Photo: John Paul Lederach receives the Niwano Peace Prize. Photo (c) Niwano Peace Foundation. Mennonite peacebuilder John Paul Lederach received the Niwano Peace Prize on […]
Due to ignorance or denial, many people perceive sexual exploitation as something that happens in faraway places, not near our homes or in our cities.
However, now that this summer’s Delegate Assembly unanimously passed the Statement Against Human Trafficking, Modern Day Slavery, the next steps for church members include learning about and working against human trafficking.
The resolution—which passed due to the advocacy of Mennonite Women USA—reads, “12-18 thousand persons are victims in the United States.”
Mennonite Church USA must fight trafficking not only worldwide but also locally, says Rhoda Keener, director of Mennonite Women USA who helped prepare the statement. “[Trafficking] is here in the United States as well as Thailand,” she says.
What can we do? Keener says a group of people—regardless of the group’s size—can support legislation against human trafficking. For example, one piece of legislation allows restoration to women who have been trafficked instead of imprisonment. Another law makes it possible to prosecute across national lines. Church leaders can send the Mennonite Church USA resolution to lawmakers in support of such legislation.
To learn more, I recommend watching the documentary Very Young Girls or find other resources on human trafficking. Very Young Girls haunted me with the stories of sexual exploitation victims in New York City.
The average age that girls enter—or are forced into—prostitution is 13. One lawyer for a 15-year-old girl who had sex with 30 men said that since the girl is too young to legally consent to sex it’s “a little absurd to have her charged as a prostitute.”
The most difficult element of the documentary was to hear women express their desire to return to their pimp because they loved him, even though they admitted he was dangerous.
One former prostitute told her young sister who felt this way, “He’s 30-something years old. He’s got you mentally.”
However, this dangerous dependency proves complicated. For example, the girls interviewed in the documentary explained the ways that their pimps treated them as their girlfriends or daughters—at times offering them a support network and resources lacking in their own families and homes.
“I felt like this was his body,” one girl said.
Another step in addressing sex trafficking means acknowledging that many girls and women exploited by sex trafficking were forced or coerced by much older men while underage. Many of these girls come from some of the most vulnerable and troubled home environments. An economic, emotional or drug dependence on their pimp can bind a young woman to this lifestyle stronger than we want to admit.
Keener says trying to identify victims or survivors from a top-down approach is only minimally effective. However, there are four groups that, if educated, can help: medical, social services, law enforcement and faith communities. In fact, some individuals in our churches may feel called to direct intervention, Keener says.
We can also work at the Statement Against Human Trafficking, Modern Day Slavery resolution by examining the assumptions we make toward the girls and women exploited by sex trafficking and the decisions we make as consumers. For example, pornography as well as mainstream media abuse these women and perpetuate unfair assumptions of them. The sex industry thrives on the stereotypes consumers make. The resolution also speaks out against labor trafficking and calls us to avoid purchasing anything created through known labor trafficking
Let’s remember Jesus’ attitude of acceptance and love toward women—especially the most vulnerable—and do our best to show the same support even when it makes us feel uncomfortable. Doing so will break the bonds.
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