Brief Bio

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Quezon City, Metro-Manila, Philippines
I am a runner, pastor, sociologist, teacher, and missionary. After living in Chicago for 6 years, I discerned a call to go to Manila, Philippines to live and work among the urban poor, and combine my passions for ministry, running, and the oppressed. After serving in the Philippines in 2012 and 2013, I returned to the United States for two years to finish my dissertation, get ordained, spend time with my family, and work at a neighborhood center in Kansas City. Since then, I have been working in the Philippines with Companion With the Poor as a missionary. Each day I look forward to how God will direct my steps as I live into His work of restoring a broken world.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sex Trade Industry (ST: Part II)

In an article by Wendy Zoba called the “Hidden Slavery,” she makes a parallel between sex trafficking and Henry Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love.  She says Nouwen describes a “deep abyss” in every human heart.  It is impossible to fill, he says, because the needs are inexhaustible.  “You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.” 2

It is similarly impossible to fill the abyss that is sex trafficking.  The drives that fuel it – both greed and sexual desire – are insatiable.  Still, local champions have arisen to work around that abyss.  “In concert, from various fronts and on differing levels here are abroad, they are working around the abyss.” 3

Zoba captures the sex trafficking industry well, recognizing both the drive (greed and sexual desire) and those working at bringing hope amongst the brokenness. The following is some research describing the sex trade industry – some definitions, numbers, causes, responses to the industry, and then some people who are trying to intercede for the women.

Some Definitions

Wendy Zoba, in the same article mentioned above, describes sex trafficking as “buying and selling human beings (usually women and children) – and recruiting, transporting, transferring, and harboring them – for sexual exploitation.”  She says that the industry is illegal in most countries and violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which asserts that “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person,” and that “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude [or]…be submitted to torture.” 4

Zoba distinguishes countries that participate in this sex trafficking industry as either sending, transit, or receiving countries (some countries do all three).  “Sending” countries supply women and children.  These sending countries are most often in regions like Africa, Asia, and the Arab world where the greatest population growth occurs.  Because of the population growth, rapid social and economic change brings about worsened poverty that widens the gap between the rich and poor.  The women and children who are without jobs and in dire need of work become easy prey to the trafficking industry.5

“Transit” countries then – countries like Canada, Mexico, and other Latin American countries – are places where traffickers can more easily slip the trafficked illegally into “receiving” countries like the United States or Europe.  Which leads to these “receiving” countries.  According to one report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, receiving countries (U.S., Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Japan) are typically developed nations that can charge a higher price for the services.6


According to Karen Long, in her article on sex trafficking, there are somewhere between 700,000 and 2 million women and girls taken beyond their national borders and forced into prostitution each year.7  The higher number, 2 million is confirmed by Wendy Zoba in regards to those enslaved in the international sex market (as opposed to the general slave labor market).8  Included in this number, according to UNICEF, one million of these are children that are being channeled into the industry starting as young as six years old.9

Beyond the numbers, two facts in particular burden my heart regarding the sex trade industry.  The first is how much is paid for these women; then how much involvement the United States has in the industry.  “In Asia, pimps buy girls for about $300; virgins cost $3,000 to $5,000.  Asian girls delivered to the U.S. retail for about $20,000.” 10 

The estimated number of women and children trafficked across the U.S. border each year is 45,000 to 50,000 and the number of those traded in the domestic, intrastate trafficking networks is 300,000 to one million ever year (the reason for lack of specific numbers results from the fluidity and secrecy of the trade network).  These numbers are estimated by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.11  The largest numbers of foreign nationals trafficked into the United States come from East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, and Europe.12


While we will get into some of the misconceptions later on, particularly on the part of the church, it is important to note some of the causes of prostitution from more of a sociological perspective.  Though Christians tend to split prostituting women into two categories - the good prostitutes and the bad prostitutes; the good ones being victims of forced prostitution and the bad ones voluntary prostitutes and whores – the problem is that these are stereotypes and not the reality.13

In fact, despite the women on the street corners appearance to be acting freely, these women are in fact bound by invisible chains that keep them there: poverty, a lack of education, early drug use, a parent in prostitution, childhood sexual abuse, and the abusive tactics of traffickers and pimps.14  “In a survey of prostituted women in nine countries including Thailand, the United States, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey, nearly nine out of ten said they longed to escape.” 15

In Thailand, a popular destination for Western sex tourists, one woman said she has met women who contemplate suicide daily and who live in permanent gynecological pain.  “Such girls and women are akin to prisoners of war, she said.  They are duped, coerced, beaten, raped, drugged, intimidated and kept in isolation.  Unlike illegal drugs, women can be sold again and again.” 16

Though personal choice may be part of the whole process of prostitution, there is so much more going on behind the scenes.  Often the very money that keeps pimps and traffickers going provides the same reason the women participate in the industry.  According to Jewell, families of prostituting women often demand 50 to 100 percent of their daughter’s income.  “The need for money leads (some) women into the sex industry.  They stay in prostitution because other available jobs pay significantly less.” 17

When one couple, the Crawfords who will be discussed later on, began advocating through the International Justice Mission for underage girls in forced prostitution, they noticed women over 18 who were “voluntarily” prostituting themselves.  They lacked other viable options for supporting themselves and their families.  Many women told Mark that they chose prostitution, but, he says, “When you ask them what their choices were, they had only one choice.”  This is why many refer to them as “prostituted women” – to highlight the forced nature of their work.” 18

The Churches Response

Prostitution and the sex trade industry is a vastly misunderstood crime.  Many people tend to perceive prostitutes as willing participants in the “trade,” and some gatekeepers of public morality – such as corrupt local police – often fail to defend, let alone rescue, the victimized women and children.  In this sense, according to Wendy Zoba in ‘The Hidden Slavery,’ “trafficked people are thus twice discarded.” 19 

Lisa Thompson from the Salvation Army, who leads the church’s Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking, says the following,

           “The historical approach has been to penalize the women as wanton creatures who love sex and 
           want easy money,” she says.  “But prostitution is not about the women.  It is buying and selling 
           human flesh that enables men to have their stable of women for sex without consequences.  If 
           you’re serious about stopping sex trafficking, then you’ve got to be serious about the sex 
           industry in general and all its disgusting multifarious forms.  Lack of political will in 
           communities blinds them to what is going on in the ‘gentlemen’s club’ on the corner.  It is a 
           blight on communities and the breeding ground for other criminal activity.  It is time for law 
           enforcement, prosecutors, and churches to spend time and resources to combat it.” 20

The trouble is, most churches and Christians also misunderstand the sex trade industry.  Many people who have worked hard at combating the industry and rescuing the women involved, have run into much resistance among Christians who fail to face this issue honestly and boldly.  One of those people, Erickson, says that “it is due in large part to the lack of knowledge about how sexual exploitation works and what is at stake.  In every church there are husbands addicted to pornography, a child who may be being seduced, or a woman who was once trapped in prostitution.  But they can’t talk about it in church.  So they keep it inside as a dark secret.” 21

What the church must first understand, and then bring into the light is that the sex trade “is hiding in plain sight, in massage parlors you pass in shopping centers, in escort services advertised in your Yellow pages.” 22  Then, the church needs to understand that the prostitute is not the enemy.  She is a victim.23

In Thailand, where one couple has started a café that provides jobs and an avenue for the prostituted women to get out, they have faced this type of opposition by the church.  According to the couple, some Thai Christians “refused to patronize a business tainted by the stigma of prostitution,” and many churches have been hesitant to get involved in any way.  “By associating with prostitutes, you’re lowering your status,” Mark says.  “It’s like working with lepers.  Are you going to infect yourself if you’re associating with these people?” 24

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