Human trafficking is exploitation of vulnerability.
That is the unofficial definition articulated by Dr. Lauran Bethell, who has worked for decades with individuals trapped in modern slavery.
Dr. Bethell shared her wisdom and experience at our Lead To Freedom event on Thursday, November 3.
Modern slavery is happening in our very communities, trapping our own children and neighbors in an emotional,physical, and psychological prison of abuse and exploitation.
Traffickers prey upon vulnerabilities their victims possess.
These vulnerabilities include, but is not limited to, experience of childhood sexual abuse, poverty (which not only may include lack of material resources, but lack of support systems and other resources), lack of understanding of rights, and vulnerability to grooming.
Regarding this last point, Dr. Bethell explains that sex traffickers sometimes get their victims by posing as “loverboys” or “Romeos.” They pretend to show interest in a girl, showering the girl with attention and affection. They tend to look out for girls who display some level of low self-image, she said, in some cases by complimenting passing girls in a public place and watching their response. They play on the girl’s need to be valued, desired, and appreciated. The girl is drawn into what she perceives as a romantic relationship. When the girl is deeply emotionally invested, and the relationship becomes sexual, the “loverboy” at some point begins to coerce her to engage in sex acts for money, often, at first, assuring her that he loves her and it’s not a big deal, and eventually becoming more forceful, controlling, and more aggressive in abuse.
Regardless of her complicity at any point, the girl is a victim of human trafficking, as defined by federal law.
What we need to realize is that this could happen to a child in our neighborhood, in our church, in our family, no matter the demographics. It IS happening in our communities, and as a community these are OUR children.
The victim may not have experienced any of the other “red flags” of vulnerability. In an example in “In Our Backyard- A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States” by Nita Belles(highly recommended), the victim was a girl in a middle- class Christian family.
As Dr. Bethell pointed out, girls commonly struggle with self-image in their teens, and she noted that if she was preyed upon in this fashion, she just as likely could have been a victim.
We want to encourage you today to seek God in how to stand for the vulnerable in our community. There are other who are being exploited in different situations, such as immigrant workers, but our call is the same. The church is send to partner in protecting the vulnerable and bringing freedom to the oppressed.
One of the first steps is awareness of what is happening in our communities and educating our youth. Also, do not underestimate the power of affirmation you can give to a child.
Contact us about how you can get involved.
CVJC wants to thank all those who attended our Lead To Freedom week. We are truly encouraged and excited about the partnerships that are continuing to build and the opportunities ahead of us.
We also want to thank Dr. Lauran Bethell for coming to the Central Valley just for our event and sharing her wisdom and experience regarding modern slavery.