Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
In the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, Rev. Brian McVey, rector of St. Alban’s, Davenport, quietly began a ministry of presence at a local truckstop after he heard that people were being exchanged there like livestock for the purposes of the sex trade.
His ministry there began when he simply placed a placard on a table showing he was available for prayer and conversation. The matter of trafficking quickly came to his attention as a result of his availability, and since then he has worked to end the practice, including rallying members of the diocese to support passage of the Trafficked Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
On his blog Sowing Seeds in the Wilderness, McVey says he’s been pondering the question of how he’ll eventually remember today.
How will I remember this day? I think, one day in the future, I will look back and say “that was the day when it became obvious to me that the sleeper had awakened.” People who had never before called me began asking all kinds of questions. I have no doubt that there will be great successes and horrible failures in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead as this fight continues. But now, the fight has reached the consciousness of so many Americans. I think a tipping point has been reached because so few are willing to stand by and do nothing once they learn of the problem. With political staffers, I have compared this fight to our country’s effort to eliminate child abuse and spouse abuse. None of us knew the scope of the problem when those pioneers in the fight against those societal blights began to educate us. To be sure, way more funds went to education and awareness than to rescuing those beaten kids or mostly women only a couple decades ago. And if we thought it possible that such heinous activities existed, we were equally certain and adamant that such goings on happened elsewhere, not in our own communities. Now, however, there is very little need to educate or make aware. Everyone is on the lookout. Perhaps, in the months and years ahead, this day will signify the day that the American and worldwide consciousness awoke to the presence of slaves in our midst and determined to eliminate it once and for all. Who knows? Maybe the publicity will even cause a slaver to reflect upon what he or she is doing and to repent, causing the rejoicing in heaven that only the heartfelt repentance of a sinner can bring.
What can you do to help? That is up to you and your heart. For those financially able, we can always use funds. Meals cost money, and they remain the way for us to begin conversations. Shelters and therapists also have some cost. If you are of a mind to educate and make aware those in your circle of friends, you can even buy a shirt or two, to help raise the awareness of the problem. Nothing makes a workout go faster than a conversation in a gym or on a bike trail. We always covet prayers. And, if you are more of a doer, you are welcome to look for slaves in your midst and join us shoulder to shoulder in the fight against this evil. Such work may involve educating those in your community, teaching a John’s class, developing protocols for health care or law enforcement professions, running a shelter, employing the recently freed, counseling those who have been rescued, distributing cards with information to prostitutes, and the list goes on and on. And everyone can continue to lobby Congress . . .
The William Wilberforce Trafficked Victims’ Protection Reauthorization Act lapsed in September. Activities which had been declared crimes are no longer, much to this nation’s shame; and what little federal funding that helped is gone. For four months, the bill has been like that bill from ABC’s School House Rock, waiting patiently to become a law. Neither Senator Harry Reid (D- NV) in the Senate nor Speaker John Boehner (R- OH) in the House have seen fit to bring this legislation to a vote. Such is not surprising given the level of apathy in both houses of Congress when it comes to the question of slavery. You can help the legislative process by encouraging your senators and your representatives to quit sitting idly and grandstanding in public about other issues and to pass the TVPRA! And if you happen to live in NV or OH, your voice carries that much more weight in this fight. You hold the power of the ballot box, and your elected officials always remember that, more so in election years.
Maggie Tinsman of St. Peter’s, Bettendorf, Iowa, and the drafter of Iowa’s Human Trafficking Law, writes that the issue is far-ranging and deeply disturbing, even as it happens right next to places we drive by all the time.
The term “Human Trafficking”, for many, evokes images of far-off places, where the population is poor and crime runs rampant. It paints a picture of foreign brothels and exploitative conditions in factories and on farms. The term implies movement, perhaps people being herded into trucks, then bought, sold and smuggled across international borders. These are very real examples of human trafficking, but the truth is that it also occurs close to home, and transportation is not a required condition for human trafficking. Put simply, human trafficking is slavery. Force, fraud or coercion is used to compel a person to perform labor or commercial sex, and all profits belong to the trafficker.
The extent and scope of the problem is difficult to assess because of the underground nature of this crime. Figures estimating the number of people being trafficked in the world today range from four to twenty-seven million, according to the Department of Justice’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report. Trafficking is immensely profitable for the traffickers, who earn anywhere from $13,000-67,000 per year per trafficked person, according to the International Labor Organization. Traffickers can earn as much (or more) money selling people as they can selling drugs or guns, but with a much lower risk for arrest and prosecution.
Human trafficking in the United States can be described in two forms: The first is sex trafficking. Women, both foreign and U.S. citizens are common victims of sex trafficking. These women are forced to work in strip clubs, massage parlors, in street prostitution, and are required to advertise their services on classified websites. They are abused mentally, physically and sexually as a means of keeping them under traffickers’ control. Runaway and homeless girls are particularly vulnerable to this type of trafficking, as they may be easily manipulated, and once in a trafficking situation, often feel like they have nowhere to turn for help. Force, fraud or coercion is not necessary to constitute trafficking of a person under the age of 18; under the law, if she is in the sex industry, she is automatically considered a victim of trafficking. Human trafficking cases involving sex trafficking of runaway youth have been prosecuted in recent years in Iowa – it is a real problem that is facing our communities now.