Although sex trafficking is now a recognized term as of the last few decades, many call it the world’s oldest crime. However, it can be difficult to wrap our heads around that idea: if we just found out about it, how could it be centuries old? The answer: sex trafficking, until recently, operated entirely in the shadows under a completely different name: prostitution.
Prostitution and Trafficking
The Bible mentions prostitution as early as Genesis 38. It certainly did not take long for people to discover they could exploit vulnerable women and children.
For centuries people have had the mindset that prostituted people are the problem. People see them as criminal, promiscuous women. Not seen as victims of a deeper issue, they are shamed, cast out, and left to fend for themselves.
In personal testimonies from the 2000s, trafficking survivors talked about the contempt law enforcement and security often had for them—treating them as criminals rather than someone in desperate need of help.
It has been within the last two decades that trafficking trainings were first held, informing law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and the widespread community in what human trafficking is and how to identify and help a victim.
So what’s the issue now that we’ve identified human trafficking for what it is? Why can’t we just stop it? To this day there is still high demand for buying sex all over the world. The sex and pornography industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has sunk its teeth into our culture. Mainstream media has normalized purchasing people: watching porn, hiring strippers, and even purchasing women for the night are all plot points in many movies and tv-shows.
This behavior of exploiting other people for one’s own pleasure has been glorified. Media portrays exploitation like a party where everyone has fun and no one is harmed.
Our culture would like to put a barrier between human trafficking and prostitution. People—especially those who benefit from sex buying—would like to define them as two totally separate things.
In our 20-year history serving victims and survivors of human trafficking, we have never made a distinction between who or how we serve. Survivors and victims of sex trafficking often lack self-identification. This means that even if they are a victim of trafficking, they are highly unlikely to say so. Also, the majority of prostituted people have another person controlling them and/or their money. Very few, if any, enter into and remain in prostitution of their own free will and ambition. A lack of choices, through many vulnerabilities and factors, leads them to this life
The truth is we have never encountered a person who is selling themself because they truly want to and enjoy it. People don’t declare it as their dream job or a career they are passionately pursuing. They often believe it is the only option for them. There is almost always another person involved, whether it is a pimp, a family member, or a peer. There is always force, fraud, or coercion influencing their situation.
Similarly to any industry, the rules of supply and demand play a huge factor. There would be no reason for human trafficking if there wasn’t profit involved. But there are buyers willing to pay to exploit women and children for their own pleasure.
And yet, for centuries, people blame and shame the victims of this industry for their own exploitation. They have dealt with their own pain along with the rejection of the world around them, forcing them deeper into their suffering. Not the traffickers who are glorified in song lyrics. Not the buyers who get to hide in the shadows while their victims’ mug shots are displayed for solicitation. The victims pay the price.
Healing Our Culture
It is time to turn this industry on its head. Rather than responding to victims with anger, shame, and hatred, instead our hearts should go out to them. We should be offering them healing, restoration, and hope. The blame should not go on the victims and survivors, but on a culture that has allowed this crime to slip through the cracks for so long. A culture where “sex sells” is basic marketing. Where the female body is seen as a commodity, not as a human with a soul, hopes, and dreams. A culture that protects the sexual interests of men rather than the human rights of women and children to never be sold.
Unquestionably, our culture needs a big shift. We need to recognized that our culture is sick and is victimizing women and children. We need to begin to treat them like Jesus did: with love, compassion, and grace. The famous story in Luke 7 exemplifies this. A woman described as “a woman of the city” and “a sinner,” knelt at Jesus’ feet and poured expensive perfumed oil on them, wiping her tears off His feet with her hair. Those around Jesus told Him to make her stop, they thought her unworthy.
Rather than cringe from her presence, He embraced her as she was. He forgave her sins and loved her deeply, She loved Him, and through that love she was redeemed and healed. It is time for a healing redemption in our culture. Time to love our people enough that we seek true change and true healing. Time to start shifting shame away from those so desperately in need of love, hope, and healing.