As the New Year dawned I could not imagine the next job I was about to take. Unaware of the issue of sex trafficking, I accepted a position at Concerned Women for America (CWA) on January 31 to organize the Bridge Project, an April training seminar on this issue for 15 Mexican grassroots leaders. To learn about the evils of sex trafficking is to plumb the depths of human depravity and man’s inhumanity to man.
Under the leadership of Project Director Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, who is senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the project coordinator, Stephanie Wehrheim, and I embarked on an introduction to the issue. We spent two days at the State Department meeting with other nongovernmental organizations working on the issue. We read through the report compiled by the Trafficking in Persons office at the State Department, and spent days on the Internet researching and compiling information about potential speakers for the meeting.
In two months we put together a comprehensive program to address five major topics: awareness, prevention, protection, prosecution and victim assistance. We had the privilege to listen and learn from:
a professor who demonstrated the link between prostitution and trafficking and explained why both are harmful to women, children and families. members of Congress who explained how the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 have helped victims. representatives from World Vision, The Salvation Army, International Justice Mission, Polaris Project and Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, who discussed their efforts on the front lines to combat trafficking and rescue victims. a deputy sheriff from San Diego County, California, who described an undercover mission that exposed and stopped a crime ring using young Mexican girls to sexually service 20 to 30 men a day in the strawberry fields in San Diego. He told of one victim who tried to escape and was beaten and tortured with a wire coat hanger for two hours until the skin on her back was ripped open to expose her muscles and bones. CWA’s state director for Georgia, Tanya Ditty, as she discussed one of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pilot projects for its Rescue and Restore program in Atlanta. The program rescues victims and then works to restore them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and with their families and communities. We also heard from an HHS representative from the Rescue and Restore project. Assistant Attorney General Alex Acosta spoke to the group about prosecutions by the U.S. government and the methods used to make sure they were successful.
Filled with new knowledge and inspiration, Stephanie and I were excited to learn about an opportunity to hear another government agency representative address a local church group about human trafficking. On a balmy spring evening in Washington, D.C., we set off to get a new perspective on the issue and watch as a group of individuals learned about the horrors of trafficking.
We certainly got a new perspective, but it shocked and appalled us. This group of fellow Christians listened to the speaker present what could only be described as a less- than-electrifying overview of the issue and were seemingly unconcerned. They thought the problem does not exist in the United States. I stated that there have indeed been arrests in Arlington County, Virginia, and that Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department has its own task force on trafficking.
Stephanie and I respectfully shared some of what we had learned in order to personalize the issue and energize the group to take on the issue in their hometown. The reaction was one of coldness, disinterest, and a focus on the need to organize prostitutes into a sex workers union!
We marveled at how they could not be outraged that the average age of a trafficking victim is 13, that right in their own backyard were victims, and that they think prostitution is a viable work option for women! When we began our work at CWA we cried when we read about the victims and we felt a duty to work on the issue in the hope that even one person might be saved. This group of churchgoers surrounding us felt it better to do little more than ring their hands because they could not effect global change. They thought helping one victim was OK, but if they couldn’t change the cultural attitudes of other nations nor have a large-scale project, then it was better to do nothing. I asked if that one victim they might help would see it quite differently and was met with silence.
The juxtaposition between the dynamic and energized people who spoke at the Bridge Project and this church group was startling. All of the Bridge Project speakers began as Stephanie and I did, average people recognizing a problem and being compelled to do what is right and decent to fight it. The efforts of those on the front lines are monumental and to be honored; true, this is not everyone’s calling. However, being outraged by this modern-day slavery known as trafficking is the least we should do. Awareness of the problem and knowing basic signs to look for in trafficking victims is something every citizen can do. It costs no money, does not require a government program or funding, and can save someone’s life.
Those who work on the front lines of this issue do not see the rescue of one victim just as one more drop of water in the ocean. Instead they see the rescue of one victim as the ripple on a pond. That one victim is connected to a family, a nation, the global community, and helping her will undoubtedly touch other lives too. They see hope in an individual and are not daunted by the scope and size of the problem.
Please do not be like the church group we encountered. Apathy and ignorance are not acceptable when it comes to combating sex trafficking. Look at the resources on the home page of CWA’s site to learn more, and go to the State Department’s Web site to find valuable information and links. Armed with a little bit of knowledge, faith in Christ, and a heart for your fellow man, you too could be an abolitionist fighting the evils of trafficking right in your own neighborhood.
Brenda Zurita is the Assistant Project Director for CWA’s Bridge Project a 5-month effort to train 15 Mexican leaders for combating sex trafficking between the United States and Mexico.