This weekend I’m at the Romero Center in sunny San Ysidro, CA. We are just south of San Diego and a 5 minute walk from the Mexican border town of Tijuana. Dr. Carlos J. Correa Bernier, the director of the center, is hosting a Sex Trafficking Consultation and we have an incredible group of participants (just one example: Sally, a retired opthamologist from a UCC church in Laguna Beach who participates in a yearly medical missions trip for a month in El Salvador).
If you’re like me, sex trafficking is something that you may have heard of but are not aware of the extent of the problem. The immersion program at the Romero Center focuses on sexual exploitation on both the Mexican and U.S. sides of the border. We learned today about how the problem of trafficking is shockingly huge. Estimates vary, but anywhere from 12-45 million people are victims of human trafficking each year worldwide. That’s almost 1 person in modern-day slavery for every 1,000 people on the planet. Women, men, and children are trafficked from or within almost every country.
So what is human trafficking? In short, it is the recruiting, harboring, and/or moving of people. Traffickers use force, fraud, or violence to obtain their victims. There are a number of purposes that people are trafficked for, including: involuntary servitude, debt bondage, slavery, and sex. Human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal industry behind the trafficking of drugs and weapons. This is not just a problem “out there” in the ‘third-world’ but it is something that we are tied up in. After Germany, the U.S. is the second largest destination/market for sex slavery in the world. But it’s not just sex, many of the products that we buy in our stories are the result of slave labor (take the slavery footprint quiz).
We have a hard time imagining that there could be such a huge problem, especially within our own borders. Partly, this is because we have bought into the ideology of progress which says that our system is the most efficient that the world has ever seen and things are better than they have ever been. These ideas have been shaken a bit in recent years by the economic downturn, but regardless of how true or untrue our belief in progress is, it makes it very difficult to recognize that slavery is not over. We have a culture-wide denial of the real problems that vulnerable people in our world face.
As people of faith, this should be deeply troubling to us. The book of Amos, one of the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures, begins with a list of nations that God will soon judge, all enemies of the Israelites. It is easy to imagine myself in the crowd as the prophet proclaimed the message. “Yeah God, go get those evil people! All of our enemies are going down!” I cry as Amos lists off offence after offence. As the crowd moves into a frenzy of judgment and condemnation of the pagans, Amos turns the tables: “God says: For the sins of Israel, I will not hold back punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” (2:6) With our insatiable desire for cheap food, cheap clothes, and cheap sex, we have sold the needy for a pair of sandals. How long must the victims wait for us to change our ways?
Tomorrow we’ll be heading into Tijuana to meet and speak to both victims and local activists. Check back in to the blog for more updates and tweet me @stephenmk if you have any questions. This is a guest post from Stephen Keating who is covering this sex trafficking conference for HBC. Thanks to Stephen for sharing what he’s learning with us!