Screen technologies have revolutionized the ways in which we live our lives and have captivated our near constant attention. Why? Among other things, they appeal to two of the desires ingrained in our nature: power and pleasure. Devices are so alluring because they promise instant access to power and provide quick avenues for instant pleasure. While power and pleasure are good gifts from God (Genesis 1-3), they are only good gifts when they are used towards God’s intended purposes. There are many ways in which screen technologies used rightly have provided creation with goodness; they have increased our ability to share information (power) and have allowed us to communicate more regularly with other people all around the world (pleasure).
Despite the good things that screen technologies provide, these technologies have undoubtedly been used to inflict immense suffering on other human beings. The harm is so significant that it demands our attention and our critical thought in considering how we view technology's role in our lives and the lives of others. While there are many others, cybersex trafficking is one of the clearest and horrifying examples of the wrong use of power through technology.
Cassie grew up in a poor Philippine province and never enjoyed the basic things you and I take for granted, like electricity or technology. Her family grew and sold food in order to make ends meet. When Cassie was 12, poverty struck her family harshly and they were no longer able to provide for her. A man named A.J., a trusted relative of one of their families’ employers, offered to help the family out. He said he would take Cassie to Manila, where he would enroll her in a school and treat her like an adopted daughter. This offer seemed like a godsend to the family, and Cassie soon left for Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, with dreams of abundant provision ahead of her.
While Cassie enjoyed the first few weeks, things quickly took a sharp turn. One day while Cassie was at school, A.J. spent the day negotiating with different men from around the world over the Internet. He was negotiating contracts with these men stating that when Cassie came home that evening, A.J. would take her into his bedroom, turn on a live-stream webcam, and begin to rape her in front of it so that the men could watch in real time. Not only could they watch, but they could also direct the abuse.
Cassie came home that evening thinking it was just another normal night in her new city, and instead endured horrific abuse. Tragically, her abuse wasn’t just that night — it was most nights for the next few years. Cassie found herself trapped in a cybersex trafficking ring, and there was nothing she could do to escape, as A.J. would constantly verbally and physically threaten her to prevent Cassie from asking anyone for help.
While Cassie suffered day in and out, A.J. grew rich. He used his power of resources, connections, and access to screen technology to profit from abusing Cassie. A.J. did this because he knew that not only was there an abundance of customers throughout the world who derived pleasure from this type of behavior, but also that chances were slim that the Filipino police would find and convict him for his crimes.
Unfortunately, this situation is far too common in our world today. Not only are thousands of young children like Cassie held as cybersex slaves, but over 40 million people in our world are trapped in some type of slavery. These people are held in slavery because there are people, institutions, and governments who use their power and pursuit of pleasure for selfish gain rather than the flourishing of others.
Is there a solution to this problem?
Even though slavery is now illegal in every country in the world, the crime continues at alarming rates in environments where impunity for this kind of violence is rampant. Simply put, when the laws prohibiting slavery are not enforced, traffickers have absolutely no deterrent from profiting off the abuse of their victims. They continue to grow their illicit enterprise by violence or threat of violence without fear of consequence or retribution.
However, the inverse is also true; when traffickers know they can’t get away with this kind of abuse, their risk calculation changes and they get out of the business. Combating slavery in a systemic and sustainable way around the world means working to transform justice systems to do what they were instituted by God to do: promote flourishing for all image bearers and honor their inherent dignity. When justice systems begin to function as they should and slave owners are held accountable for their crimes, we see that the prevalence of trafficking begins to decline.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is one organization working at the intersection of these issues. Their mission is to protect the poor from violence throughout the developing world. IJM’s model of change is structured around the belief that the government in the areas it works must be restored to do its job “to legislate, enforce, and adjudicate public laws for the safety, welfare, and public order of everyone within its jurisdiction.” Unless the government prioritizes the transformation of their own justice system, slavery and other forms of severe violence against the poor and vulnerable in our world will continue to thrive.
To that end, IJM partners with local authorities in 18 communities (concentrated in 11 countries) throughout the developing world to help rescue victims of violence, to help restore victims through specialized aftercare, to prosecute traffickers, and to strengthen the local justice system through training and evaluation. IJM investigators work alongside local police to identify situations of violence and bring individuals to a place of safety. IJM social workers come alongside survivors and local social service agencies to ensure they have the resources and services they need to thrive in freedom. And IJM lawyers partner with public prosecutors to bring traffickers, slave owners and powerful abuses to justice in the public justice system.
In order to build and sustain partnerships with officials in the countries where the organization works, the power and influence of the U.S. government is needed. The U.S. government has a unique role to play in combating this kind of violent injustice, as do a host of diverse civil society institutions and individual citizens.
One of the most effective ways in which the U.S. government can influence a foreign government to prioritize ending slavery in their country is through foreign assistance. Over the last 15 years, the U.S. government has leveraged several grants through the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office at the Department of State to create lifesaving anti-slavery initiatives in partnership with countries like Cambodia, Ghana, and the Philippines. These grants not only support the work of transforming justice systems through partnerships, but also carry the necessary influence to incentivize a government to prioritize the issue of trafficking within their own borders.
Recently, there has been increasing pressure on Congress to make significant cuts to the foreign assistance budget — a budget that offers life-saving aid to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
Along with a host of other NGOs, this spring, IJM mobilized concerned Americans to raise their voices to Congress using screen technology as it should be used: for the flourishing and well-being of others. IJM’s advocates recorded 20-second videos of themselves asking their members of Congress to prioritize and protect 2019 foreign aid funding. Over the course of February and March, 1,500 IJM advocates sent over 4,500 videos to 75 percent of Congress. On March 14, these videos flooded into email inboxes on Capitol Hill — a powerful wave of faces and voices making their passion for the fight against slavery known to their elected leaders. Additionally, over 1,800 college students generated 2,300 phone calls to 130 different Congressional offices through a campaign executed on campuses around the United States called Rally For Freedom.
Efforts like these from everyday citizens across the U.S. have led to strong bipartisan support in Congress for international anti-slavery funding, with 90 House members and 14 Senators signing their names to a Congressional letter of support for sustained funding for these critical programs. And just this month, House and Senate appropriators in Congress indicated strong support for protecting anti-slavery funding.
As we look to the future, we have much hope in the fight to end slavery. We have seen firsthand how the U.S. government is uniquely equipped to scale rescue and transformation throughout the world. With U.S. leadership and partnership with the Filipino government and IJM, Cassie was rescued in 2014, along with hundreds of other Philippine children over the last 15 years.
While we have much hope, there is still much work to be done. In addition to government, civil society organizations, including nonprofits and churches, must continue to address the systems and structures that perpetuate injustice. As Christians, we have a responsibility to advocate for policies and practices that honor the dignity and promote the flourishing of our neighbors, including our international neighbors.
-Dan Mackett currently serves as IJM’s College Mobilization Manager. He is married to Alyssa and they currently live in Alexandria, VA. They love craft coffee, cooking with friends, and anything outside. Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Nate King currently serves as IJM’s Regional Mobilization Manager. He is from Denver, CO but currently lives in Washington D.C. Nate loves anything baseball, spending time with friends, and following Valparaiso sports. Contact Nate at email@example.com
To learn more about joining the movement, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit @FreedomCommons.