an anti-trafficking non-profit taking steps to abolish trafficking including prayer, prevention, restoration, intervention, and awareness. As part of their prevention efforts, Exodus Cry has a law reform team who works with governments and legislatures in the United States and in nations around the world with the goal to promote and implement legislation that will ultimately help prevent human trafficking. The law reform team educates legislators on the issues, examines existing laws and seeks ways to improve them, drafts new legislation aimed at abolishing the issue, and provides legislators with expert testimonies and resources and research. Exodus Cry helped with the development and support of a bill seeking to stifle the demand for sex slavery called “Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Act” that was recently re-introduced in Congress in January. Elected officials need the help of experts and people on the ground to advise them on what policies will promote justice and end human trafficking.
International Justice Mission combats trafficking and other forms of slavery, and also recognizes the importance of engaging governments to create systemic change. IJM is currently rallying advocates to call their representatives, engage in conversations with state leaders, and sign petitions in support of “The Human Trafficking Prioritization Act”. This Act would re-designate the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the same office that evaluates each country annually on their human trafficking prevention efforts through the TIP report, to a stature equal to that of the Department’s regional bureaus with which it regularly negotiates on behalf of trafficking victims. If a country has a government that does not fully comply with minimum standards of human trafficking prevention and is not making efforts to do so, it could be prevented from receiving additional funding from the United States. Making the country rankings available to the international community alone is a form of accountability, pushing prideful governments into action in hopes of being viewed in a positive light.
Talking with your elected officials about legislation that will combat human trafficking around the world is one way we can tangibly love our international neighbors. So make a phone call, set up a meeting, write a letter, send an e-mail, or sign a petition. IJM has a fantastic resource, The Freedom Commons, to help get you started.
While progress has been made in the fight to end trafficking, there is still much to be done. As Christian citizens, this requires our involvement and political engagement. The fight against human trafficking requires us to educate ourselves, become educators and spread awareness, and to engage with corrupt systems and structures to achieve real, lasting change.
-Hannah Husmann is a Data Analyst for Tiny Hands International