by Dr. Diane Langberg
Many centuries ago – twenty to be exact – baby girls were considered a liability. Demographics in the first century in certain parts of the world were stunningly imbalanced male to female. Female infanticide was not uncommon. Infant girls often considered the equivalent of deformed, were killed by exposure. In essence, it was permitted by law to leave them outside the city on the dung heap to die. That is about as clear a judgment of “worthless” on a human life as can be made.
There was, however, a growing group of people who seemed to think the judgment was an error. Rather than accepting the culture’s assessment regarding the value of female they went outside the city to the dung heaps to find and rescue the abandoned baby girls. The decision was both risky and sacrificial. It required standing against the mainstream and making a judgment that ran counter to the culture of that time. It meant the giving of life, time and goods to someone else’s discarded baby girl. It meant extending the circle of one’s responsibility. It meant being devalued and disdained for stooping so low as to treat that, which was deemed worthless, as precious instead.
Who were these people? They were the church, the body of Jesus Christ. They followed the Lamb who went outside the city gates to make the ultimate sacrifice and give His life a ransom for many who were deemed worthless. By His death, He judged them precious. His first century body followed Him outside the gates to the garbage heaps of those days to rescue baby girls. The call that was answered by our first century brethren is not unlike a call that now sits before us in the 21st century church. The question that remains to be answered is whether or not we too will follow the Lamb outside the city gates to pursue and rescue those found worthless in the eyes of this world, and sacrificially work among them because they are precious in His sight.
According to Amnesty International worldwide one in three females – nearly one billion – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetime. One in three – think about that statistic the next time you sit in an airport or walk through a crowded marketplace or sit in church. In my country, the United States, though reports vary, most studies suggest that one in three or four females are sexually abused by the age of eighteen. Rape, one of the most underreported of all crimes, is believed to happen to one in four women. Nearly 5.3 million domestic abuse victimizations occur each year among U.S. women ages eighteen and older. In the United States, where there are many laws protecting women on the books, being born female is still something of a risk.
The rates increase exponentially if you look at worldwide statistics. The most brutal and destructive manifestation of the anti-female bias is female infanticide, a practice not limited to the first century. There are countries today where baby girls are left in the jungles to die, given poison at birth or buried face down in the ground right after birth. There are no overall statistics but a minimum estimate would place the casualties in the hundreds of thousands. Sex-selective abortions count for an even higher number of missing girls. Demographics suggest that between 60 and 100 million females are missing.
One of most brutal and large-scale destructive forces of girls and women in the world today is that of sex trafficking. The US State Department, in its Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report defines sex trafficking as “commercial sexual acts induced by force, fraud or coercion, or when the person induced to perform such acts has not attained eighteen years of age”. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 states that trafficking involves recruitment, harboring, transportation, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Commercial sexual exploitation simply means that a sex act is performed in exchange for something of value such as money, clothes, drugs, food or shelter. Included is prostitution, pornography, child brides, stripping and live sex shows. Trafficking victims can be found in brothels, “cage” brothels, massage parlors, saunas, escort services, nightclubs, some aromatherapy clinics and of course, the streets. Victims are also found by way of the Internet, which has been dubbed an “electronic red light district.”
The U.S. State Department report estimates that approximately 700,000 women and children are trafficked annually across international borders. Of that number, 80% are female, 70% are trafficked for the purpose of sex exploitation and 50% of them are children. Though as an underground activity sex trafficking is very difficult to measure accurately, it is thought that in order to supply this global sex trade, a woman or girl is sold in the developing world every ten minutes. The DOS reported that about 15,000 victims are trafficked each year into the US (others say as high as 50,000).
The problem is that we are not very good at identifying victims of trafficking. The Department of Justice states that 400,000 children in the US are lured or forced into prostitution each year. Most of these are white, working, middle class runaways from troubled families who begin selling their bodies at about age 13. Some organizations estimate about two million child prostitutes globally. UNICEF estimates ten million child prostitutes worldwide. Whatever the numbers, we are facing a staggering, global problem.
Victims enter the trafficking world in one of four ways: they are kidnapped, coerced, sold or they leave home voluntarily with the promise of a better life elsewhere. Girls and women are considered a commodity to traffickers. They run low risks for big money. In most countries the penalties for sex trafficking are less severe than those for drug trafficking.
Who are the purchasers of trafficked victims? Many are pedophiles. Others fall into one of two categories: preferential exploiters, those looking for something in particular; and opportunistic exploiters, businessmen, travelers, those who purchase a victim because of the anonymity afforded them in another country. There is no profile for a user. Customers cut across every division such as age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or profession. In essence, “everyman” is a potential user. We tend to delude ourselves into thinking we can discern who such people might be. In fact, we cannot tell. To paraphrase a British law enforcement official: There are three components to sex trafficking: an endless supply of girls and women, an endless supply of ruthless traffickers and an endless supply of clients and customers.
What factors make a woman or girl vulnerable to becoming trafficked? Obviously, gender is primary. Those who are orphans or refugees, have experienced prior sexual abuse, are widows or ethnic minorities are very vulnerable. Poverty is also a major factor. Violence against females is a global human rights scandal. It is one of the most pervasive and ignored human rights violations around the world. To loosely quote a character in the movie Hotel Rwanda, “If we could see souls, we would see that the streets of this world are littered with the souls of women and children”.
Let us put some faces on these overwhelming statistics and get some glimpses into what is really happening to women and girls around the globe.
Manna lived with her brother in South Asia. She was often beaten by him and eventually decided to run away when she was fourteen. A young woman found her crying in the train station and offered to help. She promised her a job selling fabric and took her to a place to sleep. When Manna awoke the woman was gone and another woman came and told her that her life was no longer her own. She would not sell fabric. She would instead be selling her fourteen-year old body. She refused her first three customers but the brothel owner beat her repeatedly until she gave in to the men who came to rape her. She tried to run away and begged the men who raped her to call the police. Two years later, while hidden in a soundproof dungeon, she was rescued by International Justice Mission and now lives in an aftercare home. In her words, “I was in prison…but God took me from that place”.
We are standing at dusk on a dirt road in an African country. We see a young mother walking while holding her toddler’s hand and carrying an infant on her hip. It is a lovely sight. Suddenly that view is shattered as we see her speaking to a man who has approached her. She sets the children down off the road and speaks to the toddler. She disappears behind the brush and when she returns we see money placed in her outstretched hand. She takes the toddler’s hand and picks up the infant and proceeds on her way. We watch this scene occur three times. When asked about the transactions she quietly says, “It is how I feed my children.”
A young girl named Siri lived in a small village in rural Thailand. She attended four years of school and then was required to stay home and care for her three younger siblings. At fourteen, she was sold for $2,000 to a well-dressed woman visiting the village and promising Siri’s parents that she could get their daughter a well-paying job. The trafficker sold her to a brothel owner who initiated her into prostitution by immediately raping her. She escaped to the police, who were paid well by the brothel owner and so she was returned to her pimp for another beating. Her earnings were $4.00 per customer and to cover her so-called rent she had to service over three hundred men each month. It did not take long for Siri to be convinced of her worthlessness.
Marika was desperate for work. Her mother was sick and her father a drunk. A woman in a recruitment agency in her hometown in Ukraine told her of a waitress job in Tel Aviv. She agreed to take the job to help her family. She was not flown to Tel Aviv but found herself in the Cairo airport and then transported by van to a village. Two men mounted camels and forced her along with other women, to set out into the Sinai on foot. They eventually came to the Israeli-Egyptian frontier and were taken by pick-up to a deserted house. They were ordered to disrobe so they could be inspected. They were informed that they had been purchased for $10,000 each and they would work off their debt by servicing clients. The first night she was given eight men.
A young woman from Latin America was told there was a good restaurant job for her in the United States. Her family was desperately poor and she longed to help. She was smuggled in and found herself in a trailer with many other women and forced to service over 40 men a week. She was not allowed to leave the premises nor given medical attention. The women were eventually freed when investigators arrested the brothel owner.
I was in Brazil some years ago and driven down city streets lined with young girls maybe eight and ten years old. The pastor and his wife who were ministering in that area told me that these children were prostitutes, often drug addicted and without resources. Many had runaway from their homes because of incest. Many of them are trafficked through the Brazilian ports into Asian brothels. Their escape had resulted in a worse nightmare.
In a conversation with pastors in the Dominican Republic I asked about incest. They were silent for a moment or two and then one of them finally whispered, “It is everywhere.” Again, many run away from sexually abusive homes to the streets where they are grabbed up by brothel owners and sold for their young bodies. I sat with young women in Myanmar who were learning a skill through World Vision so they would have a way of supporting themselves other than the sex trafficking industry. The border between Myanmar and Thailand is largely jungle and not well monitored. The oppressive military regime in Myanmar leaves women with little to no opportunities for education or jobs and so many are susceptible to being lured with the promise of jobs elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
A Canadian journalist by the name of Victor Malarek wrote a book on sex trafficking called The Natashas. In writing about the trafficking of girls from Eastern Europe into the rest of the world he says that female flesh is one of the top three commodities on the world’s black market. The sex industry is big business well entrenched in both national and international economies. Overall, the FBI says that human trafficking generates about 9.5 billion dollars in annual revenue. The United Nations has said that in the last thirty years more than thirty million people have been trafficked in Asia alone. About 14% of the gross domestic product of Thailand was supplied by the sex industry. In the Philippines, prostitution is the fourth largest source of the gross national product. Estimates say there are one-half million involved in prostitution in that country and that at least 100,000 of those are children. India is said to have 2.3 million females in the sex industry and according to a UN report 40% of those are under the age of eighteen. Victor Malarek and many others are calling the trafficking of females the human rights issue of the twenty-first century. He says this: “The issue of trafficking desperately cries out for firm, committed leadership; it has to be made a global concern”. Who will answer that cry?
Keeping the stories and the statistics in mind, listen to the voice of our God speaking to His people down through the centuries:
“Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)
“Is not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)
“Wicked men are found among my people…they overlook deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause of the orphan…they do not defend the rights of the poor” (Jeremiah 5: 26,28).
“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27)
“The Lord our God…who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free…the Lord raises up those who are bowed down…He protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146: 7-9)
My father was a colonel in the United States Air Force. He graduated from a military school, went on to flight school and then headed for Europe and World War II. He returned home with medals he never displayed. When I was thirteen, the man who flew for Strategic Air Command and was a superb athlete, was retired due to a debilitating illness no one could diagnose. He spent the next thirty-two years becoming increasingly disabled and lived out the last years of his life in a nursing home.
As my father’s disease progressed, he went from coordinated athlete to a man who could not tie his own shoes, get himself up out of a chair and was eventually unable to get his feet to walk down a hallway. I learned many lessons from my father’s life. One of the primary ones was this: A body that does not follow its head is a sick body. My father was a very bright man who knew many things. He certainly knew how to tie his shoes and how to walk. However, he could not get his body to do what his head knew how to do. His body would not follow his head.
The church of Jesus Christ has a Head. Our Head has called us to follow Him. Where we do not, we are very sick. Listen to some descriptive words about our Head: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring goods news to the afflicted, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the oppressed…to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-3). This description of our Head simply sounds like an incarnation, a fleshing out, of the words of God we previously read.
God says to seek justice, break every yoke, defend the orphan, set the prisoner free and care for the widow. This list is also a match for the list given previously regarding who is vulnerable to trafficking. The list of God’s commands, the list describing our Head and the list describing those vulnerable to trafficking are identical. Our Head pursues those marked by the characteristics making people vulnerable to trafficking. A body that does not follow its head is a sick body.
I have been struck recently, in studying topics such as trafficking, abuse, incest, genital mutilation, sati, female infanticide and rape, by how the Christian community has focused for so long solely on the issues of the role and place for women. We seem far more concerned that women not overstep whatever boundaries our particular circle deems right. I am not suggesting that such things should not be considered in light of the Word of God. They absolutely should. But they are not the only issues regarding women that need to be discussed. We must also face the fact that the body of Christ has failed to lead the way in this world regarding such issues as rape, incest, violence, HIV/Aids and sex trafficking.
Going outside the camp to rescue trashed females has not been the church’s clarion call. We seem far more focused on keeping females in the so-called “right” place and concerned about anything that would take them away from the parameters we prefer. In the meantime, those in power are preying on females around the world, dragging them into positions and places far outside the parameters of God for any human being, male or female. The girls and women of this world are dying on the dung heaps.
Females make up approximately one half of the world’s population. They would be more than half but for some of the statistics we heard earlier indicating that between 60 and 100 million are missing. If we take the plagues of abuse, incest, rape and trafficking seriously, then those females who are being so violated comprise one of the largest mission fields in the world. When you think of the words mission work, or mission field, do you ever think of girls and women as being one of those fields? What might happen if the church worldwide caught the vision of that field and began training and sending men and women into their communities and around the world to protect, educate, nurture and rescue women and girls in the name of Jesus? What might happen if the body of Christ followed its Head?
There is precedent for such a work. It predates our brothers and sisters in the first century. It is what lay behind their risky and sacrificial behavior. The precedent is the life of the Head that they followed. He arrived as the seeming illegitimate son of a virgin in a culture that should have stoned her because she was definitely outside the parameters. By all appearances, she had not maintained her proper place in that society. His genealogy has several trashed women in it – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. That list brings into His history things like incest, prostitution, interracial marriage and adultery, all of which were forbidden.
He went from there to swim upstream by saying things like simply looking on a female, as a sex object was the equivalent of adultery and therefore worthy of stoning. If that is true, then what do you suppose He would say about the trafficking of girls and women? He began His ministry by blessing an unnamed bride in Cana. Women publicly traveled with Him, a stunning and offensive situation in that culture. He treated one woman as a male disciple when He affirmed her presence at His feet and treated another as an apostle when He gave her the privilege of first telling others of His resurrection. He paused in His work of saving the world to raise a girl-child from the dead, return a son to a widow and a brother to two grieving sisters. He accorded women dignity, honor, education and privilege. If our Head did these things for women and girls should not His body do the same?
We who are the body of Christ often pour our money into all kinds of things while women die. We work hard for fame and success in our ministries while they are trafficked. We fly around in jets and build more buildings and drive big cars while they give birth in bullock carts. We condemn them for their immorality while AIDS increases exponentially or their children die in their arms from starvation. All the while the voice of our Savior is calling us to crawl all over the dung heaps of this world searching for the abandoned, neglected, dying, abused and trafficked females of our century.
Our Head has called us to go the poor, the afflicted, the broken, the needy and the imprisoned. He invites us to go where humanity is broken in pieces, violently rent, maimed and shattered. He asks us to follow Him into prisons, deserved and undeserved, places of little light and restricted movement, places without hope. He leads us into places of worthlessness and decay – places that appall and horrify us.
These are not places you and I want to go. I fear we prefer light, freedom, beauty, comfort and familiarity. We prefer healthy and alert minds to traumatized ones. We prefer clean bodies to dirty ones and whole bodies to crippled ones. But a body that does not follow its head is a sick body. These issues regarding the girls and women of this world is of grave concern to our God. The trauma and abuse that is devastating the females of this world is not merely the jurisdiction of psychologists and social workers. Nor is it to be left to governments and welfare institutions. The trauma and trafficking of females worldwide is the business of the body of Christ.
The abuse, prostitution and trafficking of girls and women is not new. There have been many courageous souls who have followed after our first century brethren by working selflessly to rescue the females of their day. Many of us know of the work of William and Catherine Booth in the mid 1800’s to set free women who were trafficked and sold. We have read of Josephine Butler’s campaign, also in the mid 1800’s, to end commercial sex exploitation. Amy Carmichael was in India rescuing little girls from temple prostitution.
Gary Haugen, author of Good News About Injustice, founded International Justice Mission in 1997. This organization works around the globe rescuing girls and women from sex trafficking. They have rescued girls as young as five years of age. Shared Hope International works setting up homes for the aftercare of those girls rescued from brothels helping them heal and become skilled so they are not vulnerable to the traffickers. The Salvation Army continues its work in this arena today through its Initiative Against Sex Trafficking. Have websites on the Internet. They need the active intercession and the support of the church community.
Thirty plus years ago I began my professional life as a psychologist. Little did I know where it would lead me. I have spent those years working with trauma and abuse – seual abuse, domestic abuse, and sadly, clergy sexual abuse. God has used the broken lives of hundreds of precious people who have been battered, violated, tormented and trafficked to take me deeper into His loving heart for this world.
Through my work I have learned something of the depth of evil in this world and in the hearts of human beings. I have seen more clearly how serious sin of any kind is, my own included, and how it damages not only individuals but the body and name of Christ as well. I have gotten glimpses of the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ and the overwhelming nature of what He bore there. And God has given me what I often call “a front row seat to redemption” because as I have walked into the darkness of abuse and torment I have seen God’s love and grace poured out and lives utterly transformed.
I know that if the body of Christ follows its Head then He will take us places we do not want to go, to see things we do not want to see. Such a ministry will cost us. It cost Him. I also know that following our Head will result in His resurrection life being poured out, on others and on us as well. It will mean that the body of Christ will look like the Son of Man in this world. It will mean that the character of God will be seen again in flesh and blood. It will mean that the name of Jesus will be exalted in the earth.
What do you suppose would happen if collectively we as Christians caught the vision? What might occur if the church around the world truly recognized the plight of females in this world today? I suspect repentance would come first. Like Daniel we would say, “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For your own sake, O my God, do not delay, for your church and your people are called by your name!” (Daniel (9:19).
Having repented, we would pray. We would pray for the global church to hear the cries of the largest mission field in the world. We would pray for the girls and women in our pews and in our towns and cities that are crying for help. Every country represented here has trafficked females in it. Every congregation represented here has abused and violated females in its pews. We would pray for the churches worldwide that sit side by side with the trafficked. We would pray for the girls and women who are suffering and dying without hope. We would pray asking for discernment to know what to do for the widows and orphans, the vulnerable females of this world, of our communities.
We would also read. We would read so as to understand the issues and thereby be able to work with our governments to be courageous in their stand against trafficking. We would challenge our leaders not to allow politics to destroy humanitarianism. As we studied we would learn that predators pick out the needy, the vulnerable, the child from a troubled home and those girls and women whose families are poverty-stricken and barely able to exist. We would see that those the predators stake out, circle and ensnare are the very ones the Word of God calls us to care for, protect and defend.
And we would work. We would work in our communities to get children off the streets and to help support local law enforcement calling them to integrity rather than corruption. We would educate our churches, our seminarians and our pastors so they would teach others concerning the justice of our God and call the church to care for the vulnerable and speak out against incest, rape, and sexual abuse as sin. We would lift up our eyes to see the vast field and begin to actively resource those in the body of Christ around the world that are ministering to a great company of women. We would learn that girls who are protected, educated, given economic alternatives and loved are not vulnerable to traffickers and so we would actively work to resource the females in our spheres of influence. We would teach parents how to provide homes that are safe for children to grow up in.
We would speak out and educate regarding issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse. We would develop social services and safe shelters to care for those who have been abused or trafficked and for those who are vulnerable to being trafficked. We would be proactive in our churches, our schools, our seminaries and our missions to educate and provide treatment for the men in our midst who are in bondage to pornography or sexual exploitation of any kind. The church of Jesus Christ stands side by side with a global network of traffickers. That church has a mandate from its Master to seek justice, reprove the ruthless and defend the helpless. Will the body of our great Head follow the one who incarnated all that He has called us to?
I would like to leave us with a glimpse of this Head that we are called to follow. “Jesus knowing that he was come from God, and went to God, took a towel and girded himself and began to wash the disciples feet” (John 13:3,4). The spirit of ministration was in the blood of Jesus. We see it demonstrated over and over again throughout his life. He got it by heredity from His Father and He followed His head. It was the air He breathed. It was the law of His life.
The Scriptures teach us that service is a divine thing because God is the One who calls us to it. We have been called to follow our Head, to participate in the work of God by service to others. In the culture of this world, service is a step down. It is less than. According to this world, to be served is to be honored. In the culture of our Father those who serve are in the upper circle. The higher up you go the more towels you see. The work of ministering to the vulnerable lambs, those who are weak, is a divine work, a holy work. Our Head is saying to His body, “Come up higher. Put on menial robes. Gird yourself with the instruments of servants. Dress for the road, for the dust, for the dung heap.” It would seem that which men call lowly; God calls divine. Those whom men call worthless; God calls precious.
The principle of the Scriptures is this: as you leave your world, as you go out of yourself in order to serve others, you will return exponentially richer than before. Working with those who have been abused and trafficked has taught me many things. It has stretched my heart to love many I never knew who were living lives I could not imagine. I have been challenged to think in new ways and different categories. I have also gleaned greater insight into the heart of my Lord.
You see, He is the one who set forth the principle by leaving His world and going out of Himself to give Himself to others. According to the Scriptures, He returned home exponentially richer than before. How is He richer? He is richer because He has us – we who were abandoned on the dung heaps of sin to die. Wonder of wonders, His rescue of the worthless ones became His glory! (Ephesians 1:12) and so it will be for us if we will follow our Head. As we go to the human trash heaps of this world, seeking those who are considered worthless by this world, the glory that will be ours as His body will far exceed the inadequate substitutes we so often pursue. It will be the glory our Head has prayed for us to have: “The glory which you have given me I have given to them…so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me (John 17:22,23).
It is the prayer of my heart that those who follow us in future centuries will point to us as an example of the ministrant body following its ministering Head because we have left evidence of going out to the trash heaps to rescue girls and women for whom He died, and thereby, eternally called precious. It is also my prayer that the Reformed community will not be known just for its bold stand for truth, but also for leading the way in protecting, defending and nurturing the abused and violated females of this world.
“The wicked pursue the afflicted…his mouth is full of deceit and oppression…he sits in the lurking places of the villages…he lurks to catch the afflicted; he catches the afflicted when he draws her into his net” (Psalm 10:2,7-8).
“The issue of trafficking desperately cries out for firm committed leadership” (Victor Malarek in The Natashas).
“Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:12,13).
“These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes” (Revelation 14:4).
NOTE: The statistics in this paper were gleaned from the following websites:
www.humantrafficking.org , www.state.gov , www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/2003/issue2/0203p34.html , www.ecpat.net , www.iast.net , www.ijm.org , www.chaste.org.uk , www.ou.edu/student/amnesty/humantrafficking.htm