August 3, 2016

Human Trafficking Today

The problem is horrendous, yet it rarely registers on our radar.

Joy Marie Butler

Human trafficking in 2016 is enormous and horrible. Millions of people are hurt, injured, maimed, and die as a result of this despicable industry. Although Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, it is now estimated that 20 to 30 million people are trafficked and enslaved around the world, the highest number in history.

The term trafficking encompasses sexual slavery, forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation, extraction of organs and ova. It can occur in a single country or across many countries. Most of the victims are women and girls who are demoralized, demonized, and degraded in scores of countries. They see no hope for a decent future. Those who manage to return home after obtaining their freedom are almost always demoralized, disfigured, stigmatized, and excluded. Thousands turn to drugs, some to suicide.

The average age of young women first being trafficked is between 12 and 14 years old. Immigration agents estimate that 10,000 women are being held in underground Los Angeles brothels alone, besides the millions in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Australia and other Pacific neighbors are not exempt from this atrocity.

Although it is difficult to calculate the enormity of the industry accurately, it is estimated that traffickers around the world generate anywhere from US$32 billion to US$50 billion each year. This industry is, along with drug smuggling and arms dealing, one of the three largest criminal enterprises in the world.

Nearly Hopeless Situations

Prai, with her downcast eyes and scarred face, mutters and stifles a quiet, desperate cry. She has been a sex slave for 10 years, working as a prostitute in a miserable corrugated metal shack in a back street in a hot city. Her mind and body are broken, and she would rather die than eek out such a miserable existence, used and abused by uncaring men who visit her street every day.

Marla came from the hills, where she had been enticed to the city by a garish woman promising her parents money that Marla could earn working in a restaurant. They could then continue their opium addiction, lying on the floor in their bamboo hut, smoking themselves into oblivion.

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Simpalee died after being flown to Australia, where she had been promised work in a beauty shop. At only 14 years of age she had been provided with a passport and was soon escorted to her new home. That passport was then taken from her, and those promises came to nothing. She was soon alone in a building beside a busy railway yard in Sydney. She was angry and voiced her disappointment, so she was beaten until she agreed to “work” for 10 hours a day servicing men and boys who visited the building. Malnourished, Simpalee contracted pneumonia. Addicted to heroin, with no one to care for or about her, she died alone. Her story became known as the media exposed the sordid affair. In part because of the media attention, government legislators created new restrictions for traffickers.

Elenora is a black-eyed beauty, tall and elegant with skin like ebony. Her eyes betray her misery. She works as a sex slave from a shipping container on a coast of Africa where she is chained to a metal bed most of the day. Her life as a carefree child, running across the fields and caring for her goats but looking forward to school, had been rudely interrupted when some men in smart cars invaded her village and offered to send her to school somewhere on the coast. She was escorted to the container in another country and remains there with all her hopes dashed.

These stories, based on beautiful people I know about, break my heart. They break the heart of God, and, I hope, yours, too.

What Some People Are Doing

Keep Girls Safe (KGS) began in 1999 when ADRA personnel from Bangkok discovered no teenage girls in the villages where they installed water tanks. They learned that they all had been “sold” to a Mr. Na, who trafficked them in cities to earn money for their desperately poor parents.

Thus began a concerted effort by Adventists in Australia who began to raise funds to educate girls in those villages so they could be safe from predators and traffickers. Now a beautiful home sits beside a church in Chiang Rai, with extensive gardens, opportunity for education, and a future provided for at-risk girls. It continues to need help. The dream is that this project might expand to other countries and help keep many more girls safe.

Asian Aid has grown to be a flourishing program in six countries in Asia. Maisie Fook saw the huge needs in South Korea 50 years ago and founded the effort. Helen Eager, a determined woman who longed to help hurting children and girls, has given her life for the precious children she loves. She lives with them, having left her comfortable home and family. The program provides schooling, homes, medical help, sponsorships, and a future for hundreds of vulnerable children.

Many other good projects exist around the world that focus on vulnerable girls and boys, helping them to be safe from terrifying human and sex trafficking industries (see sidebar). Numerous web-based resources provide a comprehensive picture of the whole sordid subject.

What Can the Rest of Us Do?

Pray. This is the bottom line for all we are and do: “Pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17). Ellen White wrote: “Prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence.”* God hears the call of His children.

Some of these trafficked people don’t know how to pray, or whom to pray to. We can pray for them. We can petition heaven to show us what to do and how to help. Pray for wisdom and for a soft heart.

Give: Many projects and programs are doing their best to help these precious people. Ask God to show you which one you might support. Find a way to donate regularly to the program you believe is appropriate and worthy. Look online and add your voice in petitions to free the trafficked and enslaved people of the earth. Speak up in your community and your church and invite others to join you in these campaigns. Remember: most trafficked people cannot speak for themselves; the Bible tells us to speak for them. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. . . . Defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8, 9).

Go: You might feel convicted to do something more than pray and give. You might wish to go and help. Check online for projects that directly help free trafficked people. Offer your services, offer your money and time, offer to go and assist in whatever way is suitable for you. Join ADRA, join a charity or volunteer to help in an appropriate way. If God is calling you, go. “ ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me’ ” (Isa. 6:8).

* Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), pp. 94, 95,

A mother of three, and grandmother of five, Joy Marie Butler lives in Papua New Guinea with her missionary husband.