By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (July 30, 2013) – The weekend arrests of 150 people in an FBI child prostitution sting highlights the need for Christians to be aware that the tragedy of human trafficking is more prevalent than many realize, says Meagan Gillan, executive minister of the Department of Women Ministries.
The FBI said on Monday that its weekend sweep of traffickers who were holding children against their will and selling them for sex took place in seventy-six U.S. cities and was the largest-ever operation of its kind. Authorities also rescued 105 children.
“We are trying to take this crime out of the shadows and put a spotlight on it,” said FBI Assistant Director Ronald Hosko. “Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America.”
“The FBI’s operation reminds us that the sex trafficking of children in the United States is widespread and happening in plain sight,” said Gillan. “During the sporting events we attend, at the truck stops we use, and at many large-scale gatherings from auto shows to political conventions, pimps and traffickers rent out the bodies and souls of vulnerable youth to willing buyers.”
John Tanagho, a Covenant attorney who lives in Chicago and serves on the denomination’s Human Trafficking Task Force, said he was grateful for the arrests but cautioned against certain wording. “It’s important to remember that these are not ‘child prostitutes’ — they are victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking according to federal law and many state laws.”
Women Ministries spearheaded the denomination’s anti-trafficking ministries when it introduced its Break the Chains initiative in 2008. Since then, congregations across the country, including their youth groups, have become involved in local organizations that educate the public and support rescued victims.
The Break the Chains initiative has created a variety of resources for churches, including PROTECT: A Strategy to Prevent Human Trafficking in Our Communities, two 40-page companion booklets developed by the Human Trafficking Task Force.
The first booklet, released last year, highlights strategies as well as resources for congregations. The newly released eight-week discussion guide is designed to supplement the first. Each session is designed to be approximately one hour in length and intended for teens and adults.
The booklets may be downloaded for free or purchased through CovBooks.com for five dollars.
“PROTECT encourages churches to partner with local, established organizations,” adds Tanagho. “For example, in Chicago the nonprofit Traffick Free is hosting its third annual “Run Against Traffick” 5k on September 7 to raise awareness about human trafficking.
Women Ministries has so far raised more than $600,000 as it works with partners through Break the Chains to combat human trafficking around the world.
Gillan notes that sex and labor trafficking in the United States has happened in neighborhoods of all socio-economic levels. Many of the victims are children — the average age of girls being forced into prostitution is 13. According to law enforcement agencies, 45,000-50,000 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year, and 15,000 of them are children.
The U.S. Department of State “2011 Trafficking in Persons Report” states, “The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, document servitude, and sex trafficking. Trafficking occurs for commercial sexual exploitation in street prostitution, massage parlors, and brothels, and for labor in domestic service, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, hospitality industries, construction, health and elder care, and strip club dancing.”
The weekend rescues were the product of Operation Cross Country, a three-day nationwide initiative to aid victims of underage prostitution. This was the seventh and largest of the efforts.
According to the FBI, 47 of its divisions took part this year, along with more than 3,900 local, state and federal law enforcement officers and agents representing 230 agencies.
Operation Cross Country is a part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, a joint program by the FBI, the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created to fight child sex trafficking in the United States.
Since 2003, the initiative has rescued more than 2,700 children.