January 18th 2020
Some 20 years ago, I was invited to a meeting to discuss "human-trafficking." Held at the Salvation Army Center on D.C.'s New York Avenue, only 10-15 D.C. policy analysts were invited - feminists, conservatives, evangelicals, politicos - and none of us had previously heard of the term "trafficking." That meeting, convened by Michael Horowitz, then at the Hudson Institute, opened our eyes to a problem that is now addressed at the national level as well as internationally through cooperation among nations, as a consequence in large measure of the diligent work of those whose eyes were opened that day.
Prior to that meeting, sex-trafficking was seen as something that happened somewhere else; it didn't affect Americans. Besides, it was an "underground" kind of crime that was isolated and rare. Through Horowitz's passion, we learned that we had been blind to reality. With our eyes opened, we had to do something!
I got involved by helping to draft the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), lobbying to get it passed, doing the same for subsequent reauthorizations, and providing manpower in the bipartisan coalition that Horowitz spearheaded to provide a foundation for anti-trafficking work that was so effective under the Bush 43 administration and that has flourished dramatically during the Trump administration through the leadership of Ivanka Trump Kushner.
While there is much to celebrate at the beginning of 2020 and during January - the National Human Trafficking Awareness Month - there is an overarching problem that has yet to be resolved. The "blind eye" problem remains an issue: people still don't see what is happening right under their noses. Many Americans still think the issue of human-trafficking is other nations' problem. Far too many people fail to see that trafficking victims exist in plain sight. They don't realize that there are many children under 18 right here in the United States who are prime sex-trafficking victims. Many people are unaware that boys as well as girls are victims of sex-trafficking. Few people know that the National Human Trafficking Hotline receives an average of 150 calls per day.
Let's begin with some basic information. Human trafficking is big business. According to the Polaris Project, one of the outstanding anti-trafficking organizations in America, trafficking is a "multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world." In 2014, forced sexual labor was estimated to be at $99 billion worldwide, with the highest profits in developed countries. It has been called "Modern Day Slavery" because traffickers buy and sell women - over and over again, until the girl is used up and discarded. Numbers are thrown around carelessly, but we have some concrete numbers from Polaris. In 2018, Polaris worked with 10,949 cases through its National Human Trafficking Hotline. The people there estimate that those cases "involved 23,078 individual survivors with 5,859 potential traffickers and 1,905 trafficking businesses."
Sadly, most people think sex-trafficking doesn't affect them or anyone in their community. Yet the most recent annual report from the State Department, 2019, "found the top three nations of origin for human trafficking victims were the United States, Mexico and the Philippines." In the U.S., illicit massage parlors (with profits estimated at $2.5 billion) are a cesspool of sex-trafficking, and there are an estimated 9,000 illicit spas across America, from suburban strip malls to the bowels of inner cities. Further, in the U.S., runaway children and girls in foster care are particularly vulnerable and are viciously targeted by traffickers. There are an estimated18,000 to 20,000 victims trafficked into the U.S. every year.
Many people tend to think anti-trafficking efforts are dominated by secular progressives and are unaware of the vital leadership and work of conservatives and evangelicals in the anti-trafficking movement. As a conservative, evangelical leader involved in bipartisan anti-trafficking efforts, I received the "Abolitionist" award from the Bush 43 State Department. Sadly, even then, there were activists of all political stripes who were unable or unwilling to work with those who embrace a different ideology or a different faith. Then, as now, the best work is done when people - regardless of political or religious views - are willing to work together on issues where everyone should be concerned. As the old saying goes, "It is amazing all that can be accomplished as long as it doesn't matter who gets the credit." Unfortunately, progressive groups typically have better public relations personnel and expertise, so the work of conservatives and evangelicals is usually under the radar.
About five years ago, I was contacted by a group of Emmy Award-winning producers who wanted to do a documentary about sex-trafficking. I was happy to work with Ships of Tarshish, a company producing top-quality television and film documentaries on social issues, identifying for them effective, solution-oriented activists who are at the forefront of anti-trafficking efforts. The Ships of Tarshish producers are committed to Christian programming that is excellent both in content and production and to having their products distributed to reach all Americans.
During this National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, their sex-trafficking film, Blind Eyes Opened, will be released in theaters across the United States. Blind Eyes Opened is a unique Christian documentary in that it is an in-depth examination of the sex-trafficking industry in the U.S. The film shows the dregs of depravity that drives the industry, but more importantly, it shows the transformations that are possible through Christ. Further, it shows the interconnected roles of law enforcement, policymakers, organizations, ministries, and experts in combatting the scourge of trafficking. Most importantly, it will show the hope that is in Christ and the power of His love that will cover the worst that can happen to anyone!
Here is the trailer for the movie - https://blindeyesopened.com/makeadifference. The film will be shown only one night: January 23. To find a theatere near you and to buy your tickets, click here: http://bit.ly/2pvraFV.
It is important for our eyes to be opened to what's happening right under our noses, often right in our communities. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that 73% of the 10,000 child sex-trafficking reports it receives per year involve internet advertising via Backpage. We say we care about women and children, but even with all our successes, we are a long way from ending human-trafficking. When we focus on one aspect of the problem, another one opens up. We need to learn as much as we can and be prepared to get out in front of the problem. You can start by getting a group of your friends and colleagues to go see Blind Eyes Opened to learn important truths about sex-trafficking in America. Then do your part to end this terrible exploitation of young boys, girls, and women.
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