It’s hard to get back in the swing of things when my mind is still full. Fall break is over and the students and I are slammed back into reality – them with tests, papers, midterms and catching up on all of the schoolwork they didn’t do on fall break and me with CROP Walk looming this Sunday and …. (I don’t even want to talk about the to do list right now). As many of you know, we spent the break in New York City at the Church Center Building across from the United Nations doing a seminar through the United Methodist Seminar Program on Human Trafficking.
I have been taking groups to New York to the Seminar Program since 2005 and have never been disappointed. I am consistently amazed at the quality of speakers, intentional dialogue, provocative and thought-provoking worship, and the entire program. We have studied Inter-Religious Dialogue, Immigration, Race and Urban Poverty, Homelessness and Gentrification. I can’t say enough what a special treasure the seminar program is and what a blessing it has been to me and the students I have taken. It is rare to have the opportunity to delve into a relevant topic and look at it from an intellectual and faith-based perspective and I have seen a lot of transformation and action come out of our experiences.
To say this one was a particularly “heavy” seminar is an understatement. We have done a lot of different topics over the years but I’ve never felt so physically and emotionally exhausted as I have with this one on human trafficking. There are so many things that struck me over the past couple of days. We had tremendous speakers from a variety of organizations helping combat human trafficking from legal standpoints, consumer standpoints, rehabilitation, etc. That this issue is not something far away in a distant land is crucial for people to understand. That this is an atrocity in our world, in our nation and in our communities is an understatement. I was thankful that many of our speakers didn’t just talk about this as an international problem or a New York City problem, but they brought up cases where this has happened right here in South Carolina. WIS in Columbia reported on one such case here http://www.wistv.com/global/story.asp?s=12066724. In getting back from the trip I’ve been amazed at the people in the area reaching out and lifting up other organizations right here in our area combating this issue.
I couldn’t help thinking about my husband Mike’s comments on The Tudors mini-series and him saying over and over how crazy it was that women and children were treated in such awful and manipulative ways back then, and realizing that there are plenty of women and children being treated just as unbelievably awful today. When you hear statistics it sometimes doesn’t get under your skin. It’s often hard for us to soak that in because it’s just numbers. There’s an African proverb that is on the bulletin board above my desk and I wrote it down after a CROP Walk one year. It says, “Statistics are numbers without tears.” Statistics are numbers without tears.
The most powerful thing that we watched was a movie called Very Young Girls. I really hope we’ll be able to show it at Winthrop next year. There’s a trailer here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fX6EaHuRCg. I warn you before you watch it – it’s hard to watch – it’s hard to hear – and it’s not using “church” language. But then again, what is “church” language? I know that talking about some of these things is pushing the envelope and I know these are areas that are beyond taboo and not polite in normal conversation, but if we as a church aren’t talking about them, if we’re not engaging them, if we’re not trying to do something to combat this issue in real and tangible ways, than we are just as guilty as condoning. We can’t turn a blind eye and just work on things like hunger and homelessness when all of these things are so linked together. It’s not pretty and it’s certainly not easy but if we don’t educate, than we’re a part of the problem.
One of the neatest parts of this seminar was getting to meet the author of The Blue Notebook, James A. Levine. He was one of the most down-to-earth and sincere people that I think I’ve ever met and this is one of the most beautiful and difficult books I’ve ever read. Check it out. All of the U.S. proceeds from this book are donated to the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children and the Naitonal Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.icmec.org). By merely meeting a young girl and seeing this reality for a moment, he wrote this moving and powerful story that gets into your head and your heart and definitely under your skin.
I feel like I need to throw up beware warnings throughout this blog and any time I talk about this topic and maybe that speaks to something else entirely. Preaching a bit about it last night at a revival, I admit made me pause – especially since there were some children in the congregation. And yet, I can’t help but say something. If you hear the stories of some of these girls and when you read the facts and see the magnitude of this problem and how it’s not just the story of India and Thailand but it’s our story too - we have to speak out. That’s what Levine did. He couldn’t just have this experience and not say something. And every little bit we do, helps.
A wonderful guy who helped a District UMVIM group do some work at Wesley left us some more info on this topic including information on what our government is doing about this. This info can be found at www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking. You can also call the trafficking information and referral hotline if you suspect someone of being trafficked – 1.888.3737.888. It also gives you information about clues to look for and key questions to ask.
I can’t entirely articulate all that I feel on this issue and I don’t know if the students can yet at this point either, but I do invite you to learn more. There are some facts below from the seminar. And below that there are some links from some of the agencies and people we heard from. Dig in. Get educated. Help spread the word.
Questions and Answers on Human Trafficking
What is human trafficking? The UN defines Human trafficking as “ the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
Who are the victims of human trafficking? Victims of human trafficking are people forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Victims are usually women and children, but men are also trafficked for various reasons, including forced labor and sexual exploitation.
Where does human trafficking happen? Human trafficking occurs all over the world. It does not require crossing international borders. Victims of human trafficking can be either nationals or foreign nationals. Many victims are trafficked and enslaved entirely within their own country.
What are some of the factors that lead to human trafficking? Poverty, isolation, inequality, natural disasters, conflict and political turmoil are important factors in making certain populations more vulnerable to being trafficked. However, trafficking is a criminal industry driven by 1) the ability to make large profits due to high demand, and 2) negligible-to-low risk of prosecution. As long as demand is unchecked and the risks for traffickers are low, trafficking will exist regardless of other contributing factors.
What is the total annual revenue for trafficking in persons? The total annual revenue for trafficking in persons is estimated to be approximately $32 billion, making it one of the top 3 illicit activities in terms of profits in the world along with the illegal sale of narcotics and arms.
What forms of trafficking are most common? Sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking (79%), followed by forced labor (18%), such as domestic service, agriculture, factory, restaurant, and hotel work.
How many people are in modern-day slavery? There are an estimated 27 million people currently in modern-day slavery around the world. According to UNICEF, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.
How many people are trafficked across international borders each year? There are an estimated 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year. The US is
the second highest destination in the world for trafficked women. An estimated 20,000-50,000 people are trafficked into the US each year.
What is the UN doing about human trafficking? Many UN agencies are working to end human trafficking. In 2007, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes established the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) “ based on a simple principle: human trafficking is a crime of such magnitude and atrocity that it cannot be dealt with
successfully by any government alone. This global problem requires a global, multi stakeholder strategy that builds on national efforts throughout the world.”
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