You may think you know what human trafficking is, but do you know what you can do about it? I surely didn’t, until I began doing research for this article. A misconception about human trafficking is that the victims are girls who are runaways or tourists in a foreign country that are lured away by a stranger and taken captive. Do these situations happen? Yes, they do happen. But, this is not the only way human trafficking occurs. Just recently there was an incident that made nation-wide news in the United States about a deadly human trafficking issue in San Antonio, TX. A truck was found with over two dozen people (adults and children) and several of those individuals were deceased. Did you see this story? Did you think to yourself, well that’s only in urban areas or that only happens near the border and that’s why we need President Trump to build the wall?
Well, I recently had the opportunity to speak with a couple of individuals who have found themselves on the end of doing their part to help those in need and assist to gain survivors of human trafficking. Benjamin Grasmeyer of A21 is the Global A-Teams Mobilizations Coordinator stationed at their California office. A21 is a 9-year-old organization that was founded by Christine Cain and her husband. They began the organization to aid in the rescue of victims of slavery, yes…slavery. Benjamin became involved with the organization through volunteering while residing in Sydney, Australia. He and his wife learned about the organization. His wife would volunteer several days a week and he would volunteer to assist with events. They moved to California to be a part of their church ministry there and through connections from A21 Benjamin was offered a position at the California office.
One of the things he is focused on now, just as others from A21, is the Walk for Freedom that will take place on October 14, 2017. The purpose of the walk is to draw awareness to human trafficking by individuals gathering together in their city to walk in a single file line while being silent. They have been doing this walk for a couple of years now. Through the attention from the walks and social media they can bring focus to a horrible act. To find out if there is a walk registered in your local area you can visit their website at www.A21.org/walk and enter your zip code. If there isn’t a walk in your area you can register to host.
Benjamin was kind enough to educate me on human trafficking and the areas that A21 participates in such as reporting, rescuing and training. There are five types of trafficking acknowledged by the government. Those are child labor, bonded labor (a worker is in debt to the trafficker and must work until their debt is paid), forced labor (forcing someone to work for little or no pay while held in captivity), involuntary domestic servitude (forcing someone to live and work in the same place non-stop) and sex (forced or coerced commercial sex acts).
According to A21, “Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than $150 billion USD every year.” It has been found that most victims are from sex trafficking, but it is believed that labor trafficking is one of the top in the United States. The isolated incident from San Antonio involving the truck driver was related to labor trafficking. According to www.humantraffickinghotline.org the top industries in the United States to have workers through labor trafficking are domestic and agriculture services. There are times when individuals may believe they are answering a job post for a position in another country and when they arrive they learn that it wasn’t what it appeared and they are caught up in a trafficking scam.
Sex trafficking is what most people are familiar with from media and depictions through entertainment sources such as television and movies. It seems dangerous and horrible and we see the character who comes in like a secret spy and rescue the girl. But, on the realistic end of things there are teams of people and organizations along with law enforcement. This is something that Kara Doan learned as she began to feel a tug at her heart from God to become involved. Her story is a little different from Benjamin’s.
Kara was volunteering in a soup kitchen a few years ago in her local area after a tornado hit a nearby town. Someone walked in while she was serving and boisterously asked how they could become involved with helping victims of human trafficking. Kara confessed that she thought to herself she wants nothing to do with it, but when the words crossed her mind she felt a pinch at her heart. A little over a year later God had turned her world around. She and her husband left their local area and moved to the city of Chicago based on the leading of God, not knowing why he was moving them but understanding there was a ministry assignment there for them. A year passed and God didn’t have them doing anything different from what they were doing in their old city of residence. She began to ask God why he had them move. Shortly after she began receiving emails from her church and noticed an announcement attached about attending an abolition summit. While she tried to ignore it, God kept tugging. Eventually she, her husband and the small group they were leading from church went to visit the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City, MO. While there, they visited the organization hosting the summit and decided to attend the summit after all. A scripture that has been with she and her husband since that time has been Isaiah 61. From then, they left saying “How can we know and do nothing.” You see, Kara has a testimony of “knowing what it means to be helpless, and what it is to be shameful.” She also knows what it means to be redeemed and delivered. Because of that, she knew she had to do something.
They began a non-profit organization, Restoration61. They are currently in their second year of outreach. They receive resources and work with several other organizations such as Exodus Cry, Agape international and Elijah Rising. As a matter of fact, they did outreach at the super bowl this year with Elijah Rising to bring awareness to commercialized sex trafficking and help rescue those who were being used for consumers interested in their sexual services. Kara states, “The things that we are initiating are things that we have seen other people doing well and we are tweaking to work in the Chicagoland area.”
The outreach that they do through Restoration61 varies. They do outreach via phone calls, text and E-outreach by responding to advertisements for sexual services and then turning the conversation around to offer help and a way out. They have not done street outreach yet, they are preparing to do so and want to ensure that they are covering an area that is not already being covered so it doesn’t appear that organizations are being territorial. They also do hotel awareness by providing training to staff when requested.
Both A21 and Restoration61 do trainings. They discuss anything from internet safety to trafficking. Benjamin shared a successful story of a young woman who had attended a training. She believed she had encountered someone through the internet who was not a legitimate employer. She reported it to her local authorities. They kept the communication going to see if the lead would show that the person was involved in human trafficking. It turns out that they were involved and law enforcement was there to arrest the individual.
It is not a common practice for organizations to allow volunteers to assist in the hands-on process of rescuing a victim from where they are being held. The organizations work with the law enforcement in the area because they are more equipped to handle the situation should danger arise. They ensure that law enforcement understands while the people may be doing something illegal they are being forced through human trafficking and the victims can be taken to a shelter that they have and provide different resources from social workers and counselors to job placement.
There are reporting hotlines available all over the world for people to call at any time of day and day of the week. Those tips are turned in to law enforcement departments. If someone who is a victim of trafficking calls they respond as quickly as possible with law enforcement to complete the rescue. Now that you know more about human trafficking my prayer is that you will find a way for you and your church to be active in helping to end it and rescue victims.